Florida still has the highest percent of residential foreclosures, but an improving economy and years of aggressive court action have made it possible to say 2014 may be the last year of the recession hangover inventory.
“We’re definitely feeling the slowdown in terms of mortgage foreclosure defense work,” said Peter Ticktin of Ticktin Law Group in Deerfield Beach.
One of the higher profile foreclosure defense firms, Ticktin Law Group is expanding its business litigation practice and picking up more family and personal injury cases, Ticktin said.
A significant number of its foreclosure cases now come from law firms that are in trouble, he added. Some firms partnered with non-lawyer companies that used aggressive and questionable practices to bring clientele, he said.
“The Florida Bar is coming down on those firms,” Ticktin said.
Another source of clients stems from firms that took hefty fees up front but didn’t have the foresight to realize the pipeline would eventually dry up.
“Their practice was to say, ‘Give us $3,000 now and I’ll see your case all the way through.’ That worked great as long as somebody new was coming along next week with another $3,000,” Ticktin said.
At the start of last year, the Office of State Court Administrator estimated Florida’s pending foreclosure cases would drop from 358,852 on June 30, 2013 to 334,852 at the end of the next fiscal year and 238,852 by June 30, 2015. Foreclosures wouldn’t be down to pre-recession levels until 2016.
Ticktin disagrees it will take that long for many reasons. For one, prices are rising and houses long underwater are becoming marketable.
“By this time next year, almost all of the mountain of foreclosures is going to be a memory,” Ticktin said.
The courts have also adapted to dealing with long-dormant cases. Accelerated dockets have forced the hand of banks to either proceed with foreclosures or give up.
“You’re going to see the issue of the five-year statute of limitations become front and center,” said Roy Oppenheim at Oppenheim & Pilelsky in Weston.
Banks that accelerated a mortgage with a notice of default in 2008 or later are now trudging through an era of statute of limitations, where they must obtain the foreclosure judgment.
There had been speculation that as 2013 wound down, banks might rush to file foreclosure motions to beat the statute of limitations, but that hasn’t materialized.
Palm Beach County’s clerk of court reported Dec. 11 there were 643 new foreclosure filings in November, a 46.7 percent decrease from filings in November 2012.
“If current trends hold, Palm Beach County will see approximately one-third fewer foreclosures filed [in 2013] than were filed in 2012,” Clerk & Comptroller Sharon Bock said.
While Bock credits the economy for a fall in new filings, Oppenheim credits lender incompetence for the disposition of many pending cases.
Often, banks weren’t able to establish documentation to get a judgment. It’s become commonplace, Oppenheim said, for judges to grant homeowners’ motions to quiet title.
“It’s being done all the time. What’s special about them now is the title insurance industry is not recognizing them automatically,” Oppenheim said. “The industry is waiting for there to be more legal clarity.”
Properties in this situation get reviewed and given insurance on a case-by-case basis. In essence, title companies put them through a cure period, making sure that all deadlines on possible appeals run their course so the mortgage or lienholder cannot bring a suit later that the insurer would have to indemnify, he said.
Despite optimism of an end in sight, Florida is still the state with the highest foreclosure rate. One in every 392 homes in the Sunshine State is in some stage of foreclosure. Some counties far exceed that. In Miami-Dade the rate is one in 244.
No other large population state comes close. According to RealtyTrac, Illinois is 1 in 700; California, 1 in 1,095; New York, 1 in 1,989 and Texas 1 in 2,310.