By Alex Veiga LOS ANGELES -- While foreclosures remain a concern in select states, the number of U.S. homes entering the path to foreclosure or winding up repossessed by lenders has fallen to levels not seen in more than six years. The trend is the latest sign foreclosures are becoming less of a national factor on the housing recovery and more of a state and metropolitan-area concern.
Lenders initiated foreclosure action against 52,826 U.S. homes in November, down 10 percent from the previous month and a drop of 32 percent from November last year, according to new data from foreclosure listing firm RealtyTrac Inc. The last time the tally of monthly foreclosure starts was lower was in December 2005, the firm said.
Foreclosure starts increased last month on an annual basis in 15 states, including Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland and Oregon. While fewer homes entered the foreclosure pipeline in November, the number of homes completing the foreclosure process also declined.
All told, lenders took back 30,461 homes last month, down 19 percent from October and a decline of 48 percent from November last year, RealtyTrac said. Overall, completed foreclosures sank to the lowest level since July 2007, the firm said.
The number of homes repossessed by banks increased on an annual basis in only five states: Delaware, Maryland, Connecticut, Maine and Iowa -- all states where the courts must sign off on foreclosures, a factor that typically draws out the process longer than in other states. Some of the decline in foreclosure activity last month was due to a seasonal slowdown as the end of the year draws near. That could mean a bump in homes sold at auction or repossessed by banks early next year, said Daren Blomquist, a vice president at RealtyTrac.
"Regionally and locally, there are going to be some jumps in foreclosure numbers in 2014, but nothing we anticipate will threaten the housing recovery," Blomquist said. "It's very safe to say that the foreclosure crisis is over and behind us."
The decline in foreclosures has come about as more homeowners are keeping up with their mortgage payments. At the same time, the U.S. housing market has emerged from a deep slump, aided by rising home prices, steady job growth and fewer troubled loans dating back to the housing-bubble days. At the end of November, 734,205 U.S. homes were in some stage of the foreclosure process, down 24 percent from a year earlier. Another 503,577 homes were bank-owned, but not yet sold. That's down from 18 percent from November last year, the firm said.
Some 70 percent of all homes in some stage of foreclosure are tied to mortgages that were taken out between 2004 and 2008. At their monthly pace through the first 11 months of the year, completed foreclosures are on track to total 470,000 this year, down 30 percent from last year, Blomquist said.
Foreclosures peaked in 2010 at 1.05 million and have been declining ever since.
At the state level, Florida had the highest foreclosure rate in the nation last month, with 1 in every 392 households in some stage of foreclosure. Even so, the number of homes in the state that entered the foreclosure process fell 46 percent from a year ago, while homes taken back by lenders declined 16 percent. Rounding out the top 10 states by foreclosure rate were Delaware, Maryland, South Carolina, Illinois, Ohio, Connecticut, Nevada, Iowa and Utah.
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