Monday, September 3, 2007

California cities fill top 10 foreclosure list

California cities fill top 10 foreclosure list
Stockton, Calif. records highest foreclosure rate among nation's metro areas according to a new survey.
By Les Christie, staff writer
August 14 2007

NEW YORK ( -- The binge that many housing markets went on in the early- to mid-2000s is over, and some of the hottest markets like California are now experiencing the worst hangovers.

But other areas, especially many that recorded slower home price growth earlier this decade, have seen little increase in foreclosure rates, according to the latest data released Tuesday from RealtyTrac, the online marketer of foreclosure properties.

"While foreclosure activity has skyrocketed over the past year in many cities, particularly in California, Ohio and the Northeast," James Saccaccio, RealtyTrac's chief executive, said in a statement, "foreclosure activity seems to be subsiding in parts of Texas, South Carolina and other states."

"Still," he said, "the overall trend is toward escalating foreclosure rates, with 82 of the top 100 metro areas reporting year-over-year increases in the number of homes affected by foreclosure."

Stockton, California now leads the nation in foreclosures. Of RealtyTrac's top 10 metro areas for foreclosures, four are in Central California.

Coastal California cities are doing relatively well, although foreclosures are up there too. San Francisco had one foreclosure for every 263 households, a fairly low rate, but up 83 percent from the first six months of 2006.

Stockton city drew thousands of home buyers to the Central Valley area from the prohibitively expensive Bay-area markets during the housing boom and saw home prices nearly double in the four years ended December 31, 2005, according to the Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight.

Because of California's outsized home prices, option and hybrid adjustable-rate mortgages (ARMs) interest-only loans became widespread. They enabled home buyers to get into properties they could not otherwise afford.

But often these loans were time bombs; hybrid ARMs, for example, reset to much higher rates - and payments - after the first two or three years of low fixed rates.

Many buyers were also approved for expensive mortgages based on applications in which income or assets went unproven, the so-called no- or low-doc loans, AKA "liar loans."

Lenders underwrote mortgages for these borrowers based on their income or asset claims without proof and many times the claims were exaggerated. When hard times hit, these borrowers had fewer resources to fall back on than the lenders anticipated and foreclosures followed.

Mortgage meltdown contagion

Seven of the nation's top 10 metro areas are in the Sun Belt. Only three are in economically hard-hit areas, historically the kinds of places that once produced the highest rates of foreclosure filings.

Stockton recorded one foreclosure filing for every 27 households during the six months ended June 30, a 256 percent increase compared with the first six months of 2006.

Number two in the nation was Detroit, where job losses in the auto industry drove foreclosures higher. One of every 29 households recorded a foreclosure filing there, almost double the rate of a year ago. Las Vegas (one of 31, up 142 percent) was third.

The other California cities in the top 10 were Riverside/San Bernardino (one in 33, up 198 percent), Sacramento (one in 36, up 231 percent) and Bakersfield (one in 47, up 222 percent).

The lowest foreclosure rate recorded by RealtyTrac among the 100 metro areas surveyed was in Richmond, Virginia. It had just one for every 2,319 households, about the same as a year ago and a rate barely more than 1 percent of Stockton's.

Other low foreclosure metro areas included Greenville, South Carolina (one in 1,721, down 66 percent), McAllen, Texas (one in 1,494, down 35 percent) and Honolulu (one in 1,151, up 68 percent).

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