The number of foreclosed homes scheduled for the auction block in October skyrocketed by 76 percent in Palm Beach County compared with a year ago, according to figured released by RealtyTrac on Wednesday.
Lenders are aggressively finalizing foreclosures now that prices have rebounded enough to make the transactions worthwhile. The county's auction listings grew to 1,055 homes compared with 610 in October 2012.
Banks "are working through the backlog of foreclosures," said Daren Blomquist, a RealtyTrac vice president. "Now we are seeing property actually going to auction — they are moving the ball forward. It's a great time to unload inventory."
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Home prices have been rising steadily since the first of year after nose-diving for six years. Many banks have waited for a rebound to unload properties.
"Bankers are like anyone else: They don't want to sell in a declining market," said South Florida bank analyst Ken Thomas, who said some foreclosed properties are actually selling for a profit now.
So far, their auctioning off foreclosed properties hasn't dampened the strong surge in home prices in Broward and Palm Beach counties, Thomas said. He hopes that trend continues, and that the banks don't flood the market with homes.
"I am hopeful that the banks are sensitive to the potential impact of their actions on neighborhood housing markets, especially in low- and moderate-income communities that have already been hit so hard with aggressive subprime lending and the resultant foreclosures," Thomas added.
The recent uptick in auctions has contributed to Florida once again leading the nation in foreclosures in October, RealtyTrac's Blomquist said. The state and South Florida have about three times the foreclosure activity of the national average, according to RealtyTrac.
RealtyTrac's monthly report tracks the foreclosure stages, including new cases filed, bank repossessions and scheduled auctions. The surge in auctions actually hides the good news: New foreclosures are sharply down in South Florida from a year ago, Blomquist said.
New foreclosure filings on homes by lenders dropped 46 percent in Palm Beach County in October, to 496 from 925 at the same time last year.
The improving economy is making it easier for people to pay their bills, Broward Bank of Commerce president and CEO Keith Costello said. Regulators from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation recently met with South Florida community bankers to share with them the region's improving numbers — from fewer foreclosures to more construction projects to a lower unemployment rate, Costello said.
"The Fort Lauderdale area is especially doing well," Costello said, better than West Palm Beach and Miami.
Programs such as the National Mortgage Settlement funded by the nation's five largest mortgage lenders also have helped lower South Florida foreclosure filings by reducing principal and interest rates to struggling homeowners.
More than 9,000 Floridians have had their loan amounts or interest rates reduced, according to a recent release from Bank of America spokeswoman Jumana Bauwens. She didn't have a breakdown of numbers by county.
"Through Sept. 30, $1.1 billion in reduced principal balances has been provided on qualified Bank of America mortgages for 6,872 Floridians who were underwater and delinquent, representing an average reduction of nearly $159,000 in outstanding principal," she said.
"Another 2,529 homeowners have realized an average 2 percent drop in interest rates on eligible loans that were underwater but paid current, representing an average decrease of $218 in the monthly mortgage payments."
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