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Snow slows Long Island foreclosure filings

All that snow last month? Not only did it delay traffic, it might have slowed foreclosure-related filings quicker than any loan modification program.

Long Island's foreclosure activity fell 34 percent from a year ago and 48 percent from January, said RealtyTrac, an online market for foreclosures. The biggest drop was in newly launched foreclosure cases: 537 last month, 933 a year ago and 1,130 in January, the firm said.

"Severe winter weather appears to have temporarily slowed the processing of foreclosure records in some Northeastern and mid-Atlantic states," said James J. Saccacio, RealtyTrac's chief executive.

That helped temper foreclosure numbers nationwide. February filings, which include new cases, auction notices and bank repossessions, fell 2 percent from January, the report said. They rose 6 percent from a year ago, but it was the smallest such increase in the four years that RealtyTrac has been making year-over-year calculations, officials said.

"This leveling of the foreclosure trend is not necessarily evidence that fewer homeowners are in distress and at risk for foreclosure," Saccacio said, "but rather that foreclosure prevention programs, legislation and other processing delays are, in effect, capping monthly foreclosure activity."

The report comes as the federal rescue of homeowners expands with a new round of incentives for those who can't get loan modifications or failed during trial modifications.

Starting April 5, the Home Affordable Foreclosure Alternatives program will support deeds in lieu of foreclosure, in which the homeowners voluntarily turn over the deed to the lender, and short sales, a home sale in which the lender or investor agrees to take less than owed on the mortgage.

Homeowners would get up to $1,500 for moving costs and loan servicers up to $1,000. Up to $1,000 would be given to investors who hold the primary loan and agree to pay up to $2,000 from the short sale to investors of junior liens.

The program does not apply to Fannie Mae- and Freddie Mac-insured loans, which are mostly prime. Both firms will set up their programs later.

The plan sounds better for homeowners with one mortgage and no liens, said Melville-based attorney Peter Goodman, who represents borrowers on short sales.

Investors and lenders holding second- and third-place mortgages have been unwilling to write them off less than $10,000, he said. They also don't want properties with liens to pay off, he said. Before taking the deed, they want homeowners to try selling.

Goodman noted that lenders in the federal loan modification program have not followed the road map set by the White House. It's a concern also with the new incentives, he said: "There are a lot of loopholes . . . that allow the same lenders to not completely follow this program as well."

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