Foreclosures in April were a whopping 59 percent lower in Florida than a year ago, but observers say the drop is not necessarily a sign that Florida’s moribund housing industry is turning the corner.
According to statistics compiled by RealtyTrac, a national service that’s been tracking foreclosures since 2005, 19,649 Florida properties received a foreclosure filing in April. That’s still second highest in the country, but represents a significant improvement from April 2010.
Florida’s overall foreclosure activity in April was still up marginally from a 46-month low set in February, the Irvine, Calif.-based company reported.
Nationwide, foreclosure proceedings in April dropped 34 percent from April 2010 and were 9 percent lower than March, a decline that RealtyTrac officials say may be more about longer processing times and less about a systemic housing recovery.
“Foreclosure activity decreased on an annual basis for the seventh straight month in April, bringing foreclosure activity to a 40-month low,” said James J. Saccacio, chief executive officer of RealtyTrac. “This slowdown continues to be largely the result of massive delays in processing foreclosures rather than the result of a housing recovery that is lifting people out of foreclosure.”
To back up the assertion, Saccacio points to national figures that show it took an average of 400 days from the initial default notices to completion in the first quarter of 2011. That’s up from 340 days a year ago. In 2007, it took an average of 151 days to complete a foreclosure.
In Florida, where courts in some jurisdictions have set up expedited “rocket dockets” to get through foreclosure cases, the average foreclosure still took 619 days to complete during three months ending March 31. To put that in context, that’s more than three times higher than the 169 days it took in the first quarter of 2007.
In April, the ACLU joined in a lawsuit challenging the expedited hearings, saying the procedure systematically denies homeowners a fair opportunity to defend their homes against foreclosure.
The so-called “rocket docket” system has been in place since December 2008 and operates under special rules to speed up the process. Critics, however, contend many Florida homeowners don’t have the chance to prepare their cases.
Sean Snaith, economist at the University of Central Florida, told the News Service on Thursday that the bottleneck of cases in the court system is likely the reason Florida’s numbers are down. The state still has a huge backlog of distressed properties that have to be dealt with before true growth can occur.
“The moratorium slowed the process down,” Snaith said. “It may have delayed the inevitable but it’s a process that has to work itself out.”
Nevada still leads the nation in the percentage of homes in foreclosure, a spot it’s held for 52 straight months. One in every 97 homes was involved in some type of foreclosure filing in April, down 27 percent from April 2010. Las Vegas led the nation’s cities, with one in 82 housing units in foreclosure.
Ten states accounted for 70 percent of U.S. foreclosure activity in April, led by California with 55,869 properties receiving a foreclosure filing during the month. No Florida cities were among the nation’s top 10.
–Michael Peltier, News Service of Florida