Florida ranked first in the nation last month for foreclosure activity, a dismal title it hasn't held since 2005 and evidence that the Sunshine State's housing recovery is lagging, some economists said.
A 24 percent increase in new foreclosures from the same time last year, as well as a 23 percent increase in final bank repossessions, helped Florida skip into the top spot from its second-place finish in August, according to a RealtyTrac report to be released today.
RealtyTrac experts said it's not just that Florida's filings jumped but that activity in other hard-hit states, especially those that don't require court approval for each foreclosure, has abated.
Foreclosure activity nationwide in September was the lowest it's been since July 2007.
In California, new foreclosures in September decreased 18 percent last month from August and were down 45 percent from 2011 to reach a 69-month low. Arizona's overall foreclosure activity, which includes new filings, auction notices and bank repossessions, was down 9 percent from August and 21 percent from September 2011.
"In Florida, it's not so much a sign of new distress, it's just taking longer for Florida to work through the distress that's already there," said RealtyTrac Vice President Daren Blomquist. "More than any other state, Florida's foreclosure process was thrown into dysfunction by the fallout from the robo-signing controversy, which just bogged things down and built up a backlog."
Florida had about 377,700 foreclosure cases in the court system as of June, according to the state courts administrator. A one-time stipend of $4 million was given to the state's 20 circuit courts in July to target foreclosures. Palm Beach County was able to hire five additional case managers and two senior judges with its share of the stipend, said Chief Judge Peter Blanc.
RealtyTrac calculates it took 858 days for a bank to foreclose on a home in Florida during the third quarter of the year, down from 861 days in the previous quarter but still the third longest in the nation. New York has a foreclosure timeline of 1,072 days. A New Jersey foreclosure takes 931 days.
"The fact we're number one in activity may just reflect the fact that we're able to give this more resources and get these cases through the system," Blanc said.
Jed Kolko, chief economist for the real estate analysis firm Trulia, said improvements in the housing market nationwide and a drop in foreclosure activity have quieted the housing crisis as an issue for the presidential candidates. Foreclosures didn't come up a single time during last week's debate between President Obama and challenger Mitt Romney.
"There's just not as much urgency as there has been in the past three years," Kolko said. "From the national perspective, nearly every measure of housing is doing better. Florida is unusual because it has such an overhang of foreclosures, but that's a local issue."
In September, new Palm Beach County foreclosure filings were down 23 percent from August, but up 16 percent from 2011, ranking it 18th for foreclosure activity among Florida's 67 counties. Broward County ranked first for foreclosures last month, with St. Lucie County coming in second.
And Florida homeowners still dealing with a foreclosure don't want to hear that the nation is over the crisis.
Loxahatchee resident Diane Gabrele has been fighting foreclosure since July 2010 after her mother died and she no longer could afford her home. With housing values down, she couldn't sell it either, and banks weren't as generous with short-sale approvals at the time.
The last contact the 62-year-old had with the bank was in March when they met at an unsuccessful court-ordered mediation.
"It's like I'm on a 'Nightmare on Elm Street' merry-go-round," said Gabrele, who works at a Burlington Coat Factory and tries to make extra money through boarding horses. "People are losing their homes all around me. It's tragic."
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