2009-01-22 / Features

Home Repossessions Nearly Doubled In Pa. Last Year

By Marc Levy ASSOCIATED PRESS WRITER

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) - The number of Pennsylvania homes repossessed from homeowners who fell behind on their mortgage payments nearly doubled in 2008 as more people lost their jobs, businesses and nest eggs.

New figures from RealtyTrac Inc. show that the percentage increase of repossessed homes in Pennsylvania last year is similar to the nation's.

Lenders repossessed more than 10,800 Pennsylvania homes in 2008, up from about 5,500 in 2007, according to figures from RealtyTrac, a foreclosure listing firm based in Irvine, Calif., which compiled the figures.

More than 37,000 properties in Pennsylvania received a foreclosure filing last year, a jump of 127 percent over 2007 and more than 50 percent above the rate of increase nationally.

With Pennsylvania's job losses mounting and 14,000 more adjustable rate mortgages scheduled to reset on Pennsylvania homes this year, few believe things are about to improve.

"I think in 2009 we're still going to see more foreclosures, certainly,'' said Austin J. Jaffe, the director of the Institute for Real Estate Studies at Penn State University. "There's more resets coming from ARMs that are still out there, and as the economy gets weaker that's likely to increase the number of foreclosures and increase the supply of houses on the market.''

Still, any increase in foreclosures will be more moderate than last year, said Jaffe, who is also a consulting economist to the Pennsylvania Association of Realtors.

For now, Pennsylvania has been in better shape than many other states since it has avoided much of the nation's heaviest job losses and real estate speculation.

At 0.68 percent, Pennsylvania's 2008 foreclosure rate ranked 33rd among the 50 states and District of Columbia, or about one-third the national average.

The counties with the highest rate of properties going into foreclosure were Philadelphia and Allegheny counties - home to the state's biggest cities - which both reported rates at above 1 percent. Berks, Delaware, Washington and York counties recorded foreclosure rates just below 1 percent, RealtyTrac said.

Making things more difficult were slowing home sales that left some people with mortgages worth more than the value of their homes.

From January to November, sales volume was down 24 percent and the median price was down 1.5 percent compared to the same 11-month period in 2007, the Pennsylvania Association of Realtors said.

Brian A. Hudson Sr., the executive director of the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency, said his agency and mortgage lenders are doing more now to help people stay in their homes. But he worries that job losses will tip more people into default.

That makes it impossible to say whether 2009 will be better than 2008, Hudson said.

"I can't make that prediction, but I'm sure hoping for better,'' he said.

The agency received $10 million from the state last year to provide counseling and other services, and it is taking on more mortgages that have been refinanced to lower payments.

Of the 150 homeowners whose loans were taken on by the agency, just two are more than 30 days late on their payments, he said.

Beginning in October, the agency began contacting homeowners - more than 30,000 so far - who are considered vulnerable to foreclosure because their adjustable rate mortgages were scheduled to reset to higher interest rates soon.

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