Half of U.S. states saw an annual increase in the number of foreclosure-related filings in 2012, but most of those were judicial foreclosure states where loan servicers were catching up on the backlog from the “robo-signing” controversy, according to a year-end report by data aggregator RealtyTrac.

All told, RealtyTrac reported foreclosure-related filings against 1.84 million U.S. properties in 2012, down 3 percent from 2011 and down 36 percent from a 2010 peak of 2.9 million homes.

All but five of the 25 states seeing an increase in foreclosure-related filings (default notices, scheduled auctions and bank repossessions) were states where courts handle most foreclosure proceedings.

Many foreclosure proceedings against homeowners in those states were stalled, but not derailed, by allegations that loan servicers failed to follow proper procedures in filing legal documents.

After loan servicers reached a settlement last March with state and federal officials last over so-called “robo-signing” practices and revised their procedures, they began pushing new and existing proceedings through the system again (many also started approving more short sales to meet their obligations under the terms of the settlement).

Foreclosures are handled by courts in the six states seeing the biggest annual increase in 2012 foreclosure filings — New Jersey (up 55 percent), Florida (53 percent), Connecticut (48 percent), Indiana (46 percent), Illinois (33 percent), and New York (31 percent).

Southern California’s median home price jumped 20 percent in December from a year ago, driven by strong investment activity, a record number of cash buyers and a continued shift to mid- and high-end sales, a market tracker said Tuesday.

Sales also showed strength, increasing 5 percent from December 2011 and hitting their highest level for the month in three years, said La Jolla-based DataQuick.

Last month, the median home price across the region increased from $270,000 to $323,000 a year earlier. The median made double-digit percentage gains in all six counties.

“The question when the year started was, would the market find a (price) bottom. I think there are far fewer people worried now about prices falling and significantly more concerned about prices going up,” said DataQuick analyst Andrew LePage.

“We’ve answered the question: Yeah, we found a bottom.”

For all of Southern California, sales of new and previously owned houses and condominiums increased to 20,274 last month from 19,247 in December 2011.
Riverside and San Bernardino counties were the only ones with declining sales, DataQuick said.

For the full year, sales increased 10 percent, from 214,362 properties in 2011 to 235,119.

For the specific set of borrowers who were facing foreclosure by the nation’s five largest banks, a deadline of Friday looms to file claims under last year’s landmark National Mortgage Settlement.

The $25-billion settlement agreed to by 49 state attorneys general, federal agencies and the nation’s five biggest banks after it was revealed those financial institutions had used flawed paperwork and other faulty practices to repossess homes.

The settlement introduced new mortgage servicing standards and provided for a wave of loan modifications that include principal reductions and short sales. Some borrowers also qualify for monetary relief. Those who do qualify for cash were mailed notifications and claim forms last year, according to the National Mortgage Settlement website.

Those who qualified were borrowers who lost their homes to foreclosure from Jan. 1, 2008, to Dec. 31, 2011. Their loans must have been serviced by one of the big banks that were parties to the settlement. Those banks were Bank of America, Ally Financial, Citi, JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo.

Did you hear? Fidelity just agreed to pay a $1.25M settlement to the state of California for alleged RESPA kickbacks violations. This is the same case that led to a 2011 settlement where Fidelity agreed to pay the federal government $4.5M for the same violations.

The agreement between the California Department of Insurance (CDI) and Fidelity National Title Insurance Company was to resolve allegations of illegal kickbacks paid out from 2003 to 2011.

Between the previous $4.5M settlement with the federal government and this new $1.25M settlement with the state of California, Fidelity and its companies will pay almost $6M, not including legal fees and other costs. But does any of that money help to indemnify brokers who accepted the TransactionPoint payments? After reading what Commissioner Dave Jones said, RE-Insider isn’t so sure.

“Illegal rebates by and to those involved in the home purchasing process compromise the best interests of the consumer,” said Jones.

Commissioner Jones specifically mentions not only those who paid the kickbacks, but those that received the payments. RE-Insider is sure that there are quite a few brokers who are nervous about the next part of the investigation.

RE-Insider will continue investigating whether the terms of this settlement will protect brokers who used the TransactionPoint software.

In the meantime, RE-Insider would love to get your response – what might come next?

Please let us know.

California Homeowner Bill of Rights has officially been signed into law. The laws are designed to ensure fair lending and borrowing practices for California homeowners.

The laws are designed to guarantee basic fairness and transparency for homeowners in the foreclosure process. Key provisions include:

• Restriction on dual track foreclosure: Mortgage servicers are restricted from advancing the foreclosure process if the homeowner is working on securing a loan modification. When a homeowner completes an application for a loan modification, the foreclosure process is essentially paused until the complete application has been fully reviewed.

• Guaranteed single point of contact: Homeowners are guaranteed a single point of contact as they navigate the system and try to keep their homes – a person or team at the bank who knows the facts of their case, has their paperwork and can get them a decision about their application for a loan modification.

• Verification of documents: Lenders that record and file multiple unverified documents will be subject to a civil penalty of up to $7,500 per loan in an action brought by a civil prosecutor. Lenders who are in violation are also subject to enforcement by licensing agencies, including the Department of Corporations, the Department of Real Estate and the Department of Financial Institutions.

• Enforceability: Borrowers will have authority to seek redress of “material” violations of the new foreclosure process protections. Injunctive relief will be available prior to a foreclosure sale and recovery of damages will be available following a sale.

• Tenant rights: Purchasers of foreclosed homes are required to give tenants at least 90 days before starting eviction proceedings. If the tenant has a fixed-term lease entered into before transfer of title at the foreclosure sale, the owner must honor the lease unless the owner can prove that exceptions intended to prevent fraudulent leases apply.

• Tools to prosecute mortgage fraud: The statute of limitations to prosecute mortgage-related crimes is extended from one to three years, allowing the Attorney General’s office to investigate and prosecute complex mortgage fraud crimes. In addition, the Attorney General’s office can use a statewide grand jury to investigate and indict the perpetrators of financial crimes involving victims in multiple counties.

• Tools to curb blight: Local governments and receivers have additional tools to fight blight caused by multiple vacant homes in their neighborhoods, from more time to allow homeowners to remedy code violations to a means to compel the owners of foreclosed property to pay for upkeep.

The California Homeowner Bill of Rights marked the third step in Attorney General Harris’ response to the state’s foreclosure and mortgage crisis. The Mortgage Fraud Strike Force was created in May 2011 to investigate and prosecute misconduct at all stages of the mortgage process. In February 2012, Attorney General Harris secured a commitment from the nation’s five largest banks for up to $18 billion for California borrowers.

A San Diego loan officer was sentenced Monday to 2½ years in federal prison for a mortgage fraud conspiracy that netted him and a cohort $1 million.

Simon Saeid Koli, 41, pleaded guilty in July to conspiring to commit mail fraud, wire fraud and money laundering, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said. A co-defendant, Kian Ashkanizadeh, also a loan officer in North San Diego County, also has pleaded guilty.

Both men worked at Southern California Finance, a mortgage company, where they recruited family members and friends to act as straw buyers for four expensive houses, all on the same street in Carlsbad, a wealthy seaside northern suburb of San Diego.

After fabricating job titles, income and assets to qualify for $1 million mortgage loans on each property, the men arranged for $200,000 in bogus consulting fees for each loan, and another $45,000 for sham “construction fees” for each one, prosecutors said.

Koli was ordered to appear in court on Jan. 25, 2013, for a hearing on restitution.

Ashkanizadeh will be sentenced on Jan. 28.