Foreclosure Filings Rise 6 Percent in February Over January

By Renae Merle
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 12, 2009; 9:41 AM

Foreclosure filings rose 6 percent in February compared with the previous month, according to RealtyTrac, a private firm that collects housing data.

The firm counted 290,631 filings nationally, which can range from default notices to bank repossessions. That was up 30 percent compared with the same period a year ago, according to the report. RealtyTrac says it collects data on more than 90 percent of U.S. households.

Filings increased despite government and industry efforts to help struggling homeowners and despite pledges by several banks and Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to temporarily halt foreclosures.

"Our expectation was that nationally we would see a decline. So the fact that we saw an increase fell between a shock and surprise," said Rick Sharga, RealtyTrac's senior vice president. "It's a little troubling. It suggests that the rate of activity is increasing so much that an industry moratorium can't hold the numbers down."

Nevada continued to have the highest foreclosure rate, according to the data, followed by Arizona and California. Foreclosures filings were up in the District during February compared with the previous month, but they declined in Maryland and Virginia, RealtyTrac found.

The Obama administration last week launched a huge foreclosure prevention program aimed at encouraging lenders to lower borrowers' mortgage payments to affordable levels. The administration has said it expects to be able to help up to 4 million homeowners under the program.

It will take months for the plan to begin having an impact, Sharga said. The effort probably will also struggle to make much difference in hard-hit states where home values have fallen the most, he said.

© 2009 The Washington Post Company