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Foreclosures fall in first quarter as housing rebound continues

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New foreclosure cases declined in South Florida during the first quarter, an indication that the tri-county region has “definitely, firmly” rebounded from the worst of the housing crisis, a new report shows.

From January through March, 2,882 new cases were filed in Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties, down 24 percent from a year earlier, according to the RealtyTrac foreclosure listing firm.

RealtyTrac, based in Irvine, Calif., monitors public records for three types of foreclosures: new cases, scheduled auctions and bank repossessions.

In the first quarter, 10,000 South Florida homes were in some stage of foreclosure. During the peak of the foreclosure quagmire — the third quarter of 2010 — more than 58,000 properties were dealing with problem mortgages.

“The market goes in cycles, but we’re definitely, firmly back to what we would consider a normal and healthy level of foreclosure activity,” said Daren Blomquist, a vice president of RealtyTrac.

More than a third of the 216 markets analyzed, including South Florida, have dropped below their pre-recession levels of foreclosures, RealtyTrac said.

Higher home prices and a better job market have drastically reduced the number of struggling homeowners.

For many people, “foreclosure was just inevitable,” said Tom Ice, a South Florida real estate lawyer. “The big problem with being ‘underwater’ on your mortgage is that you couldn’t sell the house. You had no equity to work with. But as soon as prices started to creep up, all of that [went] away.”

Ice and other industry followers say some lenders may be holding off filing foreclosures until the Florida Supreme Court rules on how the statute of limitations applies in some older cases, though they don’t expect that to lead to another wave of distressed loans.

The Third District Court of Appeal essentially has ruled that the statute of limitations never expires through the life of a mortgage, so homeowners who had their foreclosures dismissed on technicalities more than five years ago could still see their lenders refile the cases, Ice said. He expects the state’s highest court to issue a similar opinion.

The vast majority of homes in foreclosure now are cases that started the process during the housing bust, according to RealtyTrac.

Florida homes that completed foreclosure in the first quarter took an average of 1,018 days to wind through the court system, up slightly from a year earlier.

“There’s a long tail of bad loans that are still being dealt with,” Blomquist said.

Across Florida, the number of new foreclosure cases dropped 20 percent in the first quarter compared with the first quarter of 2015, RealtyTrac said. Still, Florida had the fifth-highest foreclosure rate, with one in 274 homes in some stage of the process. Maryland had the highest foreclosure rate in the first quarter at one in 194 homes.

Paul Owers Contact Reporter

South Florida foreclosures drop 24 percent in the first quarter

 

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