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Mediation law helps reduce D.C. foreclosures

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Real Estate,Dean Bartoli Smith

Foreclosures are slowing across the country, including in D.C., according to recent reports. The Saving D.C. Homes from Foreclosure Emergency Amendment Act of 2010 has played a role in this decline, along with other factors, including low inventory and strong demand.

The act requires mortgage lenders to send homeowners notice of default on their residential mortgage and give them the right to engage in mediation prior to foreclosure.

"The Saving D.C. Homes from Foreclosure Act has added a level of accountability and transparency to a foreclosure process that was deeply flawed and provided very little protection for District homeowners," said Christopher Weaver, associate commissioner for banking in the District's Department of Insurance, Securities and Banking.

The controls created under the act, Weaver said, combined with the strong recovery in the District of Columbia housing market, have enabled some homeowners to stay in their homes through modifications and other alternatives to foreclosure.

Local experts give credit to the bill but also to a market that continues to experience rising prices and sales.

"Foreclosures have definitely fallen in the District of Columbia during the past year," said Troy Toureau, a mortgage expert at McLean Mortgage who added that, while there was evidence that the law had helped, he did not believe the act was the only factor in the improving foreclosure picture.

"The D.C. real estate market has heated up this year, and the fact that attractive and reasonably priced properties can be sold easily has contributed to the lower foreclosure rate as well," Toureau said.

Toureau said that in the 12-month period that ended in September, the District had only 58 completed foreclosures, down by more than 50 percent from the previous 12 months, according to CoreLogic.

"Recently, we closed a loan in D.C. for a client and they reported that they had to put three or four bids on properties before they purchased in the District," Toureau said. "Each property experienced multiple bids."

The median sales price in D.C. rose more than 11 percent during October and sales were up in the region by 16 percent, according to RealEstate Business Intelligence, a firm that analyses the real estate market.

"Mortgage forgiveness helped somewhat and kept it from getting worse," said Donna Evers, president of Evers & Co. "Anything that helps gets the property off the books and avoids the horror of foreclosure is better than letting it sit."

Evers said loans with first- and second-trust lenders were initially difficult to resolve. The first-trust lender was getting all the money and the second-trust lender was absorbing all the risk. As every day passed, more money was lost.

"Once the first-trust lenders were able to work out a payment to the second-trust lenders, the process went faster," she said. "Short sales were also a wonderful answer."

Evers said foreclosures were never as big an issue in D.C. as they were in places like Florida, Georgia and South Carolina.

As for a strong market, Evers is in agreement.

"There was the feeling that we are never going to climb out of this, but the District is unsinkable," she said. "It's been going like gangbusters this fall. We are too healthy a market right now. The city is roaring along."

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