Home Foreclosures Are at a 40-Month Low, But That's Not Good News

Just because foreclosures are down doesn't mean the market's recovering

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Research firm RealtyTrac published a report this week showing that home foreclosures were down in April to a 40-month low. There were 219,258 foreclosure filings reported in April 2011--that's a 9 percent decrease from March and a 34 percent drop from April 2010.

It sounds like good news, but it's not, really: As several writers have pointed out, the drop in foreclosure filings doesn't mean the housing market has recovered. Rather, it just means there's a big backlog in processing foreclosures. In 2007, according to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, the average foreclosure process took 151 days, from the initial default notice to the bank repossession. In April 2010, that figure had risen to 340 days. Now it's up to 400. Things are just taking longer than they used to.

And there's more bad news to come. Portfolio offers some sobering numbers:

Default notices, scheduled auctions and bank repossessions are still higher than normal, with one in every 593 U.S. households receiving a foreclosure filing in April. There are currently 3.7 million loans that are 90 days or more late on payment, according to RealtyTrac figures, and ordinarily a large percentage would be in foreclosure by now.

So what does that mean? Daniel Indiviglio at The Atlantic suspects "the foreclosure pipeline is actually getting fuller and fuller, which means that foreclosure activity will be high for longer." And Douglas McIntyre at 24/7 Wall St. agrees--he thinks there could be "a flood of foreclosures later this year or next. Banks have not foreclosed on as many homes as they would have liked." Even though "foreclosures just reached a 40-month low," says McIntyre, "that figure could hit a 50-month high before too long."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.