Monday, July 2, 2012

Phoenix foreclosure registry considered

Phoenix is looking into starting a foreclosed-home registry that proponents say would speed up the city's hunt for owners whose foreclosed properties are full of trash, surrounded by broken fences or that otherwise violate city ordinances.

Some council members said they like the idea of the registry, noting that the Phoenix area continues to have one of the highest foreclosure rates in the country, and the city has received a constant stream of neighbors' complaints about blight.

"This is something that the city of Phoenix will take a hard look at," said Councilman Daniel Valenzuela, whose west Phoenix district includes the foreclosure-stricken community of Maryvale.

Last month, metropolitan Phoenix had 2,001 foreclosures, according to real-estate tracker AZ Bidder.

A community organization, Living United for Change in Arizona, pitched the idea of the registry this week to the Phoenix City Council's neighborhoods and housing subcommittee.

"We know there are vacant properties that have been vacant a year, year and a half, two years -- and the issue of public safety is a real concern," said Monica Sandschafer, the group's executive director.

Other cities and counties around the country have started foreclosure registries to better monitor the problems often associated with vacated properties: blight, vandalism, transients and, in some of the worst cases, house fires.

Los Angeles, for one, began in 2010 requiring owners to register their foreclosed properties every year at a cost of $155 per application. Owners who fail to comply face fines of up to $250 a day.

Mesa considered launching a similar registry a few years ago, during the aftershocks of the housing market crash. City officials ultimately rejected the idea, saying it would be burdensome to manage.

Phoenix staff members have similar qualms but said they will study the issue and report back to the council subcommittee in the fall.

The Arizona Bankers Association has already reached out to Phoenix council members to raise concerns about the proposed registry, said Paul Hickman, the group's CEO and president.

"I would urge caution," he said. "I would be very careful in getting close to requiring noteholders to maintain properties that they do not have the legal authority to enter. A bank can hold the note but not own the property."

City staff are expected to present their study on a foreclosure registry to the City Council in the fall.

In most states, the county recorder offices process the paperwork for foreclosed properties.

Sandschafer said that although the Maricopa County Recorder's Office does its best to keep pace with the fast rate o f foreclosures, there is usually a lag -- sometimes 30 days or longer -- before the foreclosure documents are processed and stored in the records database.

Contrary to public perception, the Maricopa County Recorder's Office receives and posts on its website usually within an hour of receipt foreclosure documents that have been properly completed, said Leann Wade, an office manager for the Recorder's Office.

Wade said that for paper documents, the office usually posts them online within 24 hours of receipt.

"Eighty percent of our documents are received electronically," Wade said. "Those are recorded instantly that day and made available on our website right then."

Councilman Tom Simplot, who represents an area of central Phoenix, said identifying owners of foreclosed properties is the hard part.

Lienholders' names are often buried in a tangle of paperwork, he said.

After the home's value begins an upswing, the lienholder will declare ownership of the foreclosed home and prepare it for sale.

Because of this, foreclosure counts "are misleading," Simplot said.

Foreclosures have dropped by half since last May, when the metropolitan Phoenix area had more than 4,000 foreclosures, according to AZ Bidder. Simplot, though, does not believe Phoenix is out of the thick of the housing crash.

"There are still a lot of foreclosures to come," he said.

Eryn Crowley, deputy director for the city's preservation division, said the Phoenix area has one of the highest numbers of homeowners in the country who are upside down on their properties. At least 50 percent of its homeowners are in this conundrum, she said.

"Phoenix has been especially hard hit, but not all properties that go through the foreclosure process have code violations," Crowley said.

by Emily Gersema - Jun. 21, 2012 09:33 PM The Republic |

Phoenix foreclosure registry considered

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