The Rising Foreclosure Rate

While the number of new mortgages boomed between 2000 and 2003, foreclosure rates also hit record highs. Conditions have improved somewhat since mid-2003: over the last two years the foreclosure rate has flattened. The delinquency rate has also improved slightly with the number of delinquent loans hovering near 4. 4%, down from highs of almost 4. 8% a couple of years ago. Yet more homes are being foreclosed upon than ever before.

Why? While the foreclosure rate has remained fairly static, the rate of home ownership in the United States has continued to increase. Stephen Blank of the Urban Land Institute, quoted in the St. Louis Daily Record, cautioned that,? he level of home ownership is reaching unhealthy levels ― cited at 70% of the population, and moving towards 80% ― which foretells of a looming increase in foreclosures.

In effect, the percentage rate has remained flat, but the total number of homes in foreclosure has risen due to increased home ownership. More homes are owned? and more homes are being foreclosed upon. Experts predict the trend will continue. Home ownership is at record levels and interest rates have remained at historically low levels for a number of years.

In addition, over 150 different types of mortgage loans now exist, allowing purchases by consumers who would not have previously been able to qualify for a home loan. Buyers enjoy zero-down mortgages, no-documentation loans, 106% loans to allow for no-cash closings, and even 40-year mortgages. Looser lending standards contribute to high foreclosure rates because owners with no equity in their homes find it easier to simply walk away from their mortgages.

And if interest rates rise, many of the ever-increasing number of homeowners with ARMs may be unable to obtain suitable replacement financing or to meet the new, larger monthly payments required when the initial ARM term expires. Studies show that a loan? default risk is directly tied to the size of the down payment: the lower the down payment, the greater the likelihood of default.

Even in cases where down payments were made, low interest rates have encouraged growth of home equity loan advances and cash-out refinancing, allowing homeowners to take out cash generated from down payments and from appreciation. The Census Bureau estimates that in 2004 approximately $569 billion in home equity was extracted through refinancing, taking out second mortgages, or simply pulling out cash during a move.

The less equity that remains in a home the higher the likelihood of default, and with cash-out extractions continuing to rise, more and more homeowners are at risk. Liberal lending standards have also led some consumers to borrow more than they can afford: the Census Bureau recently released statistics showing that the average household spends almost a third of their income on housing costs, up from about 20% in 2000.

As a result, financial difficulties like the loss of a job, unexpected medical costs, or other emergencies quickly put a homeowner? mortgage in jeopardy. Rising consumer debt burden means almost any disruption in financial circumstances like lost income, illness, or divorce can seriously impact a homeowner? ability to make payments.

What? the result? When interest rates rise, foreclosure rates will rise. And if the real estate market flattens or dips, homeowners with ARMS or interest-only may find themselves upside-down on their mortgages?with foreclosure their only real alternative. Mark Sumpter is an investor who is also an expert in the field of buying and selling pre-foreclosures.

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