Palm Beach County foreclosure filings soar 52 percent in past year

News  •  Feb 16, 2012 12:36 EST

By KIMBERLY MILLER

Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

Updated: 6:19 a.m. Thursday, Feb. 16, 2012

Lenders ramped up Florida foreclosures last month, an acceleration driven by continued robo-signing fixes and expected to hasten after last week's

$25 billion mortgage settlement with the nation's largest banks.

Statewide, foreclosure filings were made on 24,783 homes, a 14 percent jump from January 2011 and the first year-over-year increase in overall activity in more than a year, according to a report to be released today by the Irvine, Calif.-based firm RealtyTrac.

In Palm Beach County, overall foreclosure activity was down 4.5 percent in January from last year, but a 52 percent spike in initial filings affirms experts' predictions that lenders are revving their home repossession engines.

"They will go full speed, pedal to the metal," said foreclosure defense attorney Roy Oppenheim of Weston-based Oppenheim Law. "The settlement tells them how to do things and if they do it that way they are free to proceed."

The nationwide agreement announced Feb. 9 with Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Citigroup, Bank of America and Ally Financial is expected to bring $8.4 billion in cash and mortgage relief to Florida homeowners.

Full details of the settlement are not expected until it is submitted to a federal judge for approval, but some attorneys and real estate consultants are concerned that it is too forgiving of fraudulent court documents filed by banks and will embolden an increase in foreclosures.

According to an executive summary of the settlement, it contains a "broad release" of banks' conduct related to loan servicing and foreclosure preparation that bars attorneys general from filing civil claims in those areas.

"It's the deal of a lifetime for a precious few homeowners," said Jack McCabe, chief executive of McCabe Research & Consulting in Deerfield Beach. "But for the vast majority of people it still means going through a potential foreclosure and trying to negotiate with a bank that might not be as willing to negotiate after the settlement."

Still, Florida foreclosures are not expected to return to the levels seen during the worst of the crisis.

In 2010, there was an average of nearly 4,500 homes with foreclosure filings in Palm Beach County each month from January through October, according to RealtyTrac spokesman Daren Blomquist. Last month, total filings in Palm Beach County were under 2,000.

RealtyTrac measures three types of filings: the initial foreclosure, notice of sale and bank repossession.

"I would expect to see the monthly numbers in 2012 averaging somewhere between the two extremes as the market slowly unwinds the mess created by the housing boom and bust," Blomquist said.

The Palm Beach County Clerk and Comptroller's Office released its January foreclosure statistics Wednesday. Although its count of 1,196 new filings was higher than what RealtyTrac reported, it still reflected a general trend in year-over-year increases with a 39 percent jump compared with January 2011.

Nationally, overall foreclosure activity in January was down 19 percent compared to the same month last year but is expected to increase in the coming months.

Florida ranked sixth nationally for foreclosure activity last month, with Nevada taking the No. 1 spot followed by California, Arizona, Georgia and Michigan.

"We continue to see signs on a local and regional level that the frozen-up foreclosure process is beginning to thaw," said RealtyTrac CEO Brandon Moore, who noted that lawsuits and proposed legislation in some states will temper foreclosure activity. "We expect uneven trends going forward as lenders work through these additional roadblocks."

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