Nationally, banks took back more U.S. homes in January than in the previous month, the latest sign that foreclosures are accelerating after slowing sharply last year while lenders sorted out foreclosure-abuse claims.
For the six-county Augusta area, there were 396 foreclosure filings in January, up from 300 in December and up from 317 in January 2011, according to foreclosure listing firm RealtyTrac Inc.
There were 12,467 filings in Georgia in January, a 17 percent increase over December, RealtyTrac reported Thursday.
Nationally, foreclosures rose 8 percent last month from December, but were down 15 percent from a year earlier, foreclosure listing firm RealtyTrac Inc. said.
Despite the annual decrease at the national level, some states posted sharp increases compared with January 2011. In New Hampshire, foreclosures jumped 62 percent; in Massachusetts, 75 percent.
That trend is expected to strengthen this year in light of last week’s $25 billion settlement between the nation’s biggest mortgage lenders and 49 state attorneys general over the industry’s handling of foreclosures.
Many banks and mortgage servicers processed foreclosures without verifying documents. Some employees signed papers they hadn’t read or used fake signatures to speed foreclosures – a practice dubbed “robo-signing.” Major banks temporarily put foreclosures on hold after the problems surfaced in the fall of 2010. Some had to refile previously filed foreclosure cases and revisit pending cases to prevent errors. Those delays and uncertainty over state and federal probes into the industry’s foreclosure practices led to a sharp slowdown in foreclosure activity last year.
RealtyTrac projects foreclosures will rise 25 percent this year to 1 million homes. Last year, lenders took back 804,000 homes.
Even so, the rise in foreclosures isn’t expected to be uniform nationwide. That’s because the settlement isn’t likely to ease the backlog of foreclosure cases in states where courts play a role in the process.
High unemployment, a sluggish housing market and falling home values remain major factors in homeowners falling behind on their mortgage payments. Many borrowers also have simply stopped paying their mortgage because they owe more on the mortgage than the home is worth.
All told, 210,941 U.S. homes received a default notice, were scheduled for auction or were repossessed by a lender in January, RealtyTrac said.
That’s up 3 percent from December, but a drop of 19 percent from January last year. The foreclosure rate translates to one in every 624 U.S. households.