Updated at: 12/05/2012 10:35 PM
By ALEX VEIGA
(AP) LOS ANGELES - Sales of U.S. homes facing foreclosure are on the rise and outpacing sales of bank-owned homes, a reflection of stepped up efforts this year by lenders to avoid foreclosing on homes with mortgages gone unpaid.
In the third quarter, sales of homes already in the foreclosure process jumped 22 percent compared to the previous quarter and a year earlier, foreclosure tracker RealtyTrac Inc. said Thursday.
Short sales, when a lender agrees to accept less than what the homeowner owes on their mortgage, accounted for 65 percent of those so-called preforeclosure sales in the quarter, the firm said.
Banks have become more amenable to short sales as an alternative to foreclosure, which can often end up leading to bigger losses and mire lenders and borrowers in a time-consuming and expensive process.
"More and more, they’re seeing that they’re going to lose less by approving a short sale than by dealing with the foreclosure process," said Daren Blomquist, a vice president at RealtyTrac.
Attempts to fast-track that process, particularly in states where the courts must sign off on foreclosures, led to allegations last year that many banks and mortgage servicers processed foreclosures without verifying documents. Five of the biggest U.S. banks agreed in February to pay $25 billion to settle the claims as part of a deal with federal and state officials.
In the months since, the banks have increasingly used short sales as a way to provide mortgage relief to borrowers.
The lenders have reported that they provided $26 billion in home-loan relief between March 1 and Sept. 30, with about half of that stemming from short sales.
Some banks, like JPMorgan Chase & Co., have been giving borrowers financial incentives to pursue a short sale. Others are trying to speed up the transactions, which in years past could easily take six months or more before being finalized.
"A lot of the banks right now are setting the expectation that it will take about 60 days to process, some even faster," said Jenna Smith, a listing agent for real estate website Redfin in Chicago. "In prior years I’ve had them drag out for nine to 12 months."
Banks also have been approving short sales for borrowers who have yet to enter the foreclosure process.
These types of short sales increased by 15 percent in the third quarter versus the previous three months and were up 22 percent from the third quarter of last year, RealtyTrac said.
As short sales and other preforeclosure sales have become more common, they have begun to outpace sales of bank-owned homes.
Some 98,125 homes in some stage of foreclosure were sold in the third quarter, while 94,934 bank-owned homes were sold in the same period. Preforeclosures have outnumbered sales of bank-owned homes through the first nine months of the year, RealtyTrac said.
Sales of bank-owned homes rose 19 percent versus the second quarter, but fell 20 percent from a year earlier.
All told, foreclosure sales totaled 193,059 in the July-to-September period, an increase of 21 percent from the second quarter, but a drop of 3 percent from a year earlier, RealtyTrac said.
Despite the growth in short sales, foreclosure sales made up a slightly smaller share of all U.S. home sales in the third quarter. They accounted for 19 percent of all residential sales, down from 20 percent in the previous quarter, and unchanged from the third quarter of 2011.
Buyers who purchased a bank-owned home or a preforeclosure property in the third quarter got a bigger discount relative to other types of homes.
The average price of a foreclosure sale in the third quarter was 32 percent below the average sale price of non-foreclosure homes, RealtyTrac said.
That’s up from a 29 percent discount in the second quarter and a 31 percent discount in the third quarter of 2011.
Homebuyers who purchased a foreclosure sale in the third quarter paid an average of $177,430. That’s down 4 percent from the second quarter and up 3 percent from a year earlier.
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)