The end of pandemic-driven forbearance on mortgage payments has triggered a rise in foreclosures on homes nationwide. But New Hampshire had one of the lowest foreclosure rates in the country during the first quarter of 2022, according to a new report from ATTOM, which tracks foreclosure data and is parent company to RealtyTrac, the largest online marketplace for foreclosure and distressed properties.

The state ranked 38th in foreclosure rates among the 50 states, with 193 foreclosures in the first quarter, a rate of one completed foreclosure among every 3,310 housing units with a foreclosure filing. Illinois had the highest rate: one in every 791. South Dakota had the lowest: one in every 17,724.

New Hampshire counties with the highest foreclosure rates, according to ATTOM data, are, in order: Merrimack, Cheshire, Strafford, Rockingham and Belknap.

While the data shows foreclosure starts and bank repossessions at their highest numbers in the two years of the COVID-19 pandemic, due to the end of government and bank mortgage forbearance programs, the rates are still below normal levels, according to ATTOM.

“Even with the large year-over-year increase in foreclosure starts and bank repossessions, foreclosure activity is still only running at about 57 percent of where it was in Q1 2020, the last quarter before the government enacted consumer protection programs due to the pandemic,” said Rick Sharga, executive vice president of market intelligence for ATTOM.

The fraction of foreclosures in New Hampshire is due, in part, to the qualified buyers who are fueling the real estate boom in New Hampshire that was hot even before the pandemic and went red hot during the pandemic.

It continues to be a seller’s market in the state, where demand is very, very high, but inventory is very, very low.

“While our inventory continues to remain tight in New Hampshire, there is no shortage of well-qualified buyers in New Hampshire,” said Adam Gaudet, president of the N.H. Association of Realtors.

“The majority of buyers are using conventional financing, but we’re still seeing the occasional cash purchase from out-of-state buyers,” added Gaudet, owner/broker at 603 Birch Realty in Concord. “In this fast-paced market, buyers are speaking with lenders earlier in the process and know exactly what they can afford before they begin touring homes.”

Troubling affordability index

Affordability is a challenge in New Hampshire, according to NHAR data.

In its monthly report on real estate trends, NHAR’s affordability index hit a record low in March 2022, underscoring the need for more affordable housing options. The index measures whether or not a typical family earns enough income to qualify for a mortgage loan on a typical home based on the most recent price and income data.

An index above 100 signifies that a family earning the median income has more than enough income to qualify for a mortgage loan on a median-priced home, assuming a 20 percent down payment.

In March 2020, the state’s affordability index stood at 126 for a single-family home. In March 2021, it was 112. And in March 2022, it was 80, the least affordable index ever.

Rockingham County, according to the March report from the NHAR, continues to be the priciest county in which to buy a single-family home. The median price of a home there is $590,000, up 28.3 percent from what it was in March 2021. The statewide average in March was $440,000, a new high.

Auctioneer Paul McInnis, asked whether he’s seen an uptick in the number of residential properties he’s been auctioning recently, answered, “We haven’t.”

McInnis is president of an auction business originally licensed in the state in 1976, making him the holder of the longest active auction license in New Hampshire. Based in North Hampton, he’s been auctioning foreclosed real estate since 1978, handling properties for state-chartered banks that still hold the mortgages on properties; he does not handle properties for which the mortgages have been sold in the secondary market.

As for foreclosure auctions over the past six years, “I don’t want to say they’re non-existent but they’ve been very few,” said McInnis.

He said on average he auctions up to five residential properties a year. Compare that, according to McInnis, in the late 1980s and early 1990s when he was doing 200 to 300 foreclosure auctions a year.

The 1990s recession was largely due to a weakened economy as a result of Federal Reserve policies and as a result of the end of a real estate boom during the early to mid-1980s, resulting in sinking property values, lowered investment incentives, and job loss.

The ATTOM report shows a total of 33,333 U.S. properties with foreclosure filings in March 2022, up 29 percent from the previous month and up 181 percent from a year ago — the 11th consecutive month with a year-over-year increase in U.S. foreclosure activity.

“It’s likely that we’ll continue to see significant month-over-month and year-over-year growth through the second quarter of 2022, but still won’t reach historically normal levels of foreclosures until the end of the year at the earliest, unless the U.S. economy takes a significant turn for the worse,” said Sharp.

RealtyTrac.com shows several foreclosed properties that are being auctioned throughout the state. One example scheduled for auction on May 13 is a property on Old Turnpike Road in Nottingham, in Rockingham County. With 4,738 square feet, three bedrooms and three baths, on about 5 acres, it shows a value of $419,000.

The N.H. Banking Department encourages anyone facing foreclosure to call 211 or visit homehelpnh.org to find a HUD counselor or legal assistance, or information about upcoming foreclosure prevention workshops. There are no fees for these services.

This article is being shared by a partner in the Granite State News Collaborative. For more information visit collaborativenh.org.