FORECLOSURES are up! Foreclosures are down! Oh my.
Numbers are fickle critters. First they will tell you one thing, then they say something different.
Take foreclosures for example. This week Reuters reported 69,000 completed foreclosures in March, 2012. Good or bad news?
That depends on what you compare it to. It is bad news because March's numbers are more than the 66,000 in the previous month of February. So, foreclosures are up!
But those March foreclosures in 2012 were less than last March when 85,000 foreclosures were completed. It is good news because year to year, there were fewer foreclosures during the month in 2012 than during the same month of the previous year. Wait, foreclosures are down!
So, how big of a problem is the foreclosure mess and is it getting better? Overall, it appears to be getting better. The total number of foreclosures during the first quarter of 2012 are fewer than in the last quarter of 2011 so it appears things are improving. But still, even with the improvements, 198,000 homes were foreclosed on in the first quarter of this year. Regardless of what it was before, nearly 200,000 lost homes are a lot of broken dreams. And there are more on the way.
According to RealtyTrac, there currently are more than 630,000 distressed properties owned by banks and lenders across the United States. That is a 16-month supply at the current sales pace. RealtyTrac added that another 717,874 properties are in the foreclosure process but have not yet been repossessed.
Regardless of if foreclosures are up or down, CNN Money reported Tuesday that there have been enough of them to push home ownership rates to the lowest level in 15 years, with just 65.4 percent of Americans owning the homes they live in.
Wait! Isn't owning your own home a big part of the American dream? Apparently, just something more than half of us enjoy that dream these days. Apparently the American dream for many of us is becoming about living in a great rental. Okay, but somehow that doesn't sound quite as special.
So what do the numbers really tell us? They tell us that we still ride on a roller coaster market, with highs and lows to be found, depending on what one is looking for.
Optimists can opt to believe we are on the road to recovery. Pessimists have numbers they can use to argue we are still in the depths of a market crash. The realists among us are left with mixed emotions, hopeful the market is on the road to recovery, while recognizing problems remain and that the road promises to be a long one.