The rate of new foreclosure filings in Maryland far exceeded any other state's this spring, a spike caused in large part by the national robo-signing legal settlement that unleashed a flood of new cases.
Almost 20 in every 1,000 home loans in Maryland — twice the national average — were drawn into the foreclosure process during April, May and June, according to survey data released Thursday by the Washington-based Mortgage Bankers Association.
"If you look at what's going on in foreclosure starts, Maryland now has exceeded Florida, has exceeded Georgia — some of the states that have been up there at the top in terms of the percent of loans on which foreclosure actions have started," said Jay Brinkmann, the trade group's chief economist.
The break in the foreclosure dam resulted in more foreclosures being started in the second quarter of 2012 than in any quarter during the financial crisis. Though the glut of new foreclosures in Maryland was anticipated by home loan experts, the sheer number of proceedings filed — at least 20,000 in a three-month span — serves as a reminder that the state's struggle with foreclosure will continue even as home prices and sales numbers continue to normalize.
"The bottom line is, no matter what state you're in, there are still millions of foreclosures ahead," said Ginna Green, a spokeswoman for the Center for Responsible Lending, a consumer protection nonprofit.
In order to get the foreclosure explosion under control, Maryland and other states need to be aggressive about pursuing loan modifications for homeowners who still can continue to pay, she said.
For two years, there were year-over-year decreases in the number of new foreclosures in Maryland. But those decreases stopped this spring. The number of new foreclosures in 2012's second quarter spiked 141 percent compared with the same period last year.
"Maryland dominates in essentially every loan type," Brinkmann said.
About 5 percent of the state's mortgage loans are at some point in the foreclosure process.
Florida, the state with the second-highest number of foreclosures started during the second quarter, had proceedings begin for roughly 15 out of every 1,000 home loans, the association said.
"Part of that, as we went through the numbers, was tied to resumption of foreclosure actions after the settlement and that will tend to drive some of these other state numbers — but Maryland by far was the biggest increase," Brinkmann said.
Mortgage servicers had been holding back on beginning foreclosures until a major lawsuit about so-called robo-signing was concluded. State and federal governments alleged that mortgage servicers nationwide had carelessly and illegally prepared foreclosure paperwork.
After the scandal of mortgage-servicing abuses was exposed in late 2010, banks eased up on foreclosures, creating a logjam. Maryland has high numbers of homeowners seriously behind on their mortgage payments. The problem, mortgage bankers have said, is most severe in states where foreclosure is a judicial matter, which is the case in Maryland.
In February, Maryland Attorney GeneralDouglas F. Gansleragreed to join other states in a multibillion-dollar settlement with the country's five largest mortgage servicers. A federal judge approved the settlement in early April. The five mortgage companies are expected to release reports about the settlement's effects in November.
"Voluntary moratoriums … certainly created a respite," said Kathleen Murphy, the head of the Maryland Bankers Association, which represents mortgage servicers. But the process of lenders and homeowners seeking out public and private assistance also has lengthened the foreclosure filing process, she said.
The rulemaking process, too, has created uncertainty for servicers and slowed foreclosure filings. For instance, in 2011, Maryland implemented new foreclosure mediation rules. Regulators said at the time that servicers were delaying foreclosure filings while state officials worked on the final regulation language.
More foreclosure laws are to take effect in October. A pre-foreclosure mediation program will allow homeowners who have received delinquency notices to begin the modification process. A foreclosed property registry will help homeowners and local governments more easily identify foreclosure clusters.
"These numbers demonstrate exactly why we need a pre-file mediation program," said Anne B. Norton, the deputy commissioner of financial regulation at the state's department of labor, licensing and regulation.
In Maryland, foreclosures can be filed after 90 days of late payment. The state has found that many mortgage servicers were holding on to loans much longer than 90 days — even if no loss mitigation was being explored, Norton said. "They were just sitting on them," she said.
"We're hopeful that this is a sign of the market trying to get back to some kind of functioning marketplace," Norton said of the flood of new foreclosures this spring.
After having many quarters of artificially low rates of new foreclosures, she said, Maryland may be getting back in step with reality.
Nationally, Brinkmann said, new foreclosure starts are flat, an indicator that the effects of the recession are no longer weighing significantly on mortgage delinquencies. Any new increases would reflect real-time increases in unemployment and a slowdown in the creation of new jobs, Brinkmann said.
"In some ways, we're back to the fundamental driving factors that would have driven [foreclosure] prior to the recession," Brinkmann said.
Still, Brinkmann said he did not expect foreclosures to drop precipitously during the current quarter.
"My guess is that you'll see something of a decline going forward but Maryland still has a fairly sizable backlog to work through," he said. "That's going to keep some of those numbers elevated going forward."
"Housing is very much tied to the employment numbers," Brinkmann added. "Until we see some pickup in jobs creation, until we see the unemployment rate … begin heading back down in a meaningful way, we really can't expect fundamental improvement in the housing market."
In one bright spot for Maryland, fewer homeowners were 90 or more days behind on their mortgages in the second quarter than in the first quarter of the year.
The state's lower mortgage delinquency rate indicates a backlog was responsible for the high rate of foreclosure filings — "not a fundamental change in the housing economics," Brinkmann said.
Raymond Skinner, Maryland's secretary of housing and community development, agrees with Brinkmann's assessment. Home prices and sales rates have been increasing, he said.
"Overall, we truly believe that the fundamental economics of Maryland's housing market really remains strong," Skinner said.
Baltimore Sun reporter Jamie Smith Hopkins contributed to this article.
Top states for new foreclosures during the second quarter
Maryland led the nation in the rate of foreclosure starts during the second quarter of 2012. In Maryland, about 20 of every 1,000 home loans went into foreclosure during April, May and June. Nationally, the figure was roughly 10 per 1,000.
StatePercent of mortgages entering foreclosure in second quarter
Source: Mortgage Bankers AssociationCopyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun