The face of foreclosure has many forms. Highly educated, relatively affluent Americans make up a significant share of those caught by the sweep of foreclosures, according to a study by the Florida Association of Realtors.

The study, conducted by data analysis and consulting firm Strategic Guidance Systems for the association, examined a three-year period (March 2006 to February 2009) to tease out particular demographic trends among those receiving foreclosure notices in Florida. It found that incomes and education levels varied among those facing foreclosure.

While 27 percent of affected homeowners reported incomes of $35,000 or less, 20 percent had incomes of $100,000 or more, the study said.

About 15 percent of homeowners had incomes between $35,000 and $50,000, while 23 percent had incomes between $50,000 and $75,000, and 15 percent had incomes between $75,000 and $100,000.

Among the affected homeowners, almost a quarter had a college degree while about 30 percent reported they completed some college. Slightly less than 30 percent had graduated high school and 15 percent had not completed high school.

Families were disproportionately affected by foreclosure, according to the study — 92 percent of those receiving foreclosure filings were families, and 65 percent of the study group had children present in the home.

At the same time, according to 2007 U.S. Census Bureau statistics on families and living arrangements, 43 percent of married couple households indicated children were present in the home.

"These statistics may indicate that a sizable majority of foreclosures in Florida affect families, and most of them with children," the study said.

More than 40 percent of foreclosure activity involved homeowners who had lived in the home for less than five years, and 35 percent had lived in the home for more than 10 years, the study found.

"Contrary to what some researchers have argued, many Florida homeowners were not driven into foreclosure by simply being trapped in bad loans, or losing their jobs or taking pay cuts," said John Sebree, the association’s vice president of public policy, in a statement.

"In most cases, it was a combination of rising living costs, unemployment or decreased pay, health issues and other factors that caused homeowners to get into trouble. Simple answers and trite political responses just don’t tell the whole story." Sebree referred to this snowballing of factors as the "plus one" effect.

In personal interviews, the association said, participants talked about the continual growth of housing costs as a percentage of income — some said housing costs took up to 75 percent of their monthly income — and said unemployment, unexpected medical expenses and growing family expenses made their economic situation worse.

"These deeply personal statements from real Floridians show that the pain of the foreclosure crisis is not confined to lenders, builders or businessmen, but also affects many hard-working people trying their hardest to make things right," Sebree said.

The study only included those who had received at least one foreclosure filing between March 2006 and February 2009, who were registered voters whose records matched the information on that filing, and for whom demographic data was available.

The association recommended further study to gain a truly representative view of all the state’s residents going through foreclosure. The study examined three different types of foreclosure filings: lis pendens, notice of sale, and Real Estate Owned (REO).

After receving a lis pendens, a mortgage holder can still avoid foreclosure by paying his/her late mortgage payments. The second filing, a notice of sale, tells the borrower that a foreclosure sale for the property has been scheduled. And the third filing indicates that mortgage lender now owns the property (often referred to as a bank-owned or REO property), usually after it fails to sell at auction, the study said.

Leading foreclosure statistics tend to combine all three types of notices to gauge foreclosure activity. Distressed property data company RealtyTrac, for example, combines the three in its widely publicized monthly statistical reports.

In RealtyTrac’s s most recent report, Florida was one of six states that made up 61 percent of the country’s foreclosure activity in February. The state’s Cape Coral-Fort Myers metro area had the second-highest foreclosure rate in the nation: one in every 92 homes received a foreclosrue-related filing.

In the association’s report, while all three types of filings rose during the time studied, the gap between lis pendens and the latter two filing types also kept growing wider.

In March 2006, all three types posted fewer than 2,500 notices issued, and by January 2009 lis pendens had skyrocketed to just under 20,000 while notices of sale and REOs had jumped to between 6,000 and 8,000 filings.

"One must take great care, therefore, in reporting on statewide foreclosure statistics. While reporting the number of lis pendens filed may reflect the number of foreclosure proceedings started, it does not necessarily reflect the number of homes that were eventually sold at auction," the study said.

Of Florida’s major metro areas, Miami was the state’s worst-hit city during the three-year period studied. Residents there received 24,502 lis pendens, 12,795 notices of sale, and 7,996 REO notices. Tampa, Orlando, Jacksonville, and Cape Coral rounded out the top five hardest-hit areas.

In the latter half of the study period, Tampa was on its way to overtaking Miami in foreclosure activity — between March 2008 and February 2009, Tampa recorded more lis pendens than any other city area (16,229).

In that period of time, the city’s unemployment rate doubled to 10.3 percent from 5.4 percent, the study noted. Between March and June 2008, monthly notices of sale jumped an "alarming" 2,500 percent — from 16 to 416.


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