When the Obama administration announced a $26 billion settlement with the nation’s five largest mortgage lenders over abusive foreclosure practices at the beginning of February, many predicted it would kick off a wave of foreclosure proceedings that had been held in legal limbo.
And in many places, like Massachusetts and Connecticut, where foreclosure filings have been rising since the latter part of last year, that appears to be happening.
In February, Bay State foreclosure filings surged 37 percent compared with February 2011, according to real estate data firm RealtyTrac. For the same period, Connecticut filings jumped 58 percent year over year.
Rhode Island, on the other hand, hasn’t followed the script.
At the same time the foreclosure systems in neighboring states were heating up, foreclosure filings in Rhode Island were cooling down, dropping 1 percent in January and 39 percent in February compared with the same period in 2011, RealtyTrac said.
The difference is even more pronounced within the Providence metropolitan area, where foreclosure filings in Bristol County, Mass. rose 38 percent in February, while filings for the area as a whole, led by Rhode Island, fell 24 percent.
Exactly why foreclosures in the two states are on such different tracks is difficult to determine, as is whether the numbers represent a larger trend or short-term volatility.
Since the national foreclosure settlement, increases in foreclosure volume have been most pronounced in states with court oversight of the foreclosure process. In those states, lenders were quicker to suspend foreclosures while questions about robo-signing and improper procedures were worked out.
Neither Rhode Island nor Massachusetts are judicial-foreclosure states, but Connecticut is. William Farrell, legal counsel for the Rhode Island Bankers Association, doesn’t think legal concerns are responsible for the difference in recent foreclosures levels between Rhode Island and Massachusetts, but rather that banks here have been genuine in their efforts to avoid taking back homes if it can be avoided.
“I don’t think it’s a procedural issue; I just think you have the banks working as hard as they can to avoid foreclosures wherever possible,” Farrell said. “Whether it was due to the national settlement or not, you have seen national people setting up rental programs instead of foreclosure. You have heard from major players that they are going to modify loans and do reductions in principal.”
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