Foreclosure filings hit their lowest level in more than four years in the first quarter, according to a report from foreclosure data aggregator RealtyTrac.
Default notices, scheduled auctions, and bank repossessions were filed on 572,928 properties in the first quarter, or one in every 230 U.S. housing units -- the lowest number of filings since fourth-quarter 2007, when 527,740 properties received filings.
Last quarter's foreclosure activity was down 2 percent from the fourth quarter and 16 percent from first-quarter 2011. March accounted for nearly 38 percent of the quarter's foreclosure activity, with 198,853 properties receiving filings. That was the lowest monthly total and the first under 200,000 since July 2007, the report said.
On an annual basis, foreclosure activity fell 17 percent in March.
"The low foreclosure numbers in the first quarter are not an indication that the massive reservoir of distressed properties built up over the past few years has somehow miraculously evaporated," said Brandon Moore, RealtyTrac's CEO, in a statement.
"There are hairline cracks in the dam, evident in the sizable foreclosure activity increases in judicial foreclosure states over the past several months, along with an increase in foreclosure starts in many judicial and nonjudicial states in March.
"The dam may not burst in the next 30 to 45 days, but it will eventually burst, and everyone downstream should be prepared for that to happen -- both in terms of new foreclosure activity and new short-sale activity."
States that use the nonjudicial foreclosure process lead the nationwide decline in foreclosure activity, RealtyTrac said. Those 24 states and Washington, D.C., saw foreclosure activity drop 8 percent from the fourth quarter and 28 percent from first-quarter 2011.
Several nonjudicial states saw significant year-over-year drops in activity in the first quarter: Arkansas (79 percent), Nevada (62 percent), Washington (55 percent), Arizona (41 percent), Texas (31 percent), and California (21 percent).
By contrast, foreclosure activity rose 8 percent quarter to quarter and 10 percent year over year in the 26 states that mainly use the judicial foreclosure process.
Judicial states that posted some of the biggest annual increases include Indiana (45 percent), Connecticut (38 percent), Massachussetts (26 percent), Florida (26 percent), South Carolina (26 percent), Pennsylvania (23 percent).
Foreclosure starts, which include default notices or scheduled auctions depending on the state, rose for the third straight month in March, up 7 percent from February, though still down 11 percent year over year.
Foreclosure starts increased on a monthly basis in 31 states, with the biggest jumps in Nevada (153 percent), Utah (103 percent), New Jersey (73 percent), Maryland (53 percent), and North Carolina (47 percent).
Nevada posted the nation's highest foreclosure activity rate last quarter, with one in 95 units receiving a filing -- a 62 percent year-over-year drop.
California had the second-highest foreclosure activity rate (1 in 103 units), followed by Arizona (1 in 106 units).
Top 10 states with the highest foreclosure rates
|Area||Foreclosure rate (Q1 2012)|
|U.S.||1 in 230 housing units|
|Nevada||1 in 95|
|California||1 in 103|
|Arizona||1 in 106|
|Georgia||1 in 119|
|Florida||1 in 123|
|Illinois||1 in 141|
|Michigan||1 in 162|
|Colorado||1 in 191|
|Utah||1 in 198|
|Wisconsin||1 in 206|
California metro areas accounted for 12 of the 20 metros with the highest foreclosure rates in the nationa in the first quarter, including eight of the top 10.
20 U.S. metros with the highest foreclosure rates
|Metro area||Foreclosure rate (Q1 2012)|
|Stockton, Calif.||1 in 60 housing units|
|Modesto, Calif.||1 in 60|
|Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, Calif.||1 in 62|
|Vallejo-Fairfield, Calif.||1 in 63|
|Merced, Calif.||1 in 72|
|Sacramento--Arden-Arcade--Roseville, Calif.||1 in 77|
|Bakersfield, Calif.||1 in 81|
|Las Vegas-Paradise, Nev.||1 in 82|
|Phoenix-Mesa-Scottsdale, Ariz.||1 in 87|
|Visalia-Porterville, Calif.||1 in 89|
|Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Marietta, Ga.||1 in 90|
|Fresno, Calif.||1 in 92|
|Miami-Fort Lauderdale-Pompano Beach, Fla.||1 in 95|
|Oxnard-Thousand Oaks-Ventura, Calif.||1 in 97|
|Orlando-Kissimmee, Fla.||1 in 101|
|Rockford, Ill.||1 in 104|
|Chicago-Naperville-Joliet, Ill.-Ind.-Wis.||1 in 107|
|Chico, Calif.||1 in 111|
|Prescott, Ariz.||1 in 113|
|Santa Rosa-Petaluma, Calif.||1 in 113|
From start to finish, the foreclosure process took an average of 370 days to complete nationwide, up from 348 days in the fourth quarter -- the highest average in the past five years, according to RealtyTrac.
Some key states are seeing foreclosure timelines decrease, however. In California, the average was 320 days, down from 352 days in the fourth quarter.
Colorado, Utah, Massachusetts, Nevada, Michigan and Maryland also saw declines.
The five states with the longest foreclosure timelines were New York (1,056 days), New Jersey (966 days), Florida (861 days), Illinois (628 days), and Maryland (618 days).