|A monthly 14 percent plunge in foreclosure activity is unlikely a long-term trend, according to the chief of a foreclosure data service. The decline was driven by a drop in the rate for just judicial-foreclosures states and a reduction in the number of completed foreclosures.
February saw 225,101 U.S. properties that faced some sort of a foreclosure notice, tumbling from 261,333 reported for the prior month by RealtyTrac. It was the lowest level of activity in the past 36 months.
The Irvine, Calif.-based service said filings include default notices, scheduled auctions and bank repossessions. It collects data from 2,200 U.S. counties.
"Allegations of improper foreclosure processing continued to dog the mortgage servicing industry and disrupt court dockets," RealtyTrac Chief Executive Officer James J. Saccacio explained in the report. "While a small part of February's decrease can be attributed to it being a short month and bad weather, the bottom line is that the industry is in the midst of a major overhaul that has severely restricted its capacity to process foreclosures."
But Saccacio sees a jump in activity -- though only after several months. However, he doesn't see volume reaching the March-2010 peak of more than 367,000 properties that were hit with a filing.
Previous data indicate that 308,524 properties were foreclosed on during February 2010. RealtyTrac noted that it was the biggest year-over-year decrease since it started reporting foreclosure data in 2005.
During the first two months of 2011, filings added up to 486,434 -- though it is possible some of the same properties saw some sort of filings during both months.
Foreclosures in judicial states fell 19 percent from January, while they were down 13 percent in non-judicial states.
One-quarter of all properties that faced a foreclosure during last month were located in California. The state saw filings fall to 56,229 from January's 67,072.
Behind the Golden State was Florida, where filings fell to 18,760 from 21,671. Arizona's 15,485 filings followed, then Michigan's 14,003 and No. 5 Georgia's 12,807.
The fewest filings -- five -- could be found in Vermont.
As a whole, the country had one foreclosure filing for each 577 housing units, a big improvement from the one-in-497 rate reported for January. The improvement was even greater compared to February of last year, when one out of every 418 housing units were hit with a foreclosure filing.
The rate shoots up to one filing for every 119 homes in just Nevada, though that was an improvement from January's one-in-93.
Not much better was Arizona, where one-in-178 housing units were hit with a filing. The Grand Canyon State's foreclosure rate improved slightly from one-in-175 the previous month.
California's one-in-239 rate was third and better than one-in-200 a month earlier. After that was Utah's one-in-273 and Idaho's one-in-298.
Out of the 10 metropolitan areas with the worst foreclosure rates, seven were in California. But it was the second consecutive month that no Florida metropolitan area made the top-20 list. A year earlier, nine Florida metros were among the 20 areas with the highest foreclosure rates.
Over in Vermont, only one filing occurred for each 62,849 homes -- the best rate in the country.
In the battle between lenders and delinquent loans, the ultimate metric is the number of completed foreclosures.
Last month saw 64,643 U.S. properties slip into real-estate-owned status. January's REOs were higher at 78,133, as were February 2010's 78,683.
Year-to-date REOs numbered 142,776.
Repossessions were highest in California, where the number fell to 12,734 from January's 15,893. Florida declined to 4,746 from 7,558, and Arizona tumbled to 5,419 from 6,753.
Michigan was next with 4,566 REOs, followed by No. 5 Georgia's 3,010.
It was a triple-crown affair for Vermont, where just five REOs were reported -- the fewest of all states.