Broward feels stress over high rate of foreclosures
http://www.sun-sentinel.com/news/local/southflorid a/sfl-zforeclose11nov11,0,7562374.story?coll=sfla- home-headlines
Rate is four times national average, 2nd highest in U.S.
By Paul Owers
South Florida Sun-Sentinel
Posted November 11 2006
Broward County had the second-highest mortgage foreclosure rate among the nation's top 100 metropolitan areas during the third quarter, according to a report released Friday.
Irvine, Calif.-based RealtyTrac said Broward had 8,431 foreclosures in the July-to-September quarter, or one for every 88 households.
That's more than four times the national average. Only metropolitan Detroit was worse.
Miami-Dade County had the fourth-highest foreclosure rate, with 9,380 in the quarter, or one for every 91 households. Palm Beach County was ranked 13th, with 3,643 foreclosures, or one for every 153 households.
The results aren't surprising in a region where escalating home values from 2000 to 2005 forced buyers to overextend themselves. Many took out short-term, adjustable-rate mortgages and saw their monthly payments balloon as interest rates rose.
"This is a pretty good leading indicator that there are signs of stress in the real estate market," Mark Vitner, senior economist for Wachovia Securities, said of the RealtyTrac report.
While it's clear that the housing squeeze means more homeowners are falling behind on their monthly payments, the severity of the situation in South Florida is debatable because real estate analysts differ in how they report foreclosure data.
RealtyTrac's figures also include homeowners in pre-foreclosure, the point when a lender files a notice of intention to take back the property. Many of those people resolve their debts before losing their homes. It can take six months or more for homeowners to go from defaulting on their mortgage payments to having a lender place them in foreclosure.
About 80 percent of the properties headed to foreclosure don't go back to the lender, so focusing only on repossessed properties doesn't give an accurate assessment of the housing downturn, said Rick Sharga, vice president of marketing for RealtyTrac.
Figures from the Mortgage Bankers Association and Foreclosure.com indicate that the foreclosure crunch isn't so bad nationwide or in South Florida. The mortgage bankers group separates mortgage delinquencies from foreclosures.
The mortgage bankers reported that the percentage of mortgages nationally that started in the foreclosure process in the April-to-June quarter, the most recent data available, rose .43 percent. That's up from .41 percent in the first quarter and considered low by historical standards.
Foreclosure.com reported August foreclosure statistics that showed only a minimal increase in this region. The Boca Raton-based company counts only properties that are in foreclosure, meaning lenders are moving to take back the homes.
In Broward County, there were 25 homeowners in foreclosure in August, up from 15 in July. In Palm Beach County, there were 18 foreclosures in August, up from 14 in July.
Foreclosure.com has not reported more recent monthly figures and says it will switch to a quarterly index beginning next year.
Although housing experts attribute the increase in foreclosures to the abundance of exotic loans, local real estate observers say the problem also can be traced to the large number of real estate speculators in South Florida.
Short-term investors bought properties, never intending to live there and hoping to sell them quickly for profits. But those speculators couldn't find buyers as the housing market slowed and were stuck making the mortgage payments.
"They're the people who don't have an attachment to the home and are the quickest to give up on a property if the profit motive isn't there anymore," said Mike Larson, an analyst for Weiss Research in Jupiter.
Louis Spagnuolo, a senior mortgage banker for Home 123 in Boca Raton, said his office has received a spate of calls recently from novice speculators looking to refinance their loans. They can't afford huge increases in their insurance premiums and property-tax bills.
"They were blindsided," Spagnuolo said.
He expects foreclosures to increase as long as the housing market remains soft, and that could last well into 2007.
"We're in for a bumpy road for the next nine months," Spagnuolo said.
Paul Owers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 561-243-6529.