I blinked twice at the figure: 638 days. That's the average time it takes from an initial missed mortgage payment for the bank to complete foreclosure proceedings and change the locks here in Florida, the Foreclosure State. Nearly two years of free rent. Then, of course, the boot.
We don't top the latest list of laggards compiled by LPS Applied Analytics, which tracks 40 million mortgages nationally; that honor went to New York at 664 days. But five Florida metropolitan areas, including Cape Coral-Fort Myers (675), Miami-Fort Lauderdale (672) and Destin-Fort Walton Beach (667) exceeded the Empire State's average for foot-dragging, hem-hawing and maypole-dancing.
In the 27 states that allow foreclosures to bypass the courts altogether, the averages range from 392 days in Arizona to 511 days in California, both of which have more foreclosures than snowbirds these days.
If you're a homeowner facing the possibility of foreclosure, these numbers may offer some relief. Two years, give or take, is a long time between nonpayment and eviction, perhaps long enough for circumstances (a job), fate (an inheritance) or that near-mythical beast the mortgage modification to save your home.
But for the rest of us homeowners fretting over our plunging property values, as well as frazzled real estate agents who now use a calendar instead of an egg timer to mark their listing's days on market, these are heartbreaking numbers.
In fact, with 2.2 million mortgages now delinquent by 90 days or more, you might as well go ahead and order HBO and Showtime because this tear-jerker is going to run awhile.
University of Central Florida economist Sean Snaith offers an apt term for it: "housing purgatory."
Things could always turn around. Home sales have stirred in some areas this spring. A little interest rate hike might serve to resuscitate the flatlined market and give us better-than-Vegas odds of actually clearing our note when we sell our homes.
But what has Realtors and lenders alike chewing their erasers is the prospect that those 2.2 million incipient foreclosures could set off another downward price spiral.
Until we know which way this mortgage pendulum will swing, to quote Bob Dylan, we're all "stuck inside of Mobile with the Memphis blues again."
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