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Foreclosure filings up in Philadelphia region

Philadelphia and Pennsylvania, along with New Jersey, saw higher rates of foreclosure filings in April from a year ago, RealtyTrac reported Thursday.

Philadelphia and Pennsylvania, along with New Jersey, saw higher rates of foreclosure filings in April from a year ago, RealtyTrac reported Thursday.

Philadelphia foreclosure filings fell about 11 percent from March, but were 24 percent higher than April 2011, continuing a six-month trend confirmed by a number of other sources, including CoreLogic, the real estate information provider.

Even so, at 2,400 filings, Philadelphia's number is one-fifth that of Chicago's, 400 fewer than New York, and well below comparable metro areas.

Pennsylvania filings are about 4 percent above March and almost 17 percent higher than a year ago. Despite the increases, the state remains 28th among the 50 states in the number of filings, about where it has been during the five-year foreclosure crisis.

New Jersey was 39th among the 50 states, increasing 14 percent over March and 62 percent above April 2011.

RealtyTrac, the Irvine, Calif., search engine for distressed home sales said the increases reflected a shift of the foreclosure crisis from the West and Southwest to the East Coast, even though filings fell to their lowest monthly total since July 2007.

In addition, states such as Pennsylvania and New Jersey handle the foreclosure process through the courts, which appear to be less efficient in disposing of distressed properties than nonjudicial foreclosure jurisdictions such as Californian and Arizona.

Those two states, as well as Nevada, "more efficiently processed foreclosures last year, resulting in fewer catch-up foreclosures this year," said RealtyTrac CEO Brandon Moore.

"More distressed loans are being diverted into short sales rather than becoming completed foreclosures," Moore said, referring to transactions in which lenders accept less for the property than owed.

"Our preliminary first-quarter sales data shows that pre-foreclosure sales — typically short sales — are on pace to outnumber sales of bank-owned properties during the quarter in California, Arizona and 10 other states," said Moore.

Real estate agents in the Philadelphia area have reported that lenders are making short sales, which cost less than the foreclosure process easier, although the transactions still take an average 306 days, RealtyTrac data show.

The bump-up in state and city filings began in the fall, about the same time the last of the federal money used to keep Pennsylvania's Home Emergency Mortgage Assistance Program alive after Gov. Corbett failed to include money in the budget for it.

The bridge-loan program for jobless and underemployed homeowners was credited with saving 45,000 homes from foreclosure in almost three decades in operation.

When the program ended, so did the Act 91 notification that gave delinquent borrowers breathing room and options to avert foreclosure.

Negotiations are continuing to get the state to resurrect the program with some of the $69 million it received as part of the national settlement of questionable foreclosure processing by five major lenders.

Some of that money will be used for counseling troubled borrowers by nonprofit agencies and groups. Those agencies say a lack of funding has made it financially impossible to reach out to homeowners in trouble.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development reported Wednesday that an 18-month study it conducted of the foreclosure process showed that, with a counselor's help, 69 percent of counselees obtained a mortgage remedy, and 56 percent were able to become current on their mortgages.

A separate reckoning of first-quarter mortgage delinquencies by the Mortgage Bankers Association Wednesday showed Pennsylvania among the states with lowest percentage of foreclosure inventory, starts and serious delinquencies. New Jersey was among states with the highest percentages.

Contact Alan J. Heavens at 215-854-2472, or @alheavens at Twitter.