Is the Foreclosure Crisis Over?

By Alan Zibel,AP Real Estate Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) — The end of the foreclosure crisis is finally in sight. For the first time in almost three years, the number of homeowners falling behind on their loans is declining.

The drop means the number of people losing their homes will start to fall. But some pain from the crisis is sure to persist. Because millions of people are already in foreclosure, deeply discounted houses will put pressure on home prices for years.

"Housing is on a path to recovery," said Mike Larson, a real estate analyst with Weiss Research. "It's going to be a very long, gradual process."

In high-foreclosure cities like Las Vegas, Phoenix and Miami, homes have lost roughly half their values from their peaks. But a report Friday from the Mortgage Bankers Association showed Nevada, Arizona and Florida had some of the biggest declines in new delinquencies.

The figures probably mark "the beginning of the end" of the crisis, said Jay Brinkmann, the trade group's chief economist.

However, more than 15% of homeowners with a mortgage have missed at least one payment or are in foreclosure, a record. Worse, nearly half of all delinquent borrowers were at least three months behind on their payments, up from a typical level of less than 20%.

"The bad news is that we still have a big problem," Brinkmann said. "The good news is it looks like it may not get much bigger."

That's because the percentage of borrowers who missed just one payment on their home loans fell to 3.6% in the October-to-December quarter from 3.8% in the third quarter, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association. That decline was even more surprising because delinquencies usually rise at that time of year due to higher heating bills and holiday spending.

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