MANATEE — Lenders’ self-imposed freezes to investigate “robo-signing” claims appeared to do little to slow down foreclosure activity in Manatee County and Florida last month, according to data released today.
RealtyTrac reported that local foreclosure-related filings dipped slightly in October compared to September, but were higher than a year ago, suggesting the freezes have had little effect in Manatee. That also was true throughout Florida, which continued to have the nation’s second-highest foreclosure rate, the Irvine, Calif.-based foreclosure tracking firm said.
Foreclosure attorneys weren’t surprised, saying the well-publicized moratoriums have been limited in scope.
“The impact of the fraud issues was not really felt until the last week in October, so the number won’t really show until November,” said Dawn Bates-Buchanan, managing attorney of Gulfcoast Legal Services’ Bradenton office. “Besides that, only a few lenders and foreclosure mills are affected, so mills like Marshall Watson and Ben-Ezra & Katz are still going full steam ahead.”
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A handful of lenders, including Bank of America and JP Morgan Chase, temporarily suspended foreclosures following revelations that some bank employees signed thousands of foreclosure court documents without verifying their accuracy. Most of those lenders have since resumed foreclosures, saying they found few problems in their processes.
However, all 50 state attorneys general have launched a joint investigation into banks’ foreclosure practices. Bill McCollum, Florida’s attorney general, also is investigating the practices of several law firms dubbed “foreclosure mills” because they handle a large volume of such cases on behalf of banks.
The moratoriums’ local impact also was muted because not all lenders participated, said Sheri Olefson, a Fort Lauderdale real estate attorney and author of “Foreclosure Nation: Mortgaging the American Dream.”
“Even though those five lenders (that instituted freezes) had the lion’s share of foreclosures, there still were other lenders foreclosing,” she said.
“It was very limited and for some of the big banks like Bank of America it was only for a couple of weeks.”
Lenders filed foreclosure-related documents on 794 Manatee properties last month, down 2.1 percent from September but up 6.3 percent from October 2009, RealtyTrac said. Manatee’s rate of one filing for every 214 households was 23rd-highest among Florida’s 67 counties.
More Manatee homes were taken back by banks last month compared to a year ago, RealtyTrac said. Repossessions more than tripled, from 62 in October 2009 to 203 last month.
Bates-Buchanan, who defends homeowners in foreclosure cases, suspects bank lawyers are behind the surge.
“I think some of the mills knew they were going to get hit — the attorney general has been sniffing around for months and trying to get subpoenas etc. — so they pushed through as many as possible,” she said.
RealtyTrac also said the number of Manatee homes entering the foreclosure process also rose last month, but court clerks said they aren’t seeing it.
Just 189 new foreclosure suits were filed in Manatee County Circuit Court in October, half of the previous month’s total and the lowest monthly figure since June 2007 — when the foreclosure crisis was ramping up, according to a review of court records.
Clerks began noticing a slowdown in new filings “within the past few weeks, not that long,” said Kathy Steinmetz, circuit civil supervisor. While appreciative of the lull, clerks are wary, she said: “We’re all wondering when it will pick back up.”
In Florida, one in every 155 households received a foreclosure-related filing in October, RealtyTrac said. That was 2 1/2 times higher than the national average, ranking Florida second behind only Nevada.
Nationally, October foreclosure filings fell by 4 percent from September, but were flat from a year ago. Bank repossessions fell by 9 percent from September to October.
“The numbers probably would have been higher except for the fallout from the recent robo-signing controversy,” said James J. Saccacio, RealtyTrac’s chief executive officer
Among metropolitan areas, Las Vegas again posted the highest foreclosure rate.
Three Florida metro areas were in the top 10: Fort Myers-Cape Coral (2nd), Miami-Fort Lauderdale (7th) and Orlando-Kissimmee (10th).