A record 12 percent of mortgages on one- to four-family homes were past due or in foreclosure during the first quarter of 2009, the Mortgage Bankers Association

A record 12 percent of mortgages on one- to four-family homes were past due or in foreclosure at the end of March, the Mortgage Bankers Association reports, and the group is forecasting little chance that the situation will improve until unemployment peaks, perhaps next year.

The foreclosure rate on prime fixed-rate loans has doubled in the last year, and now represents the largest share of new foreclosures, MBA Chief Economist Jay Brinkmann said in a statement. That points to the impact of the recession and unemployment on mortgage defaults, he said.

MBA’s forecast — shared by the Federal Reserve and others — is that the unemployment rate will not peak until mid-2010. Because mortgage performance lags behind employment trends, "it’s unlikely we will see much of an improvement until after that," Brinkmann said.

But Brinkmann said it’s difficult to overstate the severe impact home-price declines have had on delinquencies and defaults in California, Florida, Arizona and Nevada.

Nationwide, the percentage of loans in the foreclosure process at the end of the first quarter was 3.85 percent, compared with 3.3 percent at the end of 2008 and 2.47 percent a year ago.

In comparison, 10.6 percent mortgages in Florida were in some stage of the foreclosure process at the end of March, followed by Nevada (7.8 percent), Arizona (5.6 percent) and California (5.2 percent).

The seasonally adjusted delinquency rate was 9.12 percent at the end of March, up from 7.88 percent at the end of 2008 and 6.35 percent a year ago.

The combined percentage of loans in foreclosure and at least one payment past due — the total percentage of mortgage holders behind on their payments — was 12.07 percent, a record since the MBA began its National Delinquency Survey in 1972.

Brinkmann said the increase in foreclosures was to be expected. While the rate of foreclosure starts had remained essentially flat for the last three quarters of 2008, "we suspected that the numbers were artificially low" because of foreclosure moratoriums adopted by state and local governments, and voluntary delays instituted by Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and some lenders.

With the guidelines of the Obama administration’s loan modification programs in place and a large number of vacant homes with past-due mortgages, the pace of foreclosures "has stepped up considerably," Brinkmann said.

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