|Closely watched statistics on foreclosure activity showed a slight deterioration last month, though year-over-year performance strengthened and total filings have fallen below 300,000 each of the past three months. But the lower recent volume is just a mirage, according to the provider of the data -- which also reported that repossessions surged in non-judicial states. Half of the country's foreclosures are concentrated in just five states.
The number of U.S. residential properties to face a foreclosure filing climbed to 261,333 in January after falling to 257,747 the prior month. Activity was much lower, however, than 315,716 in January 2010.
The foreclosure statistics reflect data from more than 2 million RealtyTrac listings in more than 2,200 counties. Filings from all three phases of foreclosure are included in the totals. The three phases are default, which involves notices of default and lis pendens; auctions, including notices of trustee sale and notices of foreclosure sale; and real-estate-owned filings.
"We've now seen three straight months with fewer than 300,000 properties receiving foreclosure filings, following 20 straight months where the total exceeded 300,000," RealtyTrac Chief Executive Officer James J. Saccacio stated in the report. "Unfortunately this is less a sign of a robust housing recovery and more a sign that lenders have become bogged down in reviewing procedures, resubmitting paperwork and formulating legal arguments related to accusations of improper foreclosure processing."
As is usually the case lately, California came in with more filings than any other state. During the first month of 2011, foreclosures rose to 67,072 in the Golden State from 65,915 in the final month of last year.
Florida's 21,671 filings followed, easing from the previous month's 25,641. Next was Michigan's 16,716, then Arizona's 15,757 and Texas' 14,897.
These top-five "states account for more than 50 percent of national total," RealtyTrac stated.
There was also deterioration in January's U.S. foreclosure rate. Last month, one filing was made for each 497 housing units, worsening from December's one-in-501 rate. But it was a substantial improvement from the one foreclosure filed for each 409 households a year earlier.
The rate of filings was worst in Nevada, where a foreclosure was filed on every 93 housing units. Still, that was better than one-in-84 the previous month. In just the Las Vegas metropolitan area, the foreclosure rate was one-in-82 -- the highest of any area in the country housing at least 200,000 people.
With a filing for each 175 housing units, Arizona's rate was second-worst and worse than December's one-in-201.
No. 3 California's rate was one-in-200, then Idaho's one-in-241 foreclosure rate and Utah's one-in-265.
The country's servicers repossessed 78,133 properties last month.
REOs in non-judicial foreclosure states increased 23 percent from December, while repossessions in judicial foreclosure states fell 7 percent from the previous month.
In January 2010, U.S. REO filings were 87,648.
California's 15,893 REOs were more than any other state in January, climbing nearly a third from December. After that were Florida's 7,558 REO filings and Arizona's 6,753. In Texas there were 4,983 completed foreclosures, while No. 5 Georgia had 4,756.