WASHINGTON -- The number of households caught up in the foreclosure crisis rose more than 5 percent from summer to fall as a federal effort to assist struggling borrowers was overwhelmed by a flood of defaults among people who lost their jobs.
The foreclosure crisis affected nearly 938,000 properties in the July-September quarter, compared with about 890,000 in the prior three months, according to a report released Thursday by RealtyTrac Inc. That puts foreclosure-related filings on a pace to hit about 3.5 million this year, up from more than 2.3 million last year.
Unemployment is the main reason homeowners are falling into trouble. While the economy is likely out of recession, the unemployment rate - now at a 26-year high of 9.8 percent - isn't expected to peak until the middle of next year.
Mortgage companies sometimes allow unemployed homeowners to defer three to six months of payments while they are looking for a job. But there's little else they can do.
"The sheer scale of the problem is preventing the loan modification programs from having the kind of impact we'd all like" said Rick Sharga, RealtyTrac's senior vice president for marketing.
Last week, the Obama administration hailed a milestone in its mortgage relief effort, reporting that 500,000 homeowners have received help since the program was launched in March. But new defaults are still exceeding the number of borrowers getting help.
Mortgage companies have slowed down the pace of foreclosures as they evaluate whether borrowers qualify for the administration's program. Analysts, however, forecast that many of those homeowners won't qualify, and foresee a new wave of foreclosed properties hitting the market next year. That's likely to further depress home prices.
Some homeowners are in such a massive financial hole that it's hard to design a modification that will actually provide lower payments. And some have avoided paying their monthly bills for a long time.
Carlos Estrada, 57, of Tulare, Calif., for example, hasn't made a mortgage payment since February 2008. The construction jobs that kept him working more than 40 hours a week during the housing boom have all but vanished.
Earlier this year, he turned down a modification offer from Bank of America because it would have incorporated his unpaid balance and raised his monthly bill. But a bank spokeswoman said Wednesday that Estrada's foreclosure sale had been postponed until late next month while the bank reviews whether he can qualify for help.
"I'm still here waiting for them to help me resolve this situation," Estrada said in Spanish.
According to the RealtyTrac report, there were nearly 344,000 foreclosure-related filings last month, down 4 percent from a month earlier but still the third-highest month since the report started in early 2005.
It was the seventh-straight month in which more than 300,000 households receiving a foreclosure filing, which includes default notices and several other legal notices that homeowners receive before they finally lose their homes.
Banks repossessed nearly 88,000 homes in September, up from about 76,000 a month earlier.
On a state-by-state basis, Nevada had the nation's highest foreclosure rate in the July-September quarter. Arizona was No. 2, followed by California, Florida and Idaho. Rounding out the top 10 were Utah, Georgia, Michigan, Colorado and Illinois.
AP Real Estate Writer Alex Veiga contributed to this report from Los Angeles.
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