Numbers were released today for the month of September that show that foreclosures and inventories of bank-owned properties are on the rise in Washington, Oregon, Nevada, Arizona, and California.  The report was issued by ForeclosureRadar, a company that tracks every foreclosure in the five western states and provides auction updates.  Although several bank and loan servicers have announced that they are suspending foreclosures while investigating internal procedures, ForeclosureRadar analysts have yet to see any impact of this suspension on the numbers.

So the report is reminding us that nothing is getting any better, and in fact it’s getting worse.  Last month in California, the number of foreclosed properties that sold declined by 15.6% while inventories of bank-owned homes increased by 5.3%. And according to ForeclosureRadar’s CEO, Sean O’Toole, “…the reality is that far more homeowners are behind on their mortgage payments than are even in foreclosure.”  To me, this spells a further increase in the number of short sales and foreclosures, with no end in sight.

However, in the middle of this disheartening news, Mr. O’Toole voiced the only logical response to the real estate crisis that I’ve heard all year. “The clear problem in the housing market today is not foreclosures, but negative equity; and as long as the focus remains on the symptom rather than the disease we will see little progress towards real solutions and this crisis will drag on for years to come.”

Finally!  Someone gets it!  Negative equity is the real problem that needs to be addressed.  As I mentioned in my earlier post about the FHA principal reduction program, reducing the principal owed to be more in line with current values is the best and quickest way to curtail the growing number of strategic defaults.  Most people who have bought a home, want to keep their home…..but it has to make financial sense, especially in today’s struggling economy.  Reducing the principal amount owed not only makes the mortgage payment more affordable, it provides an incentive to stay and pay.

So from my perspective, until the banks and investors decide that taking a loss through principal reduction is preferable to taking a loss through foreclosure, our housing market will continue to disintegrate.  How many more foreclosures and short sales will it take before the banks are ready to listen?

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