May got off to an interesting start with the release of several foreclosure reports that frankly, seem a bit contradictory.  There was good news.  There was bad news.  And I’m not quite sure analysts have a handle on what it all really means to the housing market.

Let’s start with the good news:  Mortgage delinquencies are down.  According to data from Lender Processing Services (LPS), delinquencies are down by 20% compared to this time last year.  At the end of March there were 6,333,040 loans nationwide that were past due or in foreclosure.  Sounds like a lot, but that is the lowest level since 2008.  The report would seem to indicate that modifications are helping as 23% of loans that were 90 days past due a year ago are current today.

Now here is where it gets confusing.  The same report showed that at the end of March foreclosure inventory was at an all time high – 2.2 million loans.  This inventory represents loans that have been referred to a foreclosure attorney but have not yet reached foreclosure sale.  The number of new foreclosure actions was 270,681 in March which is a 33% increase over the previous month.  So foreclosures are up but delinquencies are down?

Another piece of bad news was delivered in a HUD report detailing sales of FHA foreclosed homes.  HUD manages the disposition of homes that had FHA loans that were repossessed.  At the end of February there were 68,801 homes in the HUD inventory.  That is a 50% increase over the previous year.  The monthly sale of HUD homes has dropped from ahigh pointof 8,893 last June to a low of just 2,632 in January.  Thus new foreclosures are entering the market at an increased rate while sales have significantly stalled.

One factor not considered in the LPS report was the increase in the number of short sales over the last year.  In addition to loan modifications, which have not been very effective, short sales are presumably impacting the decreased delinquency rate as more homeowners are opting to sell short earlier in the delinquency cycle versus riding out the foreclosure timeline.    If you are a homeowner that owes more than your home is worth and are struggling to make your payments, the bright spot on the horizon might just be a short sale should a loan modification not provide the relief you need.

For the real estate industry overall, this jumble of numbers would seem to indicate that we’re still a long way from recovery.  With foreclosures increasing and sales decreasing, a bloated inventory of homes on the market will likely keep prices fairly stagnant in most markets.

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