By Paul Owers | Sun Sentinel
New foreclosure cases increased 6 percent in South Florida over the past six months, though that's not necessarily a sign of another housing market decline, according to a real estate research firm.
Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties had 7,354 new cases from March through August, compared with 6,934 during the same period of 2015, according to a report from ATTOM Data Solutions, of Irvine, Calif.
Over the same time frame, new filings dropped 4 percent in Florida and 16 percent nationwide, the report says.
Despite the increase in the tricounty region, the number of new cases remains below pre-recession levels, said Daren Blomquist, a vice president of ATTOM.
The recent uptick in filings is a "reflection that there is still distress in the South Florida market," he said. "But we're really back to normal when it comes to [new foreclosure cases]. And there will be some ups and downs within that normal range."
Foreclosures peaked in South Florida during 2009, when 133,250 new cases were filed, according to ATTOM.
Home prices hit bottom by the end of 2011, and an increase in sales to buyers looking for bargains helped housing recover. The economy and the job market improved as well, and that means fewer homeowners falling behind on mortgage payments, analysts say.
Florida courts used to be swamped with foreclosure filings, but judges now are focused more on clearing out the backlog of cases that built up during the bust, said Jerry Tepps, a South Florida real estate lawyer.
Tepps said stricter lending standards are helping to cut down on foreclosures. During the boom, some buyers could get loans without proof of income, but lenders today are much more selective in their underwriting, he said.
"It's a whole, different world now," Tepps said. "They aren't giving out mortgages to everybody who wants one."
With home sales softening in recent months, some analysts say the market has peaked and is facing an inevitable slowdown that could result in more delinquencies and foreclosures.
However, Ken Johnson, a real estate economist and professor at Florida Atlantic University, said any slowdown will pale in comparison to the housing collapse of 2006-2011.
Aside from better underwriting standards, interest rates remain low and incomes are starting to inch higher, according to Johnson. Home price increases will level out, but values won't plunge, he said.
"I expect a fairly soft landing," Johnson said. "This isn't walking, crawling or talking like 2007. It's just not."