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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, January 14, 2010

Foreclosure filings in Isles at new high


by Andrew Gomes
Advertiser Staff Writer

Home foreclosure actions in Hawai'i ballooned last month, pushing the state's rate to its worst ranking nationally for any month since the present housing market downturn began.

A report from real estate research firm RealtyTrac said there were 1,534 foreclosure filings statewide in December. That was the highest count for any month, and far exceeded the prior high of 990 in July. It was also roughly triple the 499 filings in December 2008.

As a result of the surge, Hawai'i had the 10th-highest rate among states as measured by the number of households per foreclosure filing. Previously Hawai'i had not ranked worse than 15th, a position it occupied four times last year.

Hawai'i's rate in December equated to one filing for every 330 households. Nationally, the rate was one filing per 366 households.

Since March, Hawai'i has been in the bottom half of RealtyTrac's national foreclosure ranking, partly because home sales and prices in other states crashed earlier and are now improving along with foreclosure rates, while the local housing market has experienced a more moderate downturn that is still continuing.

In what may be a silver lining, Hawai'i's foreclosure count was largely due to a flurry of auction notices, which are filed near the end of the foreclosure process. Auction notices represented 1,241 of the 1,534 filings in December. Auction notices involve foreclosure cases that were started in earlier months.

The number of new cases counted by RealtyTrac as default notices was 75 in December, which was down from 123 in the same month a year before and was the second-lowest count for any month last year, after the 53 cases in January.

The decrease in default notices and the surge in auction notices could be a signal that foreclosures may be peaking, though more data in the next few months will present a better picture of whether such a change is under way.

RealtyTrac's data is regarded as a rough indication of foreclosures in Hawai'i because it includes filings at three stages of the foreclosure process that can result in counting filings on the same property in different months. The third type of filings the company counts is lender repossessions.

Last month, there were 218 such filings.

By county, Honolulu had the most filings 643 but the lowest rate, at one filing for every 521 households.

Kaua'i had the next best rate, with 77 filings representing one per 379 households. On Maui, there were 297 filings, or one per 219 households. The Big Island had the highest rate at one filing per 150 households, or 517 total filings.

For all of last year, there were 9,963 foreclosure filings in Hawai'i. RealtyTrac said there were 9,002 properties with at least one filing, up from 3,525 a year earlier.

Last year's total represented 1.8 percent of the state's housing market, or one property for every 56 households.

Among other states, Hawai'i had the 15th-worst percentage of properties in foreclosure last year.

However, because RealtyTrac's count doesn't exclude commercial property such as condominium-hotel units and time-shares, the number of Hawai'i homes in foreclosure may fare better compared with states that don't have large tourism or commercial real estate industries.

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