TAMPA – Jan. 19, 2011 – Tampa Bay homeowners can get away with not paying their mortgage payments for about 285 days before lenders even begin to take the house back.
And if you think that’s a long time, get this: it takes about 673 days before the house is sold and the homeowner kicked out, according to data compiled by LPS Applied Analytics, which provides technology and data to the mortgage industry.
That puts the Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater metro area near the top of the list for states that are slow to initiate foreclose. The Bay area is behind Maryland, Massachusetts, New York and California.
It’s no secret that Florida is nowhere near emerging from the real estate downturn. But data like this show just how clogged local courts are. The data also bring up some thorny issues for economists and industry onlookers who say the market won’t recover until a bulk of the distressed homes are sold.
“This data reflects that our system is overwhelmed,” said Mike Larson, a real estate analyst with Weiss Research. “It also reflects the pressure from government and others to come up with foreclosure alternatives. That’s good or bad, depending on your perspective.”
One of the reasons it takes so long to foreclosure on Florida homes is because a judge must sign off on foreclosures in the Sunshine State. Courts are working through a backlog of tens of thousands of pending foreclosures. Some lenders halted or dramatically slowed foreclosure proceedings, amid government programs to keep struggling Americans in their homes.
Some, such as the Florida Bankers Association, have tried in the past to change Florida’s foreclosure process so a judge doesn’t have to sign off on foreclosures. Supporters say it would help improve the economy faster.
However, that could create even more problems, say consumer groups, who point to recent cases involving sloppy practices, even fraud, by lenders. At least with a judge, they say, there is some opportunity for protection for struggling homeowners.
Alex Sanchez, president and chief executive for the Florida Bankers Association, supported a legislative bill last spring that would have allowed lenders to foreclose without judge approval.
“I have Floridians emailing me, asking that we foreclose on their neighbors’ empty home faster,” Sanchez said. “They don’t want to live by the eyesore. Being a non-judicial state would streamline the process.”
There are 30 states that have a non-judicial foreclosure process, allowing lenders to foreclose on properties in as little as a month.
Under Florida law, a lender can take back a home only if it files a foreclosure lawsuit and is granted one from a judge. Because of a backlog of nearly 500,000 foreclosures, the process can take several months to a year or longer.
Last year’s proposed bill, which was sponsored by Tom Grady, R-Naples, would have changed that by allowing lenders to skip legal proceedings unless the borrower requests that the foreclosure go through the courts. Lenders could have foreclosed in as little as 90 days.
The controversial bill, however, hit such resistance from foreclosure defense attorneys and consumer groups that it didn’t get very far.
“The faster we can get these properties rehabilitated and sold to someone who will clean them up, the faster our economy will recover,” Sanchez said.
Lenders foreclosing faster wouldn’t help, said Mark Stopa, a Tampa foreclosure defense attorney. “Banks want to get the judgment so they can write it off their books, but they don’t want to take title and sell the home,” Stopa said. “The LPS data shows how long it takes before they sell homes.
“I’ve seen so many homeowners move out because they lose their case and then the bank cancels the sale, and the home stays empty.”
Copyright © 2011 Tampa Tribune, Fla., Shannon Behnken. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.