October 19, 2006

The Canary in the Coalmine:
The number of Californians who are significantly behind on their mortgage payments and at risk of losing their homes to foreclosure more than doubled in the three months ended Sept. 30, providing the latest evidence of trouble in the housing market, figures released Wednesday show.

Lenders sent out 26,705 default notices — the first step toward a foreclosure — during the July-to-September period, up from 12,606 during the same quarter in 2005, according to DataQuick Information Systems.


Foreclosures are rare when the housing market is strong and prices are rising. In those conditions, borrowers can usually sell their homes quickly, or they have enough equity to allow them to refinance their loans. But in another disquieting sign, DataQuick reported that 19% of the owners who went into default earlier in the year actually lost their homes to foreclosure in the third quarter, more than triple the 6% in 2005.


The softening of the housing market was the trigger, as new homeowners with little or no equity in their properties found themselves unable to sell at a high enough price to pay off the balance of the loan and still cover all of the sale expenses.

"Whereas a year ago, people could have put their house on the market and sold their way out of the problem, now they're stuck with the house," said Richard Pittman, housing services coordinator for credit counselor ByDesign Financial Solutions in Los Angeles.
--Los Angeles Times (10/19/20)

We caught a break last year when the housing market didn't collapse, in conjunction with the anticipation of the apocolyptic bankruptcy law. YBK was limited in its impact to borrowers and credit card companies, not homeowners, many of whom were able to stave off the trip to the courthouse by refinancing in the twilight days of the housing boom. Those people who are now threatened with the foreclosure of their homes will be visiting my office soon, as well as the offices of other bankruptcy attorneys (oops, my bad: other "debt relief agencies"), but without the protections Chapter 7 and 13 debtors had under the old law.

And as a consequence, more people will lose their homes in the end to foreclosure, which will further depreciate the value of real estate, which will suck even more money out of the economy.

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