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End in sight for the foreclosure epidemic?

The foreclosure crisis continued across South Florida in 2010, but housing analysts and legal experts disagree on whether sorely needed relief is coming in 2011.

More than 100,000 homes were in some stage of foreclosure in Broward and Palm Beach counties last year, part of a record 2.9 million foreclosures nationwide, according to RealtyTrac, an Irvine, Calif.-based foreclosure listing firm.

“We’re working our way through a huge backlog, and there’s no reason to think 2011 will be much different than 2010 or 2009,” said Guy Cecala, publisher of Inside Mortgage Finance, an industry newsletter. “I think we’re looking at 2012 before we see any significant improvement.”

But Roy Oppenheim, a Weston defense attorney, insists foreclosures will decline sharply this year.

He said lawyers for lenders already are more careful about filing cases, mindful of sanctions being handed down by judges angry about improper procedures in some cases that led to foreclosure moratoriums this fall.

“Bank counsel is very reluctant to proceed with foreclosures unless the I’s are dotted and the T’s are crossed,” Oppenheim said. “Banks will not find lawyers to do what was done last year and in years past.”

The result, he said, will be more short sales, loan modifications and “meaningful mediations” that will help stabilize housing prices that have been falling steadily since 2006.

Florida recorded 485,286 filings last year, down 6 percent from 2009, RealtyTrac said. But the state still had the nation’s second-highest foreclosure total after California.

The Palm Beach County Clerk & Comptroller’s office said Wednesday that initial foreclosure filings declined last year by 37 percent from 2009, the first annual decline in five years. The RealtyTrac figures include three types of foreclosures: initial filings, scheduled auctions and repossessions.

Lawyers say Palm Beach County judges are aggressively moving cases through the system and setting dates for homes to be auctioned.

“They’re really clearing the docket in Palm Beach County, which allows plaintiffs firms to increase the number of new cases that they’re able to file,” said Jerron Kelley, a foreclosure defense lawyer in Delray Beach. “Unfortunately, I believe many of these cases deserve a closer look by the courts.”

Peter D. Blanc, chief judge of the 15th Judicial Circuit, which includes Palm Beach County, could not be reached Wednesday. But he told the Sun Sentinel in November that judges often have no choice but to rule for the lenders because homeowners aren’t showing up in court to defend themselves.

Cecala, the industry newsletter publisher, said he’s concerned about the number of seriously delinquent borrowers nationwide whose homes soon will be in the foreclosure process and must be dealt with in some way.

David Dabby, a housing consultant in Coral Gables, estimates that foreclosures and short sales make up more than 50 percent of the housing market in South Florida. A normal market is less than 10 percent, he said.

“The problem is still here, and it’s going to be with us for a few more years,” Dabby said.


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