My friend's neighbor recently filed for foreclosure on their home. The family had lived in the 3-bedroom townhome for the past two years. They were an older couple, who had a grown son living with them. During the summer they'd sit on their front stoop and would always say "hi" as I walked pass their place. The townhome sits on a quiet tree-lined street on Chicago's North Side. The neighborhood is surrounded by beautiful historic homes, some valued in the million-dollar bracket.Before I began writing about real estate, I had this notion in my head that homes in foreclosure were run down and located in blighted neighborhoods. But I now know my perception was wrong. In 2007, one of every 100 U.S. household entered into the foreclosure process, according to the latest figures from RealtyTrac. Homes across the country, including many located in middle to upper-middle-class neighborhoods, are being sold under distress. Nationwide, about 1.3 million homes received foreclosure-related warnings last year, up from 717, 522 in 2006, RealtyTrac reported.
While the foreclosure picture improved at the end of 2007 for some states in the Midwest and Northeast including Ohio, Indiana, New York and New Jersey, foreclosure filings were up sharply in December in some of the states already hardest hit by the housing crisis, notably California, Nevada and New Mexico.
RealtyTrac's report shows foreclosure filings fell dramatically during December in Ohio (-26 percent), Indiana (-34 percent), New Jersey (-23 percent) and New York (-20 percent). But the number of foreclosure filings during the final month of the year rose sharply in California (up 33 percent), Nevada (up 64 percent) and New Mexico (up 58 percent).
California and Florida, with foreclosure filings on 414,804 properties, accounted for about one in three of the 1.3 million homes RealtyTrac determined were at some state of the foreclosure process during 2007. Michigan, Ohio, Illinois and Indiana accounted for another 269,479 homes. Slightly more than half of all homes RealtyTrac said were hit by foreclosure filings last year were located in those six states.
The states with the highest household foreclosure rate were Nevada, Florida, Michigan, California, Colorado, Ohio, Georgia, Arizona, Illinois and Indiana. The U.S. average was 1.03 percent. The latest numbers show growth in foreclosure filings leveling out during December and the fourth quarter in crucial foreclosure states like Florida, Michigan and Colorado.
Subprime mortgages resetting
More than 1.8 million subprime mortgages are scheduled to reset to higher interest rates this year and next. Last year's explosion in foreclosure activity came amid a worsening housing downturn, as falling home values dug into homeowners' equity, making it harder for many to refinance into more affordable loans or to find buyers. Those options had helped keep troubled homeowners from sliding into foreclosure.
Recent efforts by government and mortgage lenders to help troubled homeowners have had little impact on the increasing foreclosure rate. The Center for Responsible Lending released a report Monday that estimated the Treasury Department's HOPE NOW initiative involving voluntary loan modifications by loan servicers will prevent only 118,200 foreclosures, or about 3 percent of outstanding subprime mortgages with adjustable interest rates.
Foreclosure trends in top 10 states
Household foreclosure rate (percent)