Back to the Foreclosures in Las Vegas

The cab driver looked a bit eccentric, reminiscent of Doc Brown from the Back to the Future trilogy, but I stepped into the back anyway, comforted by the thought that it was vanilla-looking minivan rather than a silver De Lorean with wispy smoke pouring out the open door.

But about 15 minutes later as the driver finished yelling a string of obscenities at a too-slow car and then swerved as he fished into a backpack sitting on the front passenger seat for an item he wanted to show me, I had second thoughts about my decision to step into this particular cab.

The cab driver started to get agitated when I mentioned I worked for RealtyTrac, a company that tracks foreclosures and other real estate data. I understood why when he finally retrieved the item from his backpack that he so desperately wanted to show me: an eviction notice giving him three days to get out of his recently foreclosed home.

Then came the whole story, from his wife’s death a few years ago to an eventual foreclosure sale of his home to a real estate investor a few months ago. That first investor made some perfunctory attempts to evict him but quickly gave up after they saw he was not going to leave easily. So they sold the property to another investor, the one who had just served him with the three-day eviction notice.

But that has not deterred him. He told me he had already taken the matter before a judge, who ruled he should be given at least 30 days to vacate the home. And from the way he sounded he was going to stick it out that full 30 days, if not longer.

Foreclosure stories like this are becoming more common again in Las Vegas as lenders fire back up their foreclosure machinery after an 18-month slowdown triggered by a new state law that took effect in October 2011. That law, AB 284, held the lenders to a higher standard in terms of foreclosure documentation.

But recently lenders appear to be adjusting to the new ground rules for foreclosure. Las Vegas foreclosure starts (Notices of Default) in February increased 341 percent from a year ago, the third straight month with an annual increase after a long string of annual decreases. February foreclosure starts in the city were actually down slightly from January, when they reached a 17-month high.

Many of these foreclosure starts are likely on homeowners who have not been making mortgage payments for years but still have been allowed to stay in their homes. This may have created a false sense of security or even entitlement for these homeowners who are surprised when the lender actually takes steps to foreclose and eventually evict them from the property.

One of the many tragic elements that I take away from hearing this cab driver’s foreclosure story is that he was given a false sense of hope that he could somehow avoid losing his home. And that false hope ultimately did not come from fraudulent players trying to make a quick buck — although they may have played a part. Ultimately that false sense of hope came from the political and legal establishment in the state.

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U.S. Bank Repossessions Drop to 65-Month Low in February as Foreclosure Starts Rebound 10 Percent from January

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