Avoiding foreclosures: Banks lend a hand

February 12, 2009 6:55:16 PM PST
California banks appear to be easing up on foreclosures around the state. The RealtyTrac data reports 14 percent less foreclosure activity last month. Still, California accounts for one in every four foreclosures in the country. The Merced area now has the nation's number one foreclosure rate, and five other California markets are in the top 10.

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Francisco Ramirez is 10 months behind on his mortgage payments to Countrywide and still hasn't received a notice of foreclosure.

Ramirez says his bank has been working with him to avoid foreclosure. According to foreclosure counselors, the kinder, gentler treatment Ramirez is getting from his lender is a recent trend, and it's one reason why foreclosure filings actually dropped 32 percent in hard-hit Contra Costa County last month.

"As more lending institutions are under the influence of the federal government because of government regulatory action or bailout action, they're being told to try and keep people in and we're seeing that the lenders are making that effort," said Tom Lafleur, executive vice president of Pacific Community Services, a foreclosure counseling service in Pittsburg.

At the same time, properties that have gone into foreclosure have become hot sellers, accounting for nearly half of all homes sold across the country in the past three months, and that drives down prices.

Nationwide, home values have plunged in 85 percent of the markets in the past year. In California, there's been a corresponding increase in sales of 85 percent.

The sales increase, at least in the Bay Area, is largely driven by bargain hunters jumping into the market and scooping up distressed properties.

"You have a lot of investors coming into the market. You have a lot of investors buying in the $200,000 price range and you have first-time homebuyers who haven't bought before coming into the market," said realtor Jenette Cope.

That's good news for realtors, but not so good for the many struggling Americans still trying to keep their home from becoming the next hot seller.

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