1 LINKEDINCOMMENTMORE

While there are a variety of options for homeowners in foreclosure, many have chosen to cut their losses and abandon their property. The housing market has been improving across much of the nation. However, some cities still have a long recovery process ahead of them as the market deals with a glut of homes in foreclosure, which can often stay in the system for several years. Meanwhile, many of these remain vacant.

In Wichita, Kansas, nearly half of homes in foreclosure were abandoned as of the first quarter of 2014. In six of the nation's most populous metro areas, at least a third of homes in foreclosure were vacant. Based on data provided by housing data website RealtyTrac for the nation's 100 largest metro areas, these are the cities where residents are abandoning their homes.

Median housing prices in all but one of the metro areas with the most vacant homes were among the lowest in the country. In addition, housing prices fell during the last 12 months in four of the 10 cities: Boise, St. Louis, Syracuse, and Wichita. Daren Blomquist, vice president at RealtyTrac, explained that this drop in prices creates a problem for both banks and homeowners because neither wants to hold on to a depreciating asset. This increases the likelihood that homeowners will abandon their homes and banks may find that foreclosing on the home could be more expensive than writing it off.

The length of the entire foreclosure process is a major contributor to vacancy rates because homeowners are more likely to give up on their homes the longer they have to wait for a resolution. Blomquist explained that as foreclosure processes stretch on for years and years, homeowners begin to believe they will not be able to save the house and decide to move on with their lives.

In fact, several of these cities with the most abandoned homes are in states with very lengthy average foreclosure times. Palm Bay, for example, is located in Florida, where the average foreclosure process took 935 days to complete in the first quarter, the second-longest time among all states.

While lengthy and exhausting foreclosure processes encourage some homeowners to abandon their homes, in other cases, people intentionally move away early because they don't fully understanding the process. With changing housing laws in many states, "homeowners may have more options than they realize to avoid foreclosure," Blomquist said.

24/7 Wall St. reviewed the 10 metropolitan statistical areas with the highest vacancy rates among homes in foreclosure, based on data provided by RealtyTrac for the 100 most populous metropolitan statistical areas. RealtyTrac also provided metro-level median home prices, population, and foreclosure rates, all of which are for the most recent available period. 24/7 Wall St. calculated 12 month average home prices and year-over-year percent change from May of each year. RealtyTrac also provided the average length of foreclosure processes in each state, as of the first quarter of 2014. We also reviewed income data from the Census Bureau's 2012 American Community Survey, and unemployment rates from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

These are the cities with the most abandoned homes.

1. Wichita, Kan.

> Pct. foreclosures vacated: 49%
> Total vacated homes: 146 (30th lowest)
> Average home price: $131,292 (39th highest)

There were only 301 properties in foreclosure in Wichita as of the second quarter of this year. Nearly half of those, however, had been abandoned by their owners, the highest vacancy rate among the nation's largest metro areas. Like many metro areas where residents are abandoning their homes, Wichita is located in a state with a judicial foreclosure system, which tends to lengthen the proceedings. The average foreclosure process in the first quarter took 524 days in Kansas, up 34% from the same period a year before and among the higher wait times among major U.S. metro areas. Another factor contributing to the region's high vacancy rate is likely low and depreciating home prices — as the value of a home decreases, the financial pressure of an unpaid mortgage will go up. Home prices in Wichita were 3% lower in May 2014 than they were in May of last year.

2. Portland-Vancouver-Beaverton, Ore.-Wash.

> Pct. foreclosures vacated: 37%
> Total vacated homes: 804 (30th highest)
> Average home price: $251,888 (12th highest)

Low, declining home prices can lead to higher vacancy rates, as owners are more likely to give up on a property depreciating in value. Prices in the Portland region, however, are exceptionally high. Over the 12 months prior to this past May, a home in the area sold for more than $251,000 on average, among the most compared to other large metro areas. And prices are rising — the median home price in May was up 22% from the same period a year before, one of the larger increases among metro areas reviewed. While the region's vacancy rate is second only to Wichita, there are signs of improvement for the Portland area. The average length of foreclosure proceedings in Oregon fell 20% over the year prior to the first quarter, which may make homeowners less likely to abandon a property.

3. Birmingham-Hoover, Ala.

> Pct. foreclosures vacated: 37%
> Total vacated homes: 428 (43rd highest)
> Average home price: $149,682 (44th highest)

The Birmingham-Hoover region was the only metro area on this list where the unemployment rate rose between the first quarters of 2013 and 2014. High unemployment may, in part, contribute to owner vacancies rising 19% between the first and second quarters of 2014 as owners who lost their jobs may have been afraid of going into foreclosure, as Blomquist suggested. In the first quarter of 2014, it took just 193 days to complete foreclosure proceedings. And while area home prices rose in recent years, they still remain among the lowest in the country.

4. Kansas City, Mo.-Kan.

> Pct. foreclosures vacated: 36%
> Total vacated homes: 305 (47th lowest)
> Average home price: $150,717 (42nd highest)

While housing prices in the country rose over the last two years, housing prices in the Kansas City metro area declined 9%. Additionally, the foreclosure rate in the first quarter of 2014 declined by more than 50% from the same period in 2012. Despite the drop in owner vacated homes and the falling foreclosure rate, home prices in the Kansas City metro area fell 9% since 2012, one of the higher declines in the country. Declining home prices may explain why more than one in 10 foreclosed homes in January 2014 failed to sell at auction and were repossessed by the bank, one of the higher rates on this list. This may be a sign that the housing market has not fully recovered.

5. St. Louis, Mo.-Ill.

> Pct. foreclosures vacated: 34%
> Total vacated homes: 847 (27th highest)
> Average home price: $96,083 (14th lowest)

The number of vacant homes in the St. Louis area dropped by nearly 50% between the second quarters of 2013 and this year. Despite this, still more than a third of the area's 2,500 properties in foreclosure were vacant as of the second quarter. Residents of the St. Louis area are subject to either Missouri's non-judicial foreclosure process or Illinois' judicial one. The average lengths of proceedings in both states, however, are exceptionally high and have been on the rise in the last year. A complete foreclosure process took roughly one year on average in Missouri and more than 800 days in Illinois, both among the longer proceedings compared to other large metro areas. Long foreclosure procedures in both states likely contributed to the area's 34% vacancy rate.

MORE AT 24/7 WALL ST.: See the the rest of the 10 cities with the most abandoned homes

24/7 Wall St. is a USA TODAY content partner offering financial news and commentary. Its content is produced independently of USA TODAY.

1 LINKEDINCOMMENTMORE
Read or Share this story: http://on.ksdk.com/1mCHPwW