A monster wave of new foreclosures threatens to engulf Sacramento's already battered real estate market as major banks move to slash their backlog of delinquent loans.
Nearly one out of every seven mortgages in the Sacramento region is somewhere in the foreclosure pipeline, a grim reality that could hold back any near-term recovery in the local housing market, according to a Bee analysis of local foreclosure data.
Based on the average monthly sales in the capital region, it would take a year and a half to exhaust this "shadow inventory" of distressed properties. In the past two years, such distress sales have dominated the local real estate market, pressing prices ever-downward and making it hard for other sellers to compete.
"This problem is going to be with us for a while," said Kevin Stein, associate director of the California Reinvestment Coalition, a San Francisco-based consumer advocacy group.
A Bee analysis of foreclosure records compiled by Irvine-based RealtyTrac and Foreclosure-Response.org places the Sacramento region's shadow inventory at 53,256 homes in Sacramento, Yolo, Placer and El Dorado counties.
This figure includes three categories of distressed properties:
12,285 houses already owned by lenders but not sold.
19,367 units whose owners have received an initial foreclosure notice, or notice of default, but have not yet been foreclosed upon.
Another 21,604 borrowers who are 90 days or more behind on their payments but have not yet been served with a foreclosure notice.
Lenders won't foreclose on all these homes. A sizable number of homeowners will win lender approval for short sales, which allow them to sell for less than they owe and get out of their mortgage. Others will obtain loan modifications.
But a big chunk of the distressed properties will be taken over by the banks because the amounts owed are so large and the loans have been delinquent for so long.
"This problem has been lingering for a long time," said Doug Covill, president of the 5,500-member Sacramento Association of Realtors. "The sooner we get through this inventory, the sooner the economy improves."
The region's mountain of distressed loans grew over the past year, in part because major lenders suspended or slowed down completion of foreclosures in response the "robo-signing" scandal. Banks and mortgage servicers were accused of rubber-stamping foreclosures without actually reviewing homeowners' loan documents.
The scandal prompted attorneys general in several states, including California, to open investigations into foreclosure practices.
Now, though, some big lenders are stepping up the pace of repossessions once again.
Figures provided by RealtyTrac show that foreclosures in the four-county Sacramento area soared 76 percent from July to August. About 2,420 notices of default were filed in the capital region in August, the highest number in 11 months.
Much of the increase was from Bank of America Corp., whose filings in the capital region more than tripled to 670 last month from July's 215, according to San Diego-based DataQuick.
US Bank's filings jumped 90 percent to 112, while notices issued locally by Wells Fargo Bank were up more than 17 percent to 298, according to DataQuick.
BofA spokeswoman Jumana Bauwens said the bank's increased foreclosure activity had been anticipated "for some time." Bauwens said mortgage servicers like BofA froze foreclosures last year as the company made improvements to the way it processed them.
Analysts said they expect BofA and other major banks to push harder in the next few years to get bad loans off their books by foreclosing.
"I would expect to see them continue to go up," said RealtyTrac spokesman Daren Blomquist. "Not necessarily up in a straight line every month, but more periodic monthly spikes like we saw in August."
Richard Bove, banking analyst with Connecticut-based Rochdale Securities LLC, said lenders picked up the pace of foreclosures again after the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency signed off earlier this summer on banks' policies for servicing their loans.
Under the deal, banks are required to hire thousands of employees to better handle foreclosures, Bove said, adding "The process has now become a little easier, therefore the foreclosures can go forward."
That's not good news for borrowers like Jill Demmel. She said she stopped making payments on her three-bedroom house in east Sacramento in December 2008, after a severe case of drug-resistant meningitis put her in a hospital for six weeks and forced her to take a year off her job as a lawyer.
Her lender, JPMorgan Chase, filed a foreclosure notice against her in April 2010.
Demmel, 57, is working again but said she can't make the $67,000 in back payments she owes. She said one bank representative suggested she was trying to avoid paying her bills. Her request for a loan modification was turned down last month, a week after the bank sent her a notice that the home she shares with her mother was about to be auctioned.
"This has been the worst experience of my life," said Demmel. "I don't think I'm a deadbeat. I didn't get sick on purpose."
A Chase spokeswoman said the bank explores all possible options for the customer before proceeding with a foreclosure.
To read more, visit www.sacbee.com.