Utah, which had one of the nation's highest rates of foreclosure filings for much of the past two years, has eased back to 15th highest, a new report shows.
With a rate of one in every 721 households receiving some sort of notice in February, Utah is faring better than the national rate of 1 in every 637 households, according to foreclosure-listing firm RealtyTrac.
Nevada continued to post the nation's highest rate last month, with one in every 278 households in the state receiving a foreclosure-related filing. That's more than twice the national average.
Foreclosure activity surged last month across about half of the nation's states, as banks tackled a backlog of homes with mortgages that had gone unpaid yet remained in limbo because of delays stemming from foreclosure-abuse claims.
The increase occurred across 26 states where the courts supervise the foreclosure process. In contrast, the 24 states where the courts do not play a role in the process saw activity decline in February, RealtyTrac Inc. said Thursday.
Utah, which falls into the latter category, saw foreclosures drop by 61 percent from February 2011 to the same month this year, according to the report.
Although uneven, the pace of foreclosures is accelerating after a $25 billion settlement reached last month between the nation's biggest mortgage lenders and officials in 49 of the 50 states (including Utah). The settlement was tied to the industry's foreclosure abuses.
Major banks temporarily put foreclosures on hold in the fall of 2010 after claims surfaced that lenders and mortgage servicers were processing foreclosures without verifying documents. As a result, many homes that would have normally ended up foreclosed were left in a procedural limbo, particularly in states where courts play a role in the process.
But that logjam has begun to ease, and banks are moving to sort out their roster of problem mortgages.
That means potentially more foreclosed homes hitting the market this year that could drag down the value of neighboring homes.
Among states with a judicial foreclosure process, foreclosure activity rose 2 percent last month from January, and climbed 24 percent from February last year, the firm said.
Foreclosure activity across states without a court-supervised process fell 5 percent in February from the previous month and declined 23 percent from a year earlier.
RealtyTrac bases foreclosure activity on filings that signal when a home is in some stage of the foreclosure process an initial default notice, a scheduled home auction or a home repossession, which is when a property goes back to the lender.
Overall, U.S. foreclosure activity dipped 2 percent from January and was down 8 percent from February last year. Taken individually, some states registered far higher increases in foreclosure activity last month. Banks repossessed 63,834 U.S. homes last month, down 4 percent from January and a decline of 1 percent from February last year, RealtyTrac said.
Once more, the national figures don't tell the whole story, however.
Repossessions skyrocketed in February versus a year earlier in Massachusetts (114 percent), North Carolina (95 percent), Florida (90 percent) and Georgia (76 percent), among other states. "At the end of the day in 2012, we are going to see an increase in foreclosures nationally from 2011," a RealtyTrac official said.
More than 6 million homeowners were either behind on their mortgage payments or in foreclosure at the end of last year, by some estimates. And about a quarter of all U.S. homeowners, 11 million, are underwater on their homes, owing more on their mortgages than their homes are worth, according to CoreLogic, a real estate data firm.
Top 20 states by foreclosure filing rate in February
The ratio shows, for example, that one out of every 278 households in Nevada received a foreclosure notice during the month. Also highlighted: the number of properties that received notices.
1. Nevada , 1:278. 4,228
2. California, 1:283, 48,422
3. Arizona, 1:312, 9,131
4. Georgia, 1:331, 12,356
5. Florida, 1:341, 26,337
6. Illinois, 1:398, 13,298
7. Michigan, 1:433, 10,467
8. South Carolina, 1:489, 4,373
9. Ohio, 1:543, 9,445
10. Wisconsin, 1:596, 4,403
11. Colorado, 1:605, 3,655
12. Delaware, 1:611, 664
13. Indiana, 1:685, 4,079
14. Idaho, 1:718, 930
15. Utah, 1:721, 1,358
16. Tennessee, 1:762, 3,691
17. New Hampshire, 1:834, 737
18. Minnesota, 1:877, 2,676
20. Oregon, 1:956, 1,752