State, County Record Decline In Foreclosures

BERLIN – It was good news, bad news this week when state officials announced foreclosure figures for the recently completed third quarter, with the number of properties entering the process across the state and in Worcester County declining during the period, but still up considerably from the same time last year.

The Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) this week released data on new foreclosures in Maryland during the third quarter of 2008, which showed the number of properties entering the process drop significantly for the first time in several months by 16 percent. In Worcester County, the trend was even more pronounced with just 54 new properties entering the foreclosure process in the third quarter, representing a 61 percent decline from the second quarter of 2008.

State officials celebrated the downward trend, citing the positive results of an increased effort to keep Marylanders struggling with their mortgages in their homes over the last several months. The decline in Maryland’s foreclosure filings that began in the second quarter of 2008 is largely due to a series of new initiatives and emergency regulations designed to keep state property owners facing foreclosure from losing their homes.

For example, the state’s foreclosure prevention law that became effective in April increased the foreclosure period from an average of two weeks to 135 days, giving homeowners more time to renegotiate with their lenders or receive counseling or other mitigation strategies. In addition, the state’s Home Owners Preserving Equity (HOPE) initiative launched last year have helped homeowners facing foreclosure by offering creative financing programs.

“Maryland has been at the forefront of creating policies and reforms to combat the foreclosure crisis that has swept the nation,” said DHCD Secretary Thomas Perez this week. “These agreements are a critical component of our comprehensive efforts to provide homeowners with the resources and assistance they need to remain in their homes.”

While the number of new properties entering the foreclosure process in Maryland, and in Worcester County, during the third quarter of 2008 declined for the first time in several months, the good news was tempered by a look at the overall statistics. Across Maryland, 7,974 properties entered the foreclosure process during the third quarter of 2008, representing a decline of 16 percent over the prior three months, but a 14 percent increase over the same time period last year.

In Worcester, 54 properties entered foreclosure during the third quarter of 2008, representing a 61-percent decline from the second quarter of 2008, but a 23-percent increase from the third quarter of 2007. It’s important to note the sample size in Worcester is much smaller, which accounts for the larger swings in the percentages.

In the densely populated areas in the center of the state, the foreclosure figures released this week are more dramatic. For example, in Prince George’s County, there were 2,789 new foreclosure events during the third quarter of 2008, representing over 35 percent of the state’s entire increase during the period. Similar figures were reported for Baltimore City, Anne Arundel and Montgomery Counties.

The differences are made clearer with a look at the ratios of homes in foreclosure in different areas around the state. For example, in Worcester, one out of every 1,160 homes is currently in some stage of the foreclosure process, while in neighboring Wicomico County, one in every 2,073 is in the process and in Somerset, one in every 10,792 is in foreclosure. By contrast, in Prince George’s County, one in every 339 homes is in some stage of the foreclosure process.

Despite the overall increase in the last year, state officials remain hopeful the downward trend in the last three months is a sign of change for the better. They credit the initiatives enacted last spring as the reason for the turnaround, although they acknowledge it might be difficult to continue.

“During this time of economic uncertainty, we must do all that we can to protect our middle class families and keep our families in their homes,” said Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley.

A detailed look at the figures for Worcester suggests no areas of the county are immune to the growing foreclosure crisis, although some areas have been hit harder than others. For example, the resort areas, which saw a sharp spike in the sales of expensive second or vacation homes during the three or four year boom prior to the recent collapse account for the largest number of properties in foreclosure in the county.

There are currently 1,000 properties in various stages of the foreclosure process in Worcester, of which 612 are in the 21842 zip code, which includes Ocean City and much of West Ocean City. Another 159 are in the 21811 zip code, which includes Berlin and Ocean Pines. Another 40 properties are in foreclosure in Bishopville, along with 18 in Snow Hill and just seven in Pocomoke.

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