Home foreclosures continued to fall in April, marking the fifth consecutive month filings in Hawaii have been below the same month in the previous year.
Experts, however, said the decline continues to be an artificial depression due to several major lenders holding back on new filings after their loan documentation practices were called into question.
Real estate research firm RealtyTrac said there were 987 foreclosure filings statewide last month, a 33 percent decrease from 1,474 a year earlier.
Observers had anticipated a rebound in foreclosure activity by the lenders, including Bank of America and JPMorgan Chase, after documentation issues were worked out. But after a foreclosure reform bill became law in Hawaii last week, new foreclosure cases could be throttled back some more.
Local foreclosure attorneys suspect that lenders will take some time to study the new law, which created new consumer protections against foreclosure, and initially might test the law with a relative few cases. That could add to the artificially depressed level of foreclosure activity.
The new Hawaii law doesn’t stop foreclosures already in progress. The law also doesn’t put a moratorium on starting a foreclosure, though new cases must follow a revised process that gives homeowners more protections against foreclosure.
Nationally, foreclosure filings were down 34 percent in April to a 40-month low. James Saccacio, RealtyTrac’s chief executive officer, said the slowdown doesn’t stem only from improper case documentation. He said foreclosure cases are taking longer to allow for loan modifications, short sales and other alternatives to foreclosure.
U.S. homes repossessed in the first quarter occurred, on average, 400 days after a mortgage default, compared with 340 days in the first quarter of 2010 and 151 days in the first quarter of 2007.
"This slowdown continues to be largely the result of massive delays in processing foreclosures rather than the result of a housing recovery that is lifting people out of foreclosure," Saccacio said in a statement.
There were 219,258 foreclosure actions in April nationally, or one for every 593 households.
In Hawaii, there was one foreclosure action for every 522 households, a rate that was worse in only 10 other states.
The worst rate was in Nevada, where there was one foreclosure action per 97 households. The best rate was in Vermont, with one foreclosure action per 62,849 households.
The worst rate was on Maui, where there was one foreclosure filing per 282 households based on 236 total filings.
The Big Island had just about as many foreclosure filings as Maui, with 237, but that represented one filing per 340 households.
On Kauai, there were 66 filings, or one for every 456 households.
Foreclosure actions in Hawaii included 92 default notices, 438 auction notices and 457 lender repossessions.
Counting actions at different stages in the foreclosure process produces a somewhat imprecise measure of how many homes are in the process of foreclosure because RealtyTrac counts different types of filings on the same property if they occur in different months, which means some properties might be counted in more than one month.
RealtyTrac also doesn’t exclude commercial property from its count, which means popular vacation property in Hawaii such as time shares and condominium-hotel units can be among RealtyTrac’s tally.