Friday, February 17, 2012

Palm Beach County foreclosure filings soar 52 percent in past year

Lenders ramped up Florida foreclosures last month, an acceleration driven by continued robo-signing fixes and expected to hasten after last week’s $25 billion mortgage settlement with the nation’s largest banks.

Statewide, foreclosure filings were made on 24,783 homes, a 14 percent jump from January 2011 and the first year-over-year increase in overall activity in more than a year, according to a report to be released today by the Irvine, Calif.-based firm RealtyTrac.

In Palm Beach County, overall foreclosure activity was down 4.5 percent in January from last year, but a 52 percent spike in initial filings affirms experts’ predictions that lenders are revving their home repossession engines.

“They will go full speed, pedal to the metal,” said foreclosure defense attorney Roy Oppenheim of Weston-based Oppenheim Law. “The settlement tells them how to do things and if they do it that way they are free to proceed.”

The nationwide agreement announced Feb. 9 with Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Citigroup, Bank of America and Ally Financial is expected to bring $8.4 billion in cash and mortgage relief to Florida homeowners.

Full details of the settlement are not expected until it is submitted to a federal judge for approval, but some attorneys and real estate consultants are concerned that it is too forgiving of fraudulent court documents filed by banks and will embolden an increase in foreclosures.

According to an executive summary of the settlement, it contains a “broad release” of banks’ conduct related to loan servicing and foreclosure preparation that bars attorneys general from filing civil claims in those areas.

“It’s the deal of a lifetime for a precious few homeowners,” said Jack McCabe, chief executive of McCabe Research & Consulting in Deerfield Beach. “But for the vast majority of people it still means going through a potential foreclosure and trying to negotiate with a bank that might not be as willing to negotiate after the settlement.”

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