The Housing Chronicles Blog: Price declines and rising foreclosures now capturing prime borrowers

Friday, June 6, 2008

Price declines and rising foreclosures now capturing prime borrowers

It looks like we're entering a phase of this housing cycle in which even the more conservative 'prime' borrowers -- those whom are able to document their assets and income and maintain higher credit scores -- are feeling the pain of declining home prices and even at an increasing risk of foreclosure. From a story in the Wall Street Journal:

Mortgage delinquencies and foreclosures continued to surpass record levels in the first quarter, as the prolonged decline in home prices and shifting economic conditions trapped a growing number of prime borrowers.

Delinquencies and foreclosures increased at the fastest pace for borrowers with prime adjustable-rate mortgages, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association, though borrowers with subprime ARMs still account for the largest share of troubled loans. The number of new prime ARM foreclosures increased by 29,000 to 117,000 in the first quarter, while the number of new subprime ARM foreclosures increased by 20,000 to 195,000. This is the first time prime foreclosures have grown faster than subprime foreclosures, the MBA said...

The increase in delinquencies has been highest in states where there has been a lot of overbuilding, said Jay Brinkmann, the MBA's vice president for research and economics. New subdivisions in those states have seen the biggest price drops, he said, as builders have cut prices to reduce inventories. That has made it more difficult for borrowers in the same or nearby subdivisions to sell or refinance if they get into trouble. About 10% of the homes built after 2000 are now vacant, according to the Census Bureau, compared with roughly 2% of homes built earlier...

Still, the rise in past-due loans was widespread, with delinquencies up year over year in every state except Louisiana. Thirty-nine percent of subprime ARMs and more than 10% of prime adjustables are at least one payment past due. Option ARMs, which carry a low introductory rate but can lead to a rising loan balance, account for much of the rise in delinquent prime ARMs, Mr. Brinkmann said.

The data provide little evidence things will improve soon. Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody's, notes credit-bureau data from April show delinquencies have become "measurably worse" in the second quarter. "The problem now is negative equity combined with a weakening job market," he said, rather than resetting adjustable-rate mortgages.

Falling home prices have exacerbated the problems in the mortgage market by making it more difficult for borrowers who run into trouble to refinance or sell their homes. "The only alternative for them is foreclosure," says Paul Willen, a senior economist with the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston. "That accounts for a lot of what we are seeing."...

Falling home prices are also making it more difficult for borrowers to tap their equity to pay bills. At LSS Financial Counseling Service, based in Duluth, Minn., the average borrower seeking foreclosure counseling had nearly $17,000 in credit-card debt, compared with about $13,000 two years ago.

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