Banks focus on closing out foreclosures

A padlock and real-estate agent key lock boxes are seen on the front door of a foreclosed home in Antioch, Calif.

TEXT OF STORY

Kai Ryssdal: You know, one of the downsides of being on later in the daily business news cycle is that a lot of the key economic numbers come out pretty early in the morning. So you've probably already heard the foreclosure figure by now. A report that says they're down, both month-to-month and on an annual basis as well. And that, on the face of it, is good. Until you read a little deeper and discover that the number of houses being repossessed is up 45 percent.

We asked Marketplace's Alisa Roth to break down those numbers, and what they might mean for the housing market.


ALISA ROTH: Foreclosure is a legal process. It can take anywhere from a couple of months to more than a year. The repossession happens at the end. It's when the bank actually takes the keys.

Today's report comes from a website called RealtyTrac. And it says banks have been initiating fewer foreclosures but finishing more of them.

RICK SHARGA: They're focusing less on moving people into foreclosure and more on processing the loans that are already in foreclosure.

Rick Sharga works at RealtyTrac. And he says this is a change in the way banks are dealing with foreclosures.

Sharga: The banks are trying to clear those out before they initiate new ones.

Some people who watch the housing market say the way RealtyTrac counts is misleading. And they point out that monthly numbers almost always jump around. But they do agree: A lot of people are still losing their homes.

Alan White is a professor at the Valparaiso University Law School. He says there's a huge inventory of foreclosed properties on the market.

ALAN WHITE: That inventory obviously puts downward pressure on home prices. So until we can stop increasing the number of foreclosed homes and homeowners facing foreclosure, we're going to continue to see a decline in home values.

White says housing prices won't really recover until people start getting jobs again, and homeowners whose properties are worth less than their mortgages stop walking away.

I'm Alisa Roth for Marketplace.

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