By Renae Merle
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 9, 2009 12:00 AM
Foreclosure filings were flat last month, falling slightly after climbing in July, according to industry data released Thursday morning.
RealtyTrac counted 358,471 foreclosure filings nationally, which can range from default notices to bank repossessions. That is down less than 1 percent from July. Filings were up 18 percent from August 2008. RealtyTrac, a private firm, says its data cover more than 90 percent of U.S. households.
The number of homes being sold in foreclosure dipped last month, but those in the early stages of the foreclosure process continued to rise, said Daren Blomquist, spokesman for RealtyTrac. That could reflect delays being built into the system to give homeowners time to take advantage of federal and state foreclosure prevention programs, he said. Overall, he said, foreclosure activity remains at a high level.
Most of the problem remains centered in hard-hit states such as Arizona and Nevada, according to the RealtyTrac data. But in California, foreclosure filings were down compared with the same period last year, the first year-over-year decrease in that state since the foreclosure crisis began, according to RealtyTrac.
"If that pattern continues over the next few months, maybe we can look back and say these loan modification programs have started to get hold, but it is too early to say that conclusively," said Blomquist.
Compared with last year, foreclosure filings were down in the District, but up in Virginia and Maryland.
The data come as lenders face more pressure to ramp up implementation of the government's Making Home Affordable effort. Under that program, lenders are paid to lower borrowers' monthly payments. But progress on the program has been slow and some Democratic lawmakers have warned that they would revive legislation to allow bankruptcy judges to modify mortgages if they didn't see significant progress soon.
"The federal report card on the mortgage industry's voluntary effort to stop foreclosures shows a growing number of families have received a loan modification," Michael Calhoun, president for the Center for Responsible Lending, said in a statement Wednesday. "That's good news, but hardly enough. Given the magnitude of serious delinquencies and projected foreclosures starts in the months ahead, these gains fall far short of what's needed to stem the foreclosure epidemic and restore the economy."