The 51 cases filed last month is a low not seen since 2006 when the housing market was strong
POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Oct 30, 2012
The number of actions initiated to repossess homes from owners with delinquent loans fell to a new post-recession low in September.
The state Judiciary reported that 51 new foreclosure cases were filed statewide last month, an 85 percent drop from 336 cases a year earlier.
Last month’s figure was also lower than August and July when there were 58 and 74 cases, respectively. The last time foreclosure volume was so low was around 2006 when the economy and housing markets were booming.
Local foreclosure attorneys say the volume of delinquent loans in Hawaii remains high despite a recovering economy and housing market. They attribute the low foreclosure volume to an overhaul of state law that took effect June 29 and became the second time in two years that the Legislature reworked the foreclosure process.
New foreclosure cases averaged 355 a month over the 12 months before the latest change to Hawaii foreclosure law was enacted as Act 182.
Some attorneys predict that a higher volume of foreclosures will resume once lenders adopt new procedures to comply with Act 182, which among other things requires that attorneys affirm the accuracy of all documents submitted by lenders in foreclosure cases.
Homeowner advocates believe the new law has encouraged lenders to resolve more mortgage delinquencies without foreclosure through loan modifications, short sales and accepting deeds in lieu of foreclosure.
Another factor that may be reducing foreclosure cases is a legal settlement between the five largest U.S. mortgage lenders and the state and federal governments.
That settlement relieved 362 Hawaii homeowners of $40 million in mortgage debt from March to June and is continuing to deliver benefits, according to the federal Office of Mortgage Settlement Oversight.
It’s hard to tell how much of each factor — the settlement, loan workouts encouraged by the new law, and the law’s constraints on lenders — is at play in the latest foreclosure figures.
Some observers believe a backlog of mortgage delinquencies is festering and will be sprung on the market after lenders adjust to the new law — in effect prolonging a recovery.
Others believe the new law is helping homeowners stay in their homes and will ultimately reduce the number of properties that go through foreclosure — in effect engineering a less painful recovery.
What is clear is that Hawaii, like much of the country, was in the grips of a foreclosure crisis.
New foreclosure cases statewide were running at around 500 per month leading up to May 2011 when the first foreclosure law overhaul, known as Act 48, took effect.
Lenders adjusted to Act 48 by abandoning a nonjudicial foreclosure process they had used for the vast majority of cases in favor of filing all new cases in state court. Lenders said the new law exposed them to unfair risk, while homeowner advocates said the old law exposed borrowers to abuse.
After Act 48, foreclosure volume dropped to about 200 a month initially but then began gradually building again and reached 458 in June of this year right before Act 182 triggered the latest drop.
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New Hawaii foreclosure cases filed in state court, including the year-over-year percentage change:
Source: State Judiciary