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State's foreclosure-start rate among nation's highest

Maryland had the fifth-highest rate of new foreclosure cases in the nation during the summer, the number increasing from the spring even as many other states improved, the Mortgage Bankers Association said Thursday.

It's not a new problem. The mortgage bankers' trade group said the effects of the mortgage crisis, which hit about six years ago, are lingering longer in Maryland and other states that require at least some court involvement before foreclosure auction is permitted. That "tends to slow things up," said the group's chief economist, Jay Brinkmann.

The bankers' group has frequently compared Maryland with Virginia, which permits out-of-court foreclosures. Virginia's rate of new foreclosure cases was half as high as Maryland's during the July-through-September period, and 13th lowest in the nation.

"If you look at two states like Maryland and Virginia, right next to each other, affected by many of the same economic circumstances, Maryland's path through this crisis has been very different," said Michael Fratantoni, the association's vice president for single family research.

But Maryland is seeing a steady improvement in the number of borrowers behind on their payments. Delinquent loans not yet in the foreclosure process dropped just below 8 percent of all mortgages for the first time in five years, the trade group said — a significant drop from nearly 11 percent in late 2009.

Still, there's a ways to go before the state gets back to normal. Fewer than 5 percent of Marylanders were behind on their mortgages, not including those in foreclosure, on average in the first six years of the last decade.

Foreclosure isn't automatically a full-blown court case in Maryland, but mortgage servicers must file paperwork with the court system before auctioning off homes. And homeowners can ask for mediation.

The state once allowed servicers to foreclose just 15 days after the first late payment, one of the fastest processes in the country. Officials lengthened it in recent years, hoping to give borrowers a chance to work out an alternative and reacting to a case in which a homeowner was foreclosed on despite never missing a payment.

jhopkins@baltsun.com

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