February 26th, 2011 6:35 AM by Lehel S.
record share of U.S. mortgages were in the foreclosure process at the end of 2010, matching the all-time high, as lenders and servicers delayed home seizures to investigate charges of improper documentation.
About 4.63 percent of loans were in foreclosure in the fourth quarter, up from 4.39 percent in the previous three months, the Mortgage Bankers Association said in a report Thursday. The combined share of foreclosures and loans with overdue payments was 14 percent, or about one in every seven mortgages.
Property seizures plunged at the end of 2010 as lenders such as Bank of America Corp. and JPMorgan Chase & Co. temporarily halted proceedings to review their handling of court documents. That left more homes in the foreclosure process with their status unresolved. Repossessions tumbled 32 percent in the fourth quarter from the prior period, according to data from RealtyTrac Inc. in Irvine.
"It's clear that the process issues were driving the increase," said Jay Brinkmann, chief economist of the Mortgage Bankers Association. "We would expect the foreclosure inventory to start coming down as that gets resolved and the court situations get cleared up."
That share of mortgages in foreclosure tied the record reached in the first quarter of last year.
Foreclosure actions were started on 1.27 percent of home loans in the fourth quarter, down from 1.34 percent in the prior three months, according to the report. The share of mortgages with overdue payments dropped to 8.22 percent from 9.13 percent in the third quarter as an improving labor market and an expanding economy helped homeowners to stay current on their loans, Brinkmann said.
Bank of America, JPMorgan and Ally Financial Inc. began resuming foreclosures at the end of last year. The allegations of impropriety such as "robo signing," the mass processing of paperwork without proper verification, have spurred an investigation by attorneys general across the country.