For real estate market watchers anxious to see the end of the foreclosure plague that has poisoned property values across the nation, moratoria on foreclosures imposed for the past three months in anticipation of the launch of the Administration’s foreclosure mitigation program are prolonging the pain and making it more difficult to analyze foreclosure trends.
Take March, for example. The March and Q1 2009 totals were the highest monthly and quarterly totals since RealtyTrac began issuing its report in January 2005. In March, foreclosure filings were reported on 341,180 properties, a 17 percent increase from the previous month and a 46 percent increase from March 2008.
As bad as the March numbers were, they would have been a lot worse if most lenders not imposed moratoria. But the bad news is that the moratoria will only delay the inevitable. More time has not helped defaulting borrowers in the past, and there’s no reason to believe it will now, especially since the Administration’s loan modification program has yet to kick into gear. Foreclosures frozen December through March will go on the market in the spring and summer.
In the first quarter, REOs actually decreased 13 percent from the fourth quarter of 2008 and 3 percent from February totals—due no doubt to moratoria. Most lenders, led by Fannie and Freddie JP Morgan, Wells Fargo, quietly terminated their moratoria on the first of April. Look for at least a 13 percent increase in REOs 60 to 90 days hence in addition to the foreclosures current at the time as the glut of moratoria-delayed foreclosures come on market.
When foreclosures spike again in two to three months, observers will interpret the RealtyTrac tea leaves to mean the Obama program is not working, or unemployment is taking its toll or resets are hitting. They may be right, but it will also be the postponed bad news of months past that will move the needle downwards.
Unfortunately, moratoria remain politically popular.. Two states, California and Illinois, recently signed into law temporary moratoria on foreclosures. California’s 90-day moratorium took effect February 25 and Illinois’ took effect April 5. Ohio, Michigan, New York, and Rhode Island, are among those considering their own.