Foreclosure crisis spreads from subprime to prime mortgages

By Stephanie Armour, USA TODAY

The pace of prime borrowers going into foreclosure is accelerating, especially in states with mounting unemployment or property values that saw a big run-up during the housing boom.It’s a marked shift from earlier this year, when foreclosures were driven by defaults on subprime loans. And it has major implications — ravaging the credit scores of borrowers who once had unblemished records and dragging down property values in more affluent neighborhoods.

It also threatens to undermine the housing recovery.

“It’s definitely a concern,” says Brian Bethune at IHS Global Insight. “(Unemployment) is a major driver of foreclosures, and it will frustrate the housing recovery process.”

In the first quarter, almost half of the overall increase in the start of foreclosures was due to the increase in prime, fixed-rate loans, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA). At the end of the fourth quarter, 2.4% of prime mortgages were seriously delinquent, more than double the 1.1% at the end of March 2008, according to a report by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and the Office of Thrift Supervision.

“In the beginning, the higher-end (homes) were a bit isolated,” says Kevin Marshall, president of Clear Capital, a provider of real estate asset valuation. “But in the last several months, we’re seeing a significant erosion in the higher-end homes. It’s reached into the prime loans.”

California, Florida, Arizona and Nevada represent 56% of the increase in foreclosure starts, including half of the increase in prime fixed-rate foreclosure starts, according to the MBA.

That coincides with states reporting some of the highest unemployment rates. In California, the unemployment rate in April was 11%, according to the Department of Labor. In Nevada, it was 10.6%.

Economists fear that further increases in unemployment could lead to more defaults on prime, fixed-rate loans.

That’s what happened to Marvin Clayton, 47, of Waco, Texas. He lost income after his wife had a stroke and was unable to work. Then he lost his job a year ago. He’s now behind on his 30-year, 5.78% prime loan and is facing foreclosure in July. He is currently trying to get another job in retailing.

“I was trying to make it off one income but was struggling to make payments,” Clayton says. “I’m still hoping for a modification from my bank.”

Mortgage rates rise to 6-month high above 5%

By Stephanie Armour, USA TODAY

Mortgage rates have risen to their highest levels in six months, threatening to delay a housing turnaround by discouraging potential home buyers.The average rate on a 30-year, fixed-rate home loan climbed to 5.29% for the week ended Thursday, Freddie Mac reported. That’s the highest since December and up from 4.91% a week earlier.

In early and late April, the rate was at a record low: 4.78%.

“There’s a real risk interest rates could climb up beyond 6% or 6.5%, which can immediately shut down the housing recovery and undermine the national economy,” says Bernard Baumohl, chief global economist at the Economic Outlook Group. “That’s the big battle to watch in the next couple of months.”

Higher mortgage rates are already having an impact. Applications to buy a home or refinance a mortgage tumbled 16% in the week ended May 29 compared with a week earlier, the Mortgage Bankers Association reported this week. Refinancing activity fell 24%. The MBA’s purchase index rose 4.3%.

Refinancings’ share of mortgage activity dropped to 62.4% of total applications from 69.3% the previous week.

While the Federal Reserve is trying to hold down mortgage rates by buying mortgage-backed securities and Treasury securities, other factors are driving up rates.

Mortgage rates have been pushed up by recent increases in yields on long-term Treasury securities, a benchmark for mortgage rates.

If interest rates rise more, that could make a purchase too expensive for some buyers. Weakened demand would delay the reduction of a high inventory of unsold homes, which is considered essential for the market’s recovery.

Some economists say the fundamental building blocks of a housing recovery are already in place and that rising interest rates will not derail the process.

“(Higher interest rates) could slow down refinancing, but the housing recovery is going to be one that takes time, and we’ll see setbacks on the way,” says Michael Darda, chief economist at MKM Partners. “I don’t think the housing market recovery is going to be derailed.”

Lawrence Yun, chief economist at the National Association of Realtors, say rising interest rates often have a short-term effect of driving more buyers into the market. Those buyers rush to buy so they can lock in rates before they go still higher.

But that impact is short lived.

“Further rises will impact buyers. That’s a risk,” Yun says. “Mortgage rates have been the lifeblood of the market.”

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AquaPalooza makes Lake Travis debut this weekend

Thousands of boaters and floaters will head to Lake Travis this weekend for AquaPalooza, a massive, free event where people take to the water for concerts and other activities.

There are several AquaPaloozas around the country during the weekends in July, but the signature event will take place at the Reserve on Lake Travis this weekend.

The event, organized by Sea Ray and Sail and Ski Sports, begins at 7 a.m. Friday. Boats begin loading into Lake Travis, and boats will be lashed together to form rafts.

The music starts at 2 p.m. with a battle of the bands, and there will be local bands playing until 7:30 p.m. On Saturday, music will continue, with headliner Brad Paisley playing at 5 p.m. Swimmers are invited to swim up to the stage for the concerts.

The event also promises food, drinks and activities for the whole family.

As far as safety, Sea Ray says they will have medical staff on hand. They remind boaters to securely anchor their boats, and say that children under 13 must always wear a life vest.

For more information, visit Aquapalooza’s website.