July 12 (Bloomberg) -- U.S. lenders are notifying more delinquent homeowners they face foreclosure, a step toward clearing a backlog of properties and helping to accelerate a housing recovery.
Initial notices of foreclosure, the start of the process, jumped 6 percent in the second quarter from a year earlier, the first annual increase since 2009, according to RealtyTrac Inc., a seller of housing market data. Banks at the same time found alternatives to the final step of seizing the home, either by working with the borrower or by agreeing to sell properties for less than what was owed, with repossessions falling 22 percent.
“You have to get to the point where the market can heal itself and foreclosures and price adjustments are the only way that can happen,” said Anthony B. Sanders, economics professor at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia.
The housing market’s rebound has been restrained by the so-called shadow inventory of homes with mortgages at least 90 days delinquent, in foreclosure or already owned by banks, while foreclosures had been stalled since late 2010, when state attorneys general and federal regulators began investigating abuses by banks, including lost or doctored paperwork. They started to pick up again after the nation’s five biggest banks settled the probe for $25 billion in February.
“The market has to deal with these distressed properties at some point and I believe we’ve delayed it long enough so seeing these increases isn’t necessarily a bad thing,” said Daren Blomquist, a spokesman for Irvine, California-based RealtyTrac. “The market has strengthened and is more equipped to absorb this additional foreclosure inventory.”
Mortgage delinquencies are dropping, with the share of home loans at least 30 days late dropping to 7.4 percent in the first quarter from 7.58 percent in the prior three months, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association. Demand for real estate is rising amid record-low borrowing costs and tight inventories of available real estate. Contracts to buy previously owned homes rose 5.9 percent in May, matching a two-year high reached in March, the National Association of Realtors said.
The shadow inventory of homes fell in April to the lowest level in more than three years as delinquencies improve and banks find alternative means of disposing of properties, CoreLogic Inc. said last month. Lenders increasingly are able to avoid taking possession of homes by modifying mortgages, reducing principal or refinancing loans, and short sales, in which banks allow delinquent borrowers to sell properties for less than they owe, according to RealtyTrac.