All in a day’s work. Really, it took that long.

I was looking for foreclosure numbers last month, and found myself with a daunting project. How many homeowners are there in the United States, and how many are in, or going into, foreclosure? How much is that number up from previous years?

(I’m sorry, but I have to tell the back end of this story, first. If you aren’t interested, just skip down– I’ve put the basic info in red, so you can find it easy.)

I thought finding those numbers on the net would be a simple process. Well, it wasn’t.

Then, this Sunday, while standing in line waiting to vote (it took four hours) I read Time from cover to cover, and saw that I’m not the only one who has trouble with foreclosure numbers.

As Time pointed out, when Congress, Wall street analysts, the US Treasury, the FDIC, the FBI, a few Federal Reserve banks, a dozen states, even some lenders, want numbers on foreclosure, they use RealtyTrac.

Who is RealtyTrac? The company was started by Derek White, a real estate agent, and Michael Keane, a computer programmer, in 1996. They got the idea to gather, then sell, a list of addresses of repossessed houses to Santa Barbara Calif. real estate agents.  James Saccacio, a one-time corporate banker, took over as CEO in 2000, and he decided it would be a good idea to offer foreclosure information on a national level.

Not such an easy job he found out – each state has its own laws about how the three steps of foreclosures (default notice, court judgment and sheriff’s sale) are made public, and to wade through all that is time consuming and labor intensive.

According to Time, RealtyTrac has 150 contractors collecting data in 2,200 counties, which covers some 90% of households.

And although RealtyTrac has been the go-to (and, by the way, cleared $40 million in revenue last year), the company has also been gone after. In 2007, after RealtyTrac came out with numbers putting Colorado near the top of the list of states with foreclosure problems, Kathi Williams, director of the Colorado Division of Housing, called RealtyTrac’s numbers “ridiculous and irresponsible.”

The Mortgage Bankers Association’s chief economist (who wasn’t named in the Time article) complained that RealtyTrac was “damaging the industry.”

As a result, RealyTrac has changed its methodology (it now counts “unique” houses, what does that mean?) and since its business is to sell addresses of foreclosures to real estate agents, investors and homebuyers, it gives data to any government entity that wants it.

Note that RealtyTrac’s measure of foreclosures as a percentage of all households, while, if you measure foreclosure rates as a percentage of households with a mortgage, you’d get a different (and higher) figure.

With that said, let’s head on over to RealtyTrac and see if we can find the numbers…

“Through August of 2008 more than 2 million properties nationwide received a foreclosure filing, up more than 50 percent from the same period in 2007, according to the RealtyTrac U.S. Foreclosure Market Report. If foreclosure activity continues at the same pace for the remainder of the year, close to 1 million homeowners will lose their homes to foreclosure in 2008, up from about 400,000 in 2007.”

Nationally, here are its numbers on properties with foreclosure filings for Sept. 2008.

39,892 with Notices of Default, 58,606 with Lis Pendens, 61,442 with Notice of Trustee Sale, 24,780 with Notice of Foreclosure Sale, and 81,312 properties that have been foreclosed on and repurchased by the bank
Total is 265,968, up 20.98% from Sept. 2007 and a rate of 1 of 475 housing units.

Florida foreclosures total is 47,965, with 1 of 178 housing units and 43.78% more than last year.

Other numbers I’ve gleaned from Google:
Homeownership in the United States was at about 66.2%, according to the 2000 census, and a ratio of 2 to 3 US householders (69.8 million) owned their homes.

Between 2005 to 2007, 22 million Americans purchased a new or existing houses (Paul Krugman, New York Times, 6/23/08).

And here are some other numbers – these from CBC, Oct. 31, 2008:
“About 7.63 million properties, or 18 percent, had negative equity in September, and another 2.1 million will follow if home prices fall another 5 percent, according to a report by First American CoreLogic. The data, covering 43 states and Washington, D.C., includes borrowers nationwide, even those who took out mortgages before housing prices began to soar early this decade.”
The article goes on to say, “About 68 percent of U.S. adults own their own homes, and about two-thirds of them have mortgages.”

Hey, I’m just trying to figure out the numbers here. Overall population in the United States = 300 million people. Households = 112,362,848 (that number is from ).
Use the CoreLogic figure of  68% households owning their own homes, and that comes to 76,406,737 households. Take 2/3 of that and it comes to 50,937,824 householders with mortgages  (I just did the math on that one, and what’s going on with the 22 million who purchased in Krugman’s two-year period? How are those figured in?) Now, think about one million of those families losing their homes this year…

Well, that’s the closest I can get. Am waiting to hear back from RealtyTrac to see what numbers they use for householders owning homes and what a unique house is, anyway.

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