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Foreclosures log only modest drop

900 filings in May might mean it will take time for tweaks to law to take hold

By Andrew Gomes

LAST UPDATED: 2:27 p.m. HST, Aug 5, 2011

Reforms to Hawaii's nonjudicial foreclosure law were in effect most of May, but they will likely take more time to influence data on foreclosure activity, a new report suggests.

The overhauled law was enacted May 5, but the volume of new and ongoing foreclosure cases reported by real estate research firm RealtyTrac didn't drop significantly last month.

There were 900 foreclosure filings on Hawaii properties in May. The count was lower than all but one other month this year — but not by much.

Foreclosure filings earlier this year totaled 985 in January, 953 in February and 987 in April. In March, the figure was 691.

The May figure was down 15 percent from the same month last year, but the decline was smaller than year-over-year decreases for January, March and April ranging from 24 percent to 37 percent.

RealtyTrac spokesman Daren Blomquist said significant changes to foreclosure activity typically have lagged behind foreclosure law amendments in other states.

"A lot of times with these laws there's a slight delay before we see an impact on the numbers," he said.

Blomquist said he would expect to see clear effects from the law in June's foreclosure report.

Hawaii's revamped law resulted in a de facto moratorium on new nonjudicial foreclosure cases and auctions, but only in cases involving owner-occupants living in their home for a minimum 200 consecutive days.

The new rules for conducting a nonjudicial foreclosure exclude owners of time shares, vacation homes and commercial property. Homeowner associations are also exempt from the law and may foreclose on owner-occupants.

These exclusions may represent the bulk of foreclosure filings in May, though it's hard to guess. A breakdown between owner-occupant and nonowner-occupant foreclosures wasn't available Wednesday from RealtyTrac. The data also include commercial property, time-shares and other real estate foreclosures.

RealtyTrac data includes filings at different stages of foreclosure, including default notices, auction notices and repossessions by lenders.

The bulk of the filings were auction notices. There were 438 such notices. Auction notices must run in a newspaper three consecutive weeks, so it's possible some notices counted in May had been scheduled for publication before the law took effect.

Another 375 filings were lender repossessions, which can reflect property transfers from auctions held in previous months.

Default notices aren't usually reported to RealtyTrac in nonjudicial foreclosures, though they are more typically counted for judicial foreclosures. There were 87 default notices filed in May, which was just five fewer than in April.

Most RealtyTrac filings involve nonjudicial foreclosures because they are cheaper and quicker for lenders. Of the tally, 141 filings were new judicial cases that are largely unaffected by the new law. In May 2010 there were 119 judicial foreclosure cases filed.

Under the law, lenders can't hold a nonjudicial foreclosure auction against an owner-occupant until the borrower has an opportunity to participate in a dispute resolution program in which a mediator attempts to facilitate a compromise that avoids foreclosure. It could be as late as Oct. 1 until the program is running.

The state Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs also is prohibiting lenders from starting new nonjudicial foreclosure cases against owner-occupants until the dispute resolution program is running.

Lenders are not prohibited from filing foreclosure cases in court, and giant loan holder Fannie Mae last week directed companies servicing its loans secured by Hawaii property to redirect new and existing cases through court.

It's possible that the volume of foreclosure cases might remain stable if lenders opt for judicial foreclosure to avoid the de facto moratorium.

In recent months, the number of foreclosure filings had been on the decline, though that was generally attributed to lenders scaling back foreclosure actions after problems arose late last year with documentation of loan ownership by several large lenders including Bank of America.

Many lenders have taken steps to correct those problems, and there was an expectation that foreclosure actions would resume rising. That resumption is now in doubt given the changes to Hawaii's foreclosure law.

Hawaii continues to have one of the higher foreclosure rates among states at 1 filing for every 573 households. That was the 12th highest rate, and compared with a national rate of 1 filing per 605 households. Nevada had the highest rate at 1 filing per 103 households.

Among counties in Hawaii, Honolulu, or Oahu, had the most foreclosure filings at 413, though that translated to the lowest rate at 1 filing per 819 households.

Hawaii island had the worst rate with 1 filing per 337 households based on 239 total filings.

Maui had the next worst rate at 1 foreclosure filing per 376 households based on 177 filings.

Kauai's rate was 1 filing per 424 households based on 71 filings.

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