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RISMEDIA, Oct. 17, 2007-(MCT)-Foreclosures were down in September, both nationally and in Maryland. But why is still uncertain.

U.S. foreclosure activity experienced a fairly broad-based retreat in September, with 39 states reporting decreasing activity and national numbers down in all foreclosure categories — defaults, auctions and bank repossessions, said James J. Saccacio, chief executive officer of Realtytrac.

“Nevertheless, it’s important to note that September’s total was still the second highest monthly total we’ve seen since we began issuing our report in January of 2005,” he said. “It’s too early to tell if September’s numbers represent a one-month lull, or if they could signify that more buyers and investors are getting back in the market and snatching up discounted foreclosure properties, thereby providing a release valve for distressed homeowners and overwhelmed lenders.”

Frederick County had 144 foreclosures filed in September, according to Realtytrac. In August, 149 foreclosures were filed in the county.

Statewide in September, 2,821 foreclosures were filed, down almost 15% from August, but 393% higher than September 2006.

For those facing foreclosure, there are avenues to pursue to help avoid it.

Locally, the Frederick Community Action Agency will receive $50,000 to help counsel those facing foreclosure. It is part of a statewide $1 million fund for counseling agencies. Gov. Martin O’Malley also set up a task force, Maryland Homeownership Preservation, to look at ways to curtail foreclosures and educate consumers on mortgage loans. The task force, made up of representatives from lending, banking, affordable housing and real estate, will focus on refinancing, mortgage insurance and counseling.

The Federal Housing Administration offers information for those facing mortgage woes:

–Contact the lender as soon as possible: Don’t ignore letters from the lender. Don’t be embarrassed to call. Lenders want to keep borrowers in their homes because it is costly for them to have to resell or auction the property.

–Talk to a housing counselor: The FHA offers counselors at 1-800-569-4287 to review options, to call the lender for you, refer you to financial, legal, medical and other assistance in your area.

–Tighten your budget: Cut back on any unnecessary spending such as dining out, entertainment, even telephone service. Look at any sources such as stocks, savings accounts or personal property that may have value. Any money after the basics — food, utilities and shelter — should go to paying the mortgage.

–Explore solutions with the lender: Discuss lower payments per month, changing the interest rate, even a “forbearance” — suspending payments for a short time, and then paying the full amount due later on. If keeping the home is not an option, look at “short sales” of the property at a lower price and paying off the rest. That will save a credit rating for future purchases. There is even a “deed-in-lieu of foreclosure.” You give back the property, and debt is forgiven.

In Maryland, there are two types of foreclosure — judicial and nonjudicial.

In the first, the contract does not allow the lender to sell the property until first filing a complaint against the borrower. A court decides whether a loan default has occurred. If so, the court decides a reasonable time for the borrower to negotiate with the lender or go to foreclosure.

In a nonjudicial foreclosure, the contract allows the lender to sell, but it must be filed with the court, and there are requirements on posting the sale and notifying the borrower. According to the Maryland Association of Realtors, the average price of a home in Frederick County in August, the latest figures available, was $359,949, down 5.2% from July. In August, 222 homes were sold in the county, down 32% from July.

Copyright © 2007, The Frederick News-Post, Md.
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.