Thursday, September 15, 2011 / by Aaron Kinn
"If the Obama administration really wants to save the housing market, it should speed up the foreclosure process -- not prolong the inevitable, experts say.
Four years into the housing crisis, the real estate market is still teetering on the edge. The Obama administration has tried one program after another to stem the tide of foreclosures with limited success. And it is continuing to look for ways "to ease the burden on struggling homeowners," though no new initiative is imminent, the White House said this week.
But some housing experts argue that the administration should go in a different direction than it has in the past. Instead, they say it's time to focus on pushing many of those delinquent borrowers through the foreclosure process and putting foreclosed properties back into use.
While some of the 2.2 million loans in foreclosure can still be saved, many are too far gone, they say. Some 37% have not made a payment in more than two years, while another 34% have not made a payment in 12 to 23 months, according to Lender Processing Services.
"Loans enter into foreclosure, but never come out," said Thomas Lawler, founder of Lawler Economic & Housing Consulting. "If this keeps going on, you have a continual overhang that never goes away."
Delaying foreclosure increases the percentage of homeowners who'll likely never catch up, Lawler said. In 2009, only 6% of delinquent borrowers were more than two years behind. And it means vacant properties still in limbo could fall even further into disrepair, hurting the value of the surrounding housing market.
Obama's housing scorecard
Lawler is not the first to warn about the consequences of slowing the foreclosure process. Since the housing crisis began, several experts cautioned that foreclosure prevention efforts may only prolong the pain.
Accelerating foreclosures is tricky, however, especially since it is largely the purview of the states. But the administration could work with state officials to speed the process, especially on vacant homes, he said.
The push would come at a time when many mortgage servicers have slowed foreclosure efforts as they resolve shoddy paperwork practices. Foreclosure filings in July dropped to their lowest level since November 2007, due to processing delays and foreclosure prevention measures, according to RealtyTrac."
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