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Western Pa.'s foreclosure filings fell 13 percent for year

| Thursday, Jan. 15, 2015, 12:01 a.m.

Foreclosure filings in the Pittsburgh region declined to the lowest level in three years, according to a report, as the improving economy and tightened lending standards drive down the number of distressed homeowners nationwide.

In the seven-county Pittsburgh region, foreclosure filings fell 13 percent from the year before to 6,377, according to a report released Thursday from Realty Trac.

The annual decline in Pittsburgh wasn't as dramatic as elsewhere in the United States, which had an 18 percent decrease in foreclosure filings. The housing market in Western Pennsylvania wasn't as volatile as other markets during boom times and the Great Recession that followed, and so has had a smaller climb back to recovery.

“We were fortunate in Western Pennsylvania not to have the dramatic changes in the real estate market that you saw in some other areas, which I think was a big factor in the stability that we saw,” said Harold Hribal, loan servicing manager at Standard Bank in Monroeville.

Last year, Pittsburgh offset a rise in foreclosures elsewhere in the state, especially in Philadelphia, one of four large metro areas to post an annual increase. Foreclosure filings in the Philadelphia area increased 15 percent in 2014. Overall, Pennsylvania had a 5.68 percent decline in foreclosure filings last year.

Pittsburgh had the lowest number of filings since 2011, when a recharged manufacturing sector and Pittsburgh's stable housing market helped the city get an early jump on the economic recovery.

The number of filings in Pittsburgh plummeted 46 percent that year as government stimulus programs fed manufacturing employment and consumers started spending more.

Some mortgage industry experts speculated that the economic growth from Marcellus shale drilling in 2009 and 2010 drove down foreclosures, but the trend more likely reflected housing market stability, said Kurt Rankin, an economist at PNC Financial Services Group.

“Consumers in Pittsburgh were better positioned to start spending again,” Rankin said. “The home values hadn't dropped so dramatically that people were having to save more to make up the drop in their home value.”

Pittsburgh-area foreclosure filings declined in 2011 despite falling natural gas prices that eroded profits for gas drillers. Low oil prices are once again hurting the region's natural gas producers, but Rankin doubts whether it would result in a spike in distressed homes.

Mining jobs are a small part of the regional economy, accounting for less than 1 percent of nonfarm employment. And the benefits to consumer spending from falling gasoline prices would outweigh the impact on the housing market from a stalled natural gas industry, Rankin said.

Foreclosures increased at the end of 2014 in Pittsburgh and statewide, but it was not necessarily related to the energy market. Other states with a fourth-quarter rise included Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York, which, like Pennsylvania, have a judicial foreclosure process. The fourth-quarter rise could reflect a backlog of foreclosures making its way through the courts at the end of the year, said Daren Blomquist, vice president of Realty Trac.

The long-term trend is in decline, because the loans made in the past five years have been better, he said.

“We're getting into a much better vintage of loans that are less risky,” said Daren Blomquist, vice president of Realty Trac.

Chris Fleisher is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7854 or cfleisher@tribweb.com.

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