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Courts grapple with foreclosure avalanche in Miami

With more than a thousand foreclosed homes queued up for the auction block in February, the Miami-Dade County Clerk of Court’s office is expanding the number of days it auctions properties from two to three per week.

“We’ve been running into some serious problems,” said Michael Henderson, a spokesman for the clerk’s office. “We’ve needed [an extra day] now for a couple of months, because it is already unmanageable with two days and we expect the caseload to increase further.”

The extra auction day is expected to be added starting in March, most likely on Fridays. Henderson said the office was trying to find the resources to pay staff and make other arrangements for the change.

Huge numbers of foreclosures have made the extra day necessary. Nearly 320 homes are being auctioned weekly in Miami-Dade, as homeowners and investors go belly-up on spiking adjustable rate loan payments. Foreclosure filings in 2007 soared 168 percent over the year before.

While lenders are buying back most properties at the auctions, Henderson said the need to add an additional auction day was mainly out of concern for investors. Winning bidders must pay the full auction price for their purchases in cash by 3 p.m.

With auctions running later than usual, Julian Dominguez Jr., an investor and president of Foreclosure Information Systems, said the 3 p.m. time gives investors, who must put at least 5 percent down in cash upon winning a bid, only 90 minutes to get to the bank and return with the difference.

“It’ll make you nervous. If you’ve ever gone to the bank to have a cashier’s check made, you might get there and there’s 20 people in front of you,” Dominguez, said. “By the time you’re out of there with your check, you’re stressed.” In Broward County, new filings have also prompted discussions about adding an extra auction day to alleviate the backlog, said Barbara Brown, court operations manager for the Broward Circuit, Civil and Family courts.

Right now, the court is asking lenders and banks to agree to extend sale dates by nearly a month. So far, that seems to be working, Brown said. Civil filings in Broward have jumped 102 percent since last year, said Brown, who added more than 90 percent of those filings were foreclosures.

“It’s never been like this, not for as long as I can remember,” Brown said. She pointed out the court has been auctioning about 240 properties per week since January, up from about 30 or 40 per week the same month last year.

The Miami Herald, Monica Hatcher. Posted February 7, 2008

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