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California Mortgage Defaults Trend Down Again

October 21, 2009

The number of mortgage default notices filed against California homeowners fell last quarter compared with the prior three-month period, the result of lenders’ evolving foreclosure policies, an uncertain legislative environment and an uptick in the number of mortgages being renegotiated, a real estate information service reported.

A total of 111,689 default notices were sent out during the July-through-September period. That was down 10.3 percent from 124,562 for the prior quarter, and up 18.5 percent from 94,240 in third-quarter 2008, according to San Diego-based MDA DataQuick.

The number of recorded default notices peaked in the first quarter of this year at 135,431, although that number was inflated by deferred activity from the prior four months.

“It may well be that lenders have intentionally slowed down the pace of formal foreclosure proceedings. If so, it’s not out of the goodness of their hearts. It’s because they’ve concluded that flooding the market with cheap foreclosures in this economic environment may not be in their best financial interest. Trying to keep motivated, employed homeowners in their homes might be the most cost-efficient way to stem losses,” said John Walsh, DataQuick president.

The median origination month for last quarter’s defaulted loans was July 2006, the same as during this year’s first and second quarters. A year ago the median origination month was June 2006, so the foreclosure process has moved one month forward during the past 12 months.

“There’s a batch of truly nasty loans that were made in mid 2006. There’s another batch made in late 2006. These are worse than the mortgages before and after, and it’s taking a long time to process them,” Walsh said.

The lenders that originated the most loans that went into default last quarter were Countrywide (7,583), Washington Mutual (5,146) and Wells Fargo (4,425). Along with Bank of America (1,979) and World Savings (4,237), they were also the most active lenders in the second half of 2006. Last quarter’s default rate on loans originated in the second half of 2006 ranged from 1.7 percent for Bank of America to 11.9 percent for World Savings.

Smaller subprime lenders had far higher default rates for that period: ResMAE Mortgage was at 73.9 percent, Ownit Mortgage 69.5 percent, BNC Mortgage 61.4 percent, Argent Mortgage 59.9 percent and First Franklin 59.4 percent. While these and most other subprime lenders are long gone, their loans were bundled, resold and now live on as “troubled assets”.

Indeed, many, if not most, of the loans made in 2006 are owned and/or serviced by lending institutions other than those that made the loans. The servicers pursuing the highest number of delinquencies last quarter were ReconTrust Co, Quality Loan Service Corp and Cal-Western Reconveyance Corp.

While most foreclosure activity was still concentrated in affordable inland communities, the foreclosure problem continued to slowly migrate into more expensive areas. California’s most affordable sub-markets, which represent 25 percent of the state’s housing stock, accounted for 52.2 percent of all default activity a year ago. In third-quarter 2009 it fell to 42.9 percent. On primary mortgages, California homeowners were a median five months behind on their payments when the lender filed the notice of default. The borrowers owed a median $12,665 on a median $343,200 mortgage.

On home equity loans and lines of credit in default, borrowers owed a median $3,948 on a median $62,800 credit line. However the amount of the credit line that was actually in use cannot be determined from public records.

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