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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, March 11, 2010

Hawaii numbers better, dip below 1K


by Andrew Gomes
Advertiser Staff Writer

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Hawai'i property foreclosures remained high in February, but dipped below the 1,000 mark that had been exceeded in the previous two months.

There were 972 foreclosure filings statewide last month, according to real estate research firm RealtyTrac.

The figure was up 81 percent from 537 filings in the same month last year, but was down from 1,534 filings in December and 1,302 filings in January. Still, February's count was the fourth-highest on record.

February foreclosure filings equated to one filing for every 528 households. That made the state's foreclosure rate 14th worst nationally. The national average was one filing for every 418 households.

RealtyTrac said the number of foreclosure filings nationally rose 6 percent in February from the same month a year earlier, which was the smallest increase for any month since the company began tracking year-over-year changes in January 2006.

One possible bright spot for Hawai'i that has been a trend in recent months is that most foreclosure filings involved properties approaching auction as opposed to new foreclosure cases, which suggests that the bulk of foreclosures may be working its way out of the market.

RealtyTrac reported that 625 of the 972 filings were auction notices. Some 260 of the filings were repossessions by lenders, the last stage of foreclosure. There were 87 default notices, typically the first step in foreclosure.

It was the fourth consecutive month that the number of default notices was under 100. That hasn't happened since mid-2008, and could signal that new foreclosure cases may have already peaked.

Still, it's hard to tell for sure because RealtyTrac may not count all default notices since some aren't filed publicly. Most Hawai'i foreclosure cases are pursued outside court, meaning no foreclosure lawsuit is filed in most cases.

For this reason, RealtyTrac's monthly reports are regarded as a rough indicator of foreclosures in Hawai'i. In addition, RealtyTrac data can include different types of filings on the same property counted in different months, as well as commercial property foreclosures.

Perhaps a better but less timely guage is a quarterly survey of mortgage delinquencies by the national Mortgage Bankers Association, which last month published a report that suggested foreclosures in Hawai'i's housing market will continue to rise this year.

The association reported that 12,182 mortgages representing 7.3 percent of the market were delinquent but not yet in foreclosure at the end of last year, up from 8,981 mortgages a year earlier. Also, there were 7,535 residential property loans, or 4.5 percent of loans statewide, in foreclosure at the end of last year, which was about twice as many as the year before.

Some industry observers note that the core of Hawai'i's housing market is faring better than foreclosure data suggests because a large number of foreclosures are occurring on Neighbor Island resort property, including time-shares, that visitors snapped up during the housing market bubble.

RealtyTrac data by county showed that Honolulu had the most filings 413 but the lowest rate, at one filing for every 816 households.

Kaua'i had the next best rate, with 63 filings, representing one per 473 households.

On Maui, there were 219 filings, or one per 302 households.

The Big Island had the highest rate, with 277 filings, or one filing per 287 households.