Tampa Bay dodged the foreclosure bullet last month, but don't pop any balloons.
Initial foreclosure notices fell by more than 25 percent in the bay area in February compared to January. Lenders delivered new notices to 2,617 homeowners, according to a RealtyTrac report released today.
Statewide, the filing activity dropped 13 percent last month. But compared to February 2010, the numbers plummeted more than 65 percent in Florida and nearly 61 percent in the bay area.
The research firm attributed the drop once again to the foreclosure moratorium that several lenders imposed on themselves temporarily in the fall, amid allegations that thousands of documents were signed improperly.
Nationally, foreclosure activity dropped almost 14 percent last month, but fell 27 percent from February 2010 — biggest year-over-year decrease since RealtyTrac began issuing the report in 2005.
Although foreclosure activity dropped to a 36-month low in February, James J. Saccacio, head of RealtyTrac, said the crisis is far from over.
"We expect to see the numbers bounce back, but that will likely take several months," he said. "And monthly volume may never return to its peak in March 2010 of more than 367,000 properties receiving foreclosure filings."
The numbers don't surprise University of Central Florida economist Sean Snaith. The backlog of cases sitting at courthouses will take months to clear, he said.
One number in the report provided good news for the Sunshine State. No Florida cities ranked in the top 20 for metro foreclosure rates for the second consecutive month.
Despite the declining foreclosures, two local Realtors said thousands of homes cannot enter foreclosure until banks clear an excess of foreclosed homes.
Leslie Griffin, managing broker at Prudential Tropical Realty in Tampa, said banks are taking 100 days longer than last year to move homes through the foreclosure process.
"There is so much inventory clogging the system," she said. '"It's not getting any better."
Melody Stang, owner of Melody Stang Realty in St. Petersburg, expects foreclosures to drop this year as banks concentrate on short sales to alleviate high numbers of distressed properties.
"2011 is the year of the short sale," she said.
Mark Puente can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8459. Follow him at Twitter at twitter.com/markapuente.