Mortgage foreclosure filings decreased 16.5 percent in Luzerne County last year, and year-to-date figures indicate the decline may continue in 2018, according to new statistics from the county sheriff’s office.
A total 659 mortgage default actions were filed in the county last year, compared to 789 in 2016, said Ryan Foy, who oversees foreclosure sales in the office.
Foy theorized the decline stems from more lenders willing to work with homeowners, a county mortgage mediation program and the flushing out of many adjustable-rate mortgages that contributed to the housing crisis.
Total county filings were 896 in 2013, 792 in 2014 and 726 in 2015, he said.
So far this year, the county received 274 new filings, compared to the 340 in the same period last year, Foy said. The average number of filings for the first three months from 2013 through 2017 was 375, he noted.
Local attorney David Schwager, who works extensively in real estate law, said the filing statistics from 2016 to 2017 appear to be “significant reductions.”
Federally directed mortgage assistance programs are likely a significant factor, Schwager said.
The county court created the mortgage mediation program in 2010, putting delinquent borrowers and their lenders in the same room to see if they can work out a loan modification.
Schwager said this program helps struggling homeowners navigate available assistance, possibly including interest rate reductions, deferral of some money owed and, in rare cases, forgiveness of a portion of debt.
Over are the “wild west days” of lending without focus on the borrowers’ ability to pay and the true value of the properties being financed, Schwager said. Federal oversight has prompted improvements in the underwriting of loans, and many past questionable ones have cycled through the foreclosure process, Schwager said.
Some may argue foreclosures are down because so many properties already have gone through foreclosure. This argument may not hold up because Schwager said he’s been involved in repeat foreclosures on the same properties after they changed ownership.
Schwager and Foy also questioned if the decrease is a sign the local economy has improved, allowing more to stay on top of mortgage payments.
Nationwide, foreclosure filings were reported on 676,535 properties in 2017, a decrease of 27 percent from 2016, ATTOM Data Solutions announced in January. It’s the curator of the nation’s largest multi-sourced property database.
Last year’s filings marked a 76 percent reduction from the national peak of nearly 2.9 million in 2010, the company said.
A spike in county filings around that time had prompted the creation of the foreclosure mediation program. Foreclosure filings jumped to 1,829 in the county in 2009, following 1,512 in 2008.
Commonly known as sheriff sales, mortgage foreclosure sales are held every other month in the county. Information on the sales is posted under the judicial services and records section at www.luzernecounty.org.
Reach Jennifer Learn-Andes at 570-991-6388 or on Twitter @TLJenLearnAndes.