The foreclosure noose choking the housing market in the Tampa Bay area tightened last month as filing activity skyrocketed in Hillsborough County.
Overall, the number of Hillsborough properties in some phase of the foreclosure process — a default notice, scheduled auction or bank repossession — rose 74 percent, fueling a bay area jump of 28 percent, according to a RealtyTrac report released today.
Lenders delivered new notices to 933 Hillsborough homeowners, third most in the state behind Miami-Dade and Broward counties. Homeowners in Hernando, Pinellas and Pasco counties received a total of 979 new foreclosure notices.
An economist, real estate experts and a judge could not pinpoint why Hillsborough foreclosure filings jumped so much, other than the county having a larger backlog.
Scott Brown, chief economist with Raymond James in St. Petersburg, cautioned not to put too much weight into figures for one month. He stressed the economy isn't faring well and growth is slowing in the state.
"The pipeline has been packed," he said about foreclosures. "This is going to be a problem for awhile."
Earlier this year, experts had predicted that a second wave of foreclosures would hit Florida, following the collapse last fall of three huge law firms amid allegations of sloppy and fraudulent documentation, stalling thousands of cases. Now it appears lenders are clearing the backlog.
Administrative Judge James Barton of the Hillsborough judicial circuit said a case manager was brought in two months ago to help work through the backlog. The hiring had no impact on last month's spike, but the court will start pressing lenders to dispose of older cases, he said.
Peter Murphy, president of Tampa's Home Encounter, a full-service real estate firm, said banks might be feeling pressure from shareholders over profits. The move, he said, doesn't help the struggling housing market or maximize profits when the homes are sold.
"This just doesn't seem to make any sense," Murphy said. "Who knows what they are thinking anymore. This could be just the backlog."
Nationally, initial filings rose nearly 7 percent last month, but represented a decrease of 32 percent from August 2010.
Amid the speculation of a second foreclosure wave, filings dropped in seven of the last nine months in the bay area. Putting the best face on those August numbers, the foreclosure activity for the bay area is down 52 percent compared to August 2010.
Filings in many other Florida regions also fell last month. Sarasota-Bradenton dropped 25 percent; Orlando, 4 percent; and Naples, 45 percent, the report said. The filings for those areas are also lower than August 2010.
More bank-owned homes will hit the market in the coming months as banks clear their inventory of foreclosed properties, said James Saccacio, chief executive officer of RealtyTrac.
In Florida, lenders notified 6,750 homeowners that their houses will be sold on the courthouse steps. Of those, Hillsborough recorded 804; only Miami-Dade had more with 930. Hernando recorded 58; Pasco, 107; Pinellas, 200, the report said.
Foreclosures sales peaked in March in the bay area.
In Pinellas, Pasco and Hillsborough, lenders sold 4,803 of the homes between January and April. Now, just about 900 of nearly 19,000 active residential listings are bank-owned, according to the Multiple Listing Service.
Mark Puente can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8459. Follow him at Twitter at twitter.com/markpuente.