Rocket Docket for Florida Foreclosures

by Simon Lindsay on Foreclosures, States

As Florida foreclosures continue to soar in January, courts in the state have been conducting rocket docket hearings to clear their backlogs of foreclosure filings. Rocket docket takes just a few seconds.

In rocket docket, the judge just asks two questions: whether the homeowner is currently occupying the home and whether he is current with his monthly amortization. While the answer to the first question could be yes or no, the answer to the second question is always no. The judge will then inform the homeowner how many days he is allowed to stay in the house if he is unable to negotiate a deal with the lender.

According to the national delinquency study of the Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA), Florida foreclosures continue to be among the highest nationwide, along with California foreclosures. While the foreclosure rate has slowed down a bit, Florida foreclosures for the month of January 2009 were still 18 percent above foreclosures in January 2008.

The rocket docket process is a common occurrence at Fort Myers foreclosure court in Lee County, which is among the counties with the highest number of foreclosed properties nationwide. The county has become a microcosm of what is happening in the national housing market, with home prices falling to 50 percent of their 2005 price levels and the unemployment rate rising to 10 percent.

Judge Hugh Starnes is one of retired judges rehired to help deal with Florida foreclosures. He says that handing out foreclosure orders is an unhappy job for him, but he says that it is a lawful procedure that must be done to respond to foreclosure filings.

While many are given orders to vacate their homes, the case of mortgage broker Patricia Valverde is a positive one. Because she took out a flexible-rate mortgage loan of $300,000, her monthly payments soon jumped from $1,700 to $2,250. When she lost her job, she had almost accepted that her home would become just one of thousands of Florida foreclosures. But President Barack Obama’s Homeowner Affordability and Stability Plan has given her hope. She is now preparing to apply for refinancing.

Meanwhile, Robert Hill, a lawyer hired by a group of lenders to handle Florida foreclosures, says that the rocket docket is an efficient and realistic response to the foreclosure case backlog. He says that in most cases, delinquent borrowers have been living in the bank properties for more than one year for free.

In more than half of Florida foreclosures, the foreclosed properties involved homebuyers who were speculating for higher home prices and who were not residents in the area. For these cases, according to the Fort Myers judges, the rocket docket process fits perfectly.