Sales of foreclosed Hudson Valley homes have reached their lowest levels in years, primarily because of the lengthy process of resolving individual mortgage-holder applications.
"These counties haven't been as hard-hit as other parts of the country during the housing slump," said Daren Blomquist, vice president for RealtyTrac, a national foreclosure database. "But this decrease in 2011 is somewhat deceptive because it's not necessarily reflecting a robust housing recovery but more of a dysfunctional foreclosure process."
He said that it is "almost unbelievable" that as of the fourth quarter of 2011, a foreclosure took an average of 1,019 days in New York -- the lengthiest in the country -- compared with an average of 348 days for the rest of the nation.
With fewer foreclosed properties on the market, third-quarter foreclosure home sales were down 30 percent from the same period in 2010.
The number of regional foreclosure home sales for last year's third quarter included the following statistics from these counties:
Westchester - 79 sales, down 36 percent
Orange - 67 sales, down 40 percent
Rockland - 40 sales, down 41 percent
Ulster - 27 sales, down 40 percent
Putnam - 18 sales, down 44 percent
Until the inventory of foreclosure properties is "cleared out," the housing market will remain depressed, said Ann Garti, chief executive officer for Greater Hudson Valley MLS. But if the economy continues to stabilize, "It could eventually bring a certain leveling of the downward pressure on prices," she said.
Helping the picture is the settlement of the national "robo-signing" scandal related to bank recordkeeping practice and the federal government's Making Home Affordable program, which is offering assistance to distressed homeowners.
But foreclosure applicants still face a tough process, said William Flynn, a managing attorney for Legal Services of the Hudson Valley, which traditionally represents low-income residents. "Now we're representing our neighbors," he said.
Alicja and Maxwell Donkor, an Orange County couple who turned to the nonprofit service, finally saved their home after more than four years of legal wrangling. In 2003, they bought a $315,000, four-bedroom house on a 13-acre property near Middletown with plans to sell some of the land to a developer. But the deal fell through because their deed prohibited subdivisions.
Struggling to pay their bills, the Donkors took out a second subprime mortgage, inflating their original $1,800 monthly payments to more than $3,500. A third son was born just before Alicja was laid off from her engineering job. Attempts to file a mortgage modification became a tangle of paperwork that led to foreclosure.
After years of monthly meetings with their lender -- where the couple produced "a gazillion documents" ranging from utility bills to profit-and-loss statements -- Alicja said the family received a mortgage modification in December through the Making Home Affordable program. Even though the Donkors still owe more than the house is worth, the new $1,500 monthly mortgage taught them to "fight until the very end and keep the faith. And before signing a contract with any lender, make sure you know 100 percent of what's in the contract."
Their baby boy, born at the start of the family's foreclosure troubles, is now 5 years old.
Where to go for help:
Legal Services of the Hudson Valley
How to avoid foreclosure
Home ownership counseling tips
Hotline and information about free legal services