Central Valley

Valley counties ranked 2, 3, 4 in the nation for foreclosures

The good news: The Northern San Joaquin Valley no longer is the foreclosure capital of the world.

The bad news: Foreclosure proceedings were started on more than 3,100 homes and nearly 1,300 houses were repossessed by lenders during February in Stanislaus, San Joaquin and Merced counties.

The Florida metropolitan area of Cape Coral-Fort Myers took February's top spot for having the highest percentage of homes with foreclosure filings, according to RealtyTrac statistics released today.

San Joaquin County was second, Stanislaus third and Merced fourth among the 229 metro areas ranked by RealtyTrac. The three counties have been at or near the top of that foreclosure list for more than a year.

During February, there were foreclosure filings against about 1 of every 100 homes in the Northern San Joaquin Valley, including default notices (3,144), auction sale notices (424) and bank repossessions (1,291).

Such filings occurred during the month for only 1 in 557 homes nationwide and 1 in 242 homes in California.

It typically takes four to six months after the notice of default is filed before a house can be repossessed by lenders.

Such foreclosures are concluded almost every weekday on the courthouse steps in Modesto, Stockton and Merced, where houses are put up for public auction. Buyers rarely bid at those auctions because the outstanding mortgage debt is too high, so lenders end up owning the foreclosed properties.

Lenders don't want those houses back, insisted Robin Stout Migala, a delinquency resolution manager for Freddie Mac, which finances mortgages.

That's why lenders have started meeting face to face with delinquent borrowers to discuss ways to avoid foreclosure. More than 400 homeowners met with lenders Friday in Stockton, and 300 did so Saturday in Modesto.

Another foreclosure prevention workshop will be held March 29, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., at Modesto Centre Plaza, 1000 K St.

Homeowners facing foreclosure or having trouble making their monthly mortgage payment are encouraged to attend the free event.

Spanish-language translators will be available, and homeowners from throughout the Northern San Joaquin Valley are invited.

The event is sponsored by The Modesto Bee, city of Modesto and the state.

Credit counselors who have been trained by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development will be there to offer free advice on avoiding foreclosure.

Representatives from many mortgage lenders will participate. Lenders will speak one-on-one with their current borrowers about ways mortgage contracts or monthly payments might be modified to make it possible for families to keep their homes.

Among the lenders and mortgage servicing companies expected to be there are:

* Countrywide

* Washington Mutual

* Bank of America

* Wilshire Credit Corp.

* Carrington Mortgage Services

* Wachovia

* IndyMac

* OptionOne

* Litton Loan Servicing

Additional lenders may attend.

For homeowners whose lenders are not there, personal counseling will be offered to help determine what options might be available to prevent foreclosure.

But not all homeowners are eligible for such concessions. Convincing a lender to modify a mortgage takes preparation and proof that a homeowner meets certain criteria.

That's why homeowners planning to attend the March 29 workshop should bring all the information they can to document their financial situation, including all the paperwork they have about their mortgages.

Bee staff writer J.N. Sbranti can be reached at jnsbranti@modbee.com or 578-2196.