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Hidden Problems Complicate Chicago’s Foreclosures

by Chicago Agent

Foreclosures in Chicago only appear to be down; in fact, they are simply taking much longer to complete.

It all looks so nice – there were 8,515 foreclosure auctions in Chicago in the first half of 2011, a 51 percent decline from 2010’s 17,331. On top of that, auctions decreased 27 percent from the first quarter of 2011 to the second quarter.

But as Kyle Clapham of Medill Reports writes, a hidden facet of those number masks their seemingly positive nature. In the second quarter of 2011, it took an average of 359 days to wade through the foreclosure process, a 25.5 percent increase from 2010 and the longest since 2008.

The cause, as it happens to be for so many of housing’s present ills, is the “robo signing” controversy of 2010, when banks, in a rush to unload distressed properties and cut their losses, filed foreclosure proceedings on a large number of homes, many that were not even close to being underwater. We’ve reported in the past on the lingering effects of robo signing.

Clapham also points out a challenging dichotomy inherent in longer foreclosure times. On one hand, the longer a vacant, foreclosed home languishes, the worse its effect on the neighborhood’s other home prices. On the other hand, the longer a family is able to stay in a foreclosed home, the more time they are allowed to negotiate a new deal with their lender.

Katie Buitrago, a policy and communications associate at Woodstock, a local nonprofit, was quoted in Clapham’s piece on that difference.

“The banks have been supportive of a fast-track process for vacant properties as well because they know the longer they have to stay in court, the more legal fees they have to pay,” Buitrago said. “It’s good for everyone if the ownership issue is resolved.”

But then again, there are always the homeowner’s interests to keep in mind.

“We don’t want to speed them through the process in violation of their rights or without giving them due process in terms of trying to find a loan modification or another way to avoid foreclosure,” Buitrago said. “It’s really important for servicers to do loan modifications to change the terms of a borrower’s loan so that they’re more likely to stay in their home and avoid foreclosure … the problem right now is people’s houses are worth less than what they owe on their loans.”

Woodstock was instrumental in getting a new ordinance passed that holds owners of foreclosed properties more accountable for the property’s upkeep. Under the ordinance, banks have 60 days after repossessing a house to begin basic upkeep, which includes lawn maintenance, shoveling snow and scattering squatters.

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