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Home foreclosures set record in 1st quarter

Home foreclosures and late payments set records over the first three months of the year and are expected to keep rising, stark signs of the housing crisis' mounting damage to homeowners and the economy.

The latest snapshot of the mortgage market, released Thursday, showed that the proportion of mortgages that fell into foreclosure soared to 0.99 percent in the January-through-March period. That surpassed the previous high of 0.83 percent over the last three months in 2007.

The report by the Mortgage Bankers Association also found that more homeowners slipped behind on their monthly payments.

The delinquency rate jumped to 6.35 percent in the first quarter, compared with 5.82 percent for the three months earlier. Payments are considered delinquent if they are 30 or more days past due.

Both the rate of new foreclosures and late payments were the highest on record going back to 1979.

Jay Brinkmann, the association's vice president of research and economics, told The Associated Press that the slump in house prices was the biggest factor for rising foreclosures and late payments.

With prices expected to keep dropping, foreclosures and late payments “are going to continue to go up” in the months ahead, he said.

Homeowners with tarnished credit who have subprime adjustable-rate loans took the hardest hits. Foreclosures and late payments for these borrowers also swelled to all-time highs in the first quarter.

The percentage of subprime adjustable-rate mortgages that started the foreclosure process climbed to 6.35 percent. The rate was 5.29 percent in the fourth quarter, the previous high. Late payments rose to 22.07 percent from 20.02 percent, the previous high.

The association's survey covers just over 45 million home loans.

More problems also cropped up with loans to more creditworthy borrowers.

The percentage of such loans falling into foreclosure was 0.54 percent, compared with 0.41 percent at the end of last year.

“The number one problem is the drop in home prices,” Brinkmann said. Declining prices, especially in newer built areas, “are hurting people's ability to recover when they run into trouble – a divorce or loss of job,” he said. “In other days, you could sell the home. But because home prices have fallen so much, in many of those cases, the homes are going into foreclosure.”

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