Foreclosure lawsuits dropped dramatically in the Akron region last year, with Summit County recording its lowest total in a dozen years.
There were 2,822 new bank and tax foreclosures filed in Summit last year, a 25 percent decline from the previous year.
Meanwhile, Wayne County experienced a 42 percent drop to 248.
Medina, Portage and Stark counties also saw declines of at least 21 percent. And Cuyahoga County, the most populous in the state, experienced a 12 percent drop.
“It’s not just a [local] trend,” said Richard Pace, president of the Ohio Mortgage Bankers Association Board of Trustees and head of the Fairlawn-based Bankers Guarantee Title & Trust Co. “It’s not even a state trend. On a national basis, the whole country has seen a decrease in foreclosure starts.”
Lawsuits don’t always lead to someone losing a home, but they are a strong indicator of economic and housing troubles in a community.
There are many reasons for the decline, Pace and others said.
Big banks and mortgage companies that ran afoul with the government for questionable business practices had held off filing some suits, pushing up numbers in 2012. That would explain some of the dip last year.
An improved economy, foreclosure-prevention efforts, greater use of short sales and financial assistance provided to homeowners through programs such as Ohio’s Save the Dream also are helping.
“You finally start to see an uptick in the economy, and government programs have helped people stay in their homes,” said Daniel Horrigan, Summit County’s clerk of courts. His office handles the filings.
Lenders also are more willing to work with homeowners to avoid a property sitting vacant and decaying through the foreclosure process, said Judge Tammy O’Brien, the administrative judge for Summit County Common Pleas Court. They don’t want to end up paying taxes and insurance for those properties, she said.
“The lenders have become more selective in terms of who they are going to play hardball with,” O’Brien said.
Liz Atkinson, a foreclosure prevention specialist at Neighborhood Development Services in Ravenna, and Cindy Flaherty, director of homeownership at the Ohio Housing Finance Agency, which runs the Save the Dream program, warned that people still are hurting.
NDS continues to see a steady stream of people seeking help, Atkinson said.
And Flaherty said 1,875 homeowners signed up for assistance through the Save the Dream program last month. Overall, the program (www.savethedream.ohio.gov; 888-404-4674) has helped about 15,000 homeowners.
“[Foreclosure lawsuits] have declined from the peak, but they still aren’t down to normal market levels,” Flaherty said. “While the crisis is diminishing, it’s still not over.”
Pace agreed that it’s too early to celebrate.
“This housing market is still tenuous,” he said. “We saw the unemployment rate in Ohio recently tick up. We still see a big difference between older, industrialized cities and their housing markets versus suburban areas that seem to have come back a little bit stronger.”
A major, lingering issue is making sure foreclosed homes don’t sit vacant for long periods and deteriorate, Pace said.
The association, which has more than 100 members, is advocating for the passage of House Bill 223, which would fast-track the foreclosure process and get people living in the homes sooner.
“The question really should be: How do we deal with those troublesome foreclosures that are affecting neighborhoods?” Pace said. “Ohio, at the state level, may be on the right track by finding some way of moving at least these vacant and abandoned properties along quicker.”
Rick Armon can be reached at 330-996-3569 or firstname.lastname@example.org.