Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Mortgage Defaults Spike, But Don't Bet On A Crash...Yet

The latest DataQuick numbers show that mortgage defaults are strongly on the rise, but note that despite the sharp increase in defaults, overall foreclosures are still below their 14-year average.

In the Bay Area, 2,910 homeowners received default notices from their lenders for the April-to-June quarter, up 37.1 percent from 2,123 notices in the same quarter a year ago, according to DataQuick, a La Jolla (San Diego County) real estate research company. That increase is the highest since the first quarter of 2001, when there was a 46.5 percent rise.

The swell was bigger statewide as 20,752 default notices were sent out -- up 67.2 percent from the same quarter in 2005 and the highest increase for any quarter since DataQuick began tracking foreclosures 14 years ago.

DataQuick analyst Andrew LePage said the current foreclosure figures are still below the historical norm. On average, lenders have filed 32,762 notices each quarter for the past 14 years, according to the research firm.

Of course, this isn't license to stop worrying, since DataQuick's analysts seem to think that this surge wasn't triggered by interest rate adjustments, but rather simply from the lack of price appreciation.

"We hear a lot of talk about rising payments on adjustable-rate loans triggering borrower distress," said DataQuick President Marshall Prentice. "While there's no doubt some of that is going on, as far as we can tell the spike in defaults is mainly the result of slowing price appreciation. It makes it harder for people behind on their mortgage to sell their homes and pay off the lender."

Once interest rate adjustments start to kick in, the trend may intensify. No one can say whether we'll see a soft landing (e.g. nominal prices remain stable but real prices decline) or a crash, but I wouldn't make any big Bay Area real estate investments right now.

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