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Pending foreclosures in Florida start to drop

Sebring, Florida--The backlog of foreclosure cases got so bad that the Florida State Courts Administrator prodded judges in September with a new data collection system.

In Highlands County alone, 1,471 cases were pending in 2012, the height of the foreclosure bubble. That same year, even though Circuit Court chief judge David Langford assigned himself to the problem, banks took back 896 houses and lots from property owners.

In 2013, however, the real estate market turned around and fewer foreclosures have been filed, said Court Clerk Bob Germaine. “They're moving down,” Germaine said. “The judges are really working these dockets.”

In 2000, only 280 properties were foreclosed in the county. Then the housing industry sprouted wings, banks began to loan money on dubious income statements, the inflated economy could not sustain itself, and the bubble collapsed.

From 2007 to 2008, foreclosures doubled, from 676 to 1,291. In 2009, distressed properties topped 1,500.

“But the banks were in no hurry,” Germaine said. Pending cases languished because once the banks owned the properties, they had to pay neighborhood association fees, mow lawns and fix leaks.

“Now, we do case management,” Germaine said. “The judges, they order the parties into the court, and they say, 'This case needs to move.' If it doesn't within a year or so, the judge will just dismiss it. And the banks have to pay the filing fee all over.”

If the claim is US$50,000 or less, the forecloser pays a US$400 filing fee, US$905 for over US$50,000, or US$1,905 for over US$250,000.

Investors have returned to the market, snapping up low-priced bargains. Also, retirees are selling their northern homes and moving to Highlands County, real estate agents said earlier this year.

Even so, the Sarasota Herald-Tribune reported, more than 250,000 pending defaults still clog courts from Miami to Pensacola.

At the current pace, it will take another three-and-a-half years to clear the system completely, the newspaper said.

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