New residential foreclosure filings fell last year in New Jersey for the first time since 2011, which experts say is another sign that the state’s economy and housing market are improving.
Lenders’ foreclosure filings — not including condominiums — fell 27 percent in 2015 to 35,733 with declines in each of the state’s 21 counties.
Bergen County, which had 3,173 filings in 2014, ranked fourth last year with 2,513 filings behind Essex, Ocean, and Camden counties, which had 3,265, 3,072 and 3,017 filings, respectively. Passaic County had 1,883 filings last year, down from 2,687 in 2014.
The turnaround came after increases of 15 percent in 2014, and 75 percent the year before, according to the data released Tuesday by the New Jersey Judiciary.
The figures affirm a trend highlighted in a quarterly Mortgage Bankers Association report in November, which said the percentage of New Jersey mortgages which had payments way overdue or that were in foreclosure represented 12.7 percent of the total mortgages in the state, down from 15 percent a year earlier.
The reversal of the foreclosure trend indicates that “the economy is stabilizing, and the major pressures are beginning to ease off of the housing market,” said Joel Naroff, president of Naroff Economic Advisors. Employment in the state also has picked up in recent months.
Economist Patrick J. O’Keefe agreed, while noting that 35,733 filings is still a fairly high number.
“Much of the progress that has been made in reducing the seriously delinquent inventory is being countered by foreclosures still being filed,” said O’Keefe, who is director of economic research for the Roseland accounting firm CohnReznick.
O’Keefe said he suspects that some of the reported foreclosure filings may actually be re-filings of old cases which had been set aside for any of a number of reasons, as lenders struggled to comply with court requirements, and as homeowners challenged debt collectors’ rights to foreclose on loans that may have changed hands several times.
“When you look at mortgages today it’s a bit like trying to describe a bowl of spaghetti,” O’Keefe said.
It is clear, however, that New Jersey which has been lagging the nation in its recovery from the foreclosure crisis, is now catching up.
The bursting of the real estate price bubble that happened about eight to nine years ago was severe in many New Jersey neighborhoods, and so was the 2007-2009 recession’s impact on jobs and families, the economists said.
The foreclosure crisis in New Jersey also was prolonged by state court actions a few years ago that persuaded mortgage lenders to postpone new filings while steps were taken to clean up shoddy legal work and protect homeowners’ rights. In 2011, filings plummeted to 5,831 from 53,614 the year before as a result. In 2012, the filings increased by 316 percent, to 24,257.
“Any time there are less foreclosures I think that’s good news,” said Michael Affuso, director of government affairs for the New Jersey Bankers Association. But bankers remain concerned that the court process for handling foreclosures moves too slowly, he said.
It takes about three years on average to complete a foreclosure in New Jersey, according to RealtyTrac.
“The housing market would be better off if the foreclosures happened more quickly,” he said.