MANATEE — Local foreclosure filings continue to flood the courts despite recent moratoriums and widening investigations into lenders’ and their attorneys’ foreclosure practices, according to data released today.
In Manatee, filings actually fell by 9.3 percent from August to September and dropped slightly year-over-year.
All of the increase was in Sarasota, where filings surged by 35 percent from August, RealtyTrac reported.
Lenders filed foreclosure-related notices on 2,108 properties in Manatee and Sarasota counties in September, a 13.7 percent increase from August and 1 percent higher than September 2009’s tally, the Irvine, Calif.-based foreclosure-tracking company said.
Manatee still saw 2,682 filings in July, August and September, a rate of one in every 63 homes — double the national rate. That was a 19.7 percent increase from the previous quarter and up 7.3 percent from the year-ago quarter.
The two-county region had the 22nd-highest foreclosure rate among U.S. metropolitan areas during the three-month period, RealtyTrac said.
The company and housing analysts attributed the increased activity to more properties having worked through the foreclosure process and reaching the auction stage. Initial filings have been dropping since last year, and lenders sold and took back homes at a record pace in the third quarter, RealtyTrac said.
Banks repossessed more than 288,000 U.S. properties, including more than 102,000 in September — the first time the monthly total has hit six digits. Foreclosure auctions were scheduled for the first time on another 372,445 properties during the quarter, also a record.
In Manatee, lenders took back 189 homes in September and 468 during the quarter. More than 13, 200 Florida properties reverted to their lenders last month, a third of the quarterly total.
That’s despite several major lenders — Bank of America, GMAC and JP Morgan Chase, among them — suspending foreclosures in Florida and other states while they review their procedures.
The freezes follow disclosures of “robo-signers” — bank employees who signed thousands of notarized foreclosure documents attesting to their validity without even reading them and without a notary public present.
That’s a violation of Florida law, said Attorney General Bill McCollum, who joined other states’ attorneys general and bank regulators Wednesday in launching a joint investigation. McCollum’s office also is looking into the practices of four Florida law firms, dubbed “foreclosure mills” by critics, that have filed the majority of foreclosures in the state.
Housing analysts have warned the moratoriums could worsen the foreclosure backlog and further delay the housing market’s recovery.
“If the documentation issue cannot be quickly resolved and expands to more lenders, we could see a chilling effect on the overall housing market,” said James Saccacio, RealtyTrac’s chief executive officer.
But a Sarasota real estate attorney said the reviews also could benefit strapped homeowners.
“The recent halt of foreclosures by some servicers will help homeowners in pursuit of foreclosure alternatives, such as a short sale,” Anne Weintraub wrote in an e-mail.
“There was a time when lenders were unable to expedite short sales. This week’s events will change that — some lenders are even pro-actively calling homeowners to find out if they can value the property in advance of an offer so they are ready if and when the offer arrives.”
Duane Marsteller, transportation/growth and development reporter, can be reached at 745-7080, ext. 2630.