More than 9,500 real estate foreclosures have been filed in the Denver area in the first half of the year, about 34 percent more than in the first six months of 2005.
It's on pace to be the worst year ever in terms of the number of foreclosures, topping 17,122 in 1988, though the area's population growth since then means the total percentage of homes in foreclosure is smaller.
Experts are concerned about the number of people in danger of losing their homes because of the impact on a local economy that is otherwise showing strength by most measures.
"I do believe there is a crisis," said Peter Lansing, president of Universal Lending, who served on a foreclosure task force during the late 1980s. "We do need to do something about it. It is all of our responsibility."
He said lenders, consumers, real estate agents and home builders all share blame.
Experts said foreclosures are being driven by several factors: adjustable rate mortgages that are rising with interest rates; interest-only loans; houses sold to people with less than stellar credit ratings who in previous years wouldn't have qualified for loans; programs allowing homes to be purchased with no down payment; overbuilding; the lack of new, high-paying jobs; and predatory lending and fraud.
"A lot of times there are other life issues going on, such as divorce, losing a job or a medical problem," Lansing said.
And while some "creative financing" deals also play a role, he said that's not the major driving force.
"It has very little to do with the type of the loans and a lot to do with appreciation, or in this market, the lack of it," Lansing said. "You can have the wrong loans in a strong market and you can come out fine.
"But when you have the wrong loan in a bad market, that spells trouble."
Soaring foreclosures are a puzzle because the rest of the economy is doing so well, said Tom Clark, executive vice president of the Metro Denver Economic Development Corp.
"We thought the foreclosures would wash out by the end of the summer, but now with rising rates it looks like that is not going to happen until the first quarter of 2007," Clark said.
"The thing that continues to puzzle me is that all of the other underlying parts of the economy are strong. Our job growth is good, our personal per capita income is among the top in the country, our productivity is going up. Everything is strong except for the rising foreclosures."
Economist Tucker Hart Adams said she has no doubt it will get worse before it gets better. "That's going to be the basis of my next report," Adams said. "I'm trying to figure out how much worse."
She said many homeowners, already stretched by other consumer debt, can't afford to pay hundreds of dollars more per month as their adjustable rate mortgages move upward.
"I think in the '90s, when we had this unprecedented improving economy, we convinced ourselves the good times would never stop," Adams said. "A lot of people in Colorado just got in over their heads."
Real estate broker David Binkowski, owner of Real Estate of the Rockies in Denver, said most of the foreclosures he sees are in homes priced below the $300,000s and the owners often have refinanced out all of their equity.
"What we need are jobs, high-paying jobs, more than anything else," he said.
Kevin Marchman, executive director of the National Organization of African Americans in Housing, and the former head of the Denver Housing Authority, noted that a number of national reports have said Colorado and Denver have the highest rate of foreclosures in the nation.
He said blacks and other minorities have been hit particularly hard and are often victims of predatory lending and scams.
"My best guess is that upwards of 30 percent of the foreclosures are due to predatory lending," he said.
Lansing said he thinks that's way too high, "but we did have a woman come in our office who wanted a reverse mortgage, and we looked at her history, and her previous lender just had her refinance, and refinance, and refinance, just to generate fees."
Lansing said consumers need to educate themselves.
A lot of it is common sense and realizing that if a deal seems to good to be true, it probably is, he said.
"You don't really believe there are 1 percent mortgages, do you? But just the other day I heard an ad on the radio talking about getting a 1 percent mortgage."