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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, April 17, 2010

Maui foreclosure outlook gloomy

The Maui News

New foreclosures in Maui County continued to run at near-record highs in March, with one Maui foreclosures tracker saying, "We haven't turned the corner yet."

There were 217 new foreclosure filings last month, or one out of every 305 households in Maui County, according to real estate research company RealtyTrac.

"This is the third highest month we have experienced," said John Andersen, who tracks foreclosures as executive director of Na Hale O Maui, a nonprofit organization that converts foreclosed properties to affordable housing.

Kihei had the highest number of new foreclosures with 74 filings in March. Lahaina had 58 new filings, and Wailuku had 32.

New foreclosure filings are defined as properties that have received foreclosure filings, default notices, or foreclosure auction notices, or have been repossessed by banks.

Kahului had 20 filings, Makawao 16 and Haiku six, RealtyTrac reported Thursday.

Statewide, there were 1,097 new foreclosures, with 522 on Oahu, 282 on the Big Island and 76 on Kauai.

Despite news of a brighter economy nationwide, the outlook for foreclosures in Maui County remains gloomy.

"We're seeing quite a few new actions filed, and the trend is continuing into April," said Andersen. "There is no letup in filings."

The growing new filings are compounding foreclosure woes in the county by increasing the total inventory of homes in foreclosure - with only a trickle of auctions or work-outs clearing properties from the system. More than 800 homes on Maui are currently in foreclosure and have reached the auction stage, but in more than 90 percent of cases, the auctions are being postponed, multiple times in some cases, Andersen said.

He believes that lenders are overwhelmed with the record numbers of foreclosures or are trying to keep the losses off their books for as long as possible. Delays also could be the result of loan modifications, which take time, and short sales.

"The market has to absorb the large number of distressed properties" before it can recover, he said.

Until these homes - which are selling 30 percent below assessed values - clear auction there will continue to be a downward pressure on prices, Andersen said.

"We haven't turned the corner yet," he said.

Declines in new foreclosures and the backlog will have to happen "before we can say we turned the corner, and none of these things have occurred," he said.

The news isn't all bad, said Joe Hogan, an ERA Pacific Properties broker who specializes in foreclosed properties on Maui and the Big Island.

"To me it's getting better," said Hogan, noting that he's starting to see new sales.

"It's hard but not as bad as last year."

Still, one or two new foreclosures pass through his office each week, he said. Most happen because people have lost their jobs; or have reduced hours or exotic mortgages they no longer can afford; or have stopped making payments on their homes because the value has plummeted, he said.

While many foreclosed homes still need to be auctioned, Hogan doesn't "see them driving prices a lot lower. . . . It's hard to say. It's a crystal-ball question."

The foreclosure situation may remain bleak for another two to three years until the economy improves, he said.