Banks initiated foreclosure on 88,000 properties in March, down more than 27% from a year ago, and well below the high of more than 316,000 in March 2009, according to data from Black Knight Financial Services, a mortgage research firm.
Foreclosures should continue to trend down because the share of mortgages that are behind on their payments is also declining, according to Black Knight. Around 2.1% of all loans were in some stage of foreclosure in March, the lowest level since late 2008, and another 5.5% of all borrowers were 30 days or more past due on their loans but not yet in foreclosure, the lowest since late 2007. Both of those are still well above pre-crisis levels but they are down sharply from a few years ago.
The report also found that one in 10 borrowers is underwater, or owes more on their mortgage than their home is worth. That’s still high, but consider: one in three borrowers was underwater at this point four years ago. The share of underwater borrowers has dropped, first as more homes went through foreclosure, but more recently, as home prices have rebounded strongly.
More than half of all loans in the foreclosure process haven’t made any payments in at least two years. Foreclosure processes have taken longer in states where banks must go to court to proceed with foreclosure. Mortgage companies have struggled in certain states to provide the proper paperwork, or to meet new court requirements, to process foreclosures. On average, a loan that completed foreclosure in March had been delinquent for 955 days.
Four years ago, housing was in a world of pain because it faced a glut of foreclosed and other distressed properties hitting the market at a time when demand was weak. Eventually, low home prices and low interest rates, which depressed returns on other investments, led to aggressive appetite from investors to buy homes that could be fixed and resold or converted into rental properties.
Sales have slowed in recent months as investors have stepped back from the market and as the volume of distressed properties coming to market has dropped considerably. The good news: housing no longer appears to have an oversupply of properties.
This is one reason why, even if housing demand stays weak, the market isn’t likely to face the same kind of trauma that it did a few years ago. Prices could soften if more traditional sellers list their homes for sale, but there are few signs for now of another foreclosure-induced pummeling. That’s good news for housing.