February 12, 2009 / 5:42 AM / 9 years ago

U.S. January foreclosures fall: RealtyTrac

<p>A foreclosure sale sign sits in front of a house in Falls Church, Virginia, just outside Washington D.C. July 23, 2008. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque</p>

NEW YORK (Reuters) - U.S. home foreclosure filings in January decreased from December, an indication that an array of efforts to curb the process may be making an impact, real estate data firm RealtyTrac said on Thursday.

Foreclosure activity was still 18 percent higher than a year earlier, the 37th consecutive month with a year-over-year increase. Nevertheless, the fall in foreclosure filings last month provides a glimmer of hope for the hard-hit U.S. housing market.

Home foreclosure filings in January totaled 274,399, down 10 percent from December, RealtyTrac, an online market of foreclosure properties, said in its U.S. Foreclosure Market Report. The figure is a total of default notices, auction sale notices and bank repossessions.

RealtyTrac, based in Irvine, California, said the national foreclosure rate in January was one foreclosure filing for every 466 U.S. households.

“The extensive foreclosure efforts on the part of lenders and government agencies appear to have impacted the January numbers - particularly the Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac moratorium on all foreclosure sales that was extended through the end of January along with Florida’s voluntary 45-day freeze on all new foreclosure actions and scheduling of foreclosure sales that was announced at the beginning of December,” James J. Saccacio, chief executive officer of RealtyTrac, said in a statement.

January foreclosure activity showed a sharp improvement versus the previous month. In December, foreclosure filings were up 17 percent from the previous month and up nearly 41 percent from December 2007.

Foreclosures have largely been result of an increasing number of homeowners struggling to make mortgage payments amid the worst U.S. housing market downturn since the Great Depression.

“January REOs, which represent completed foreclosure sales to the foreclosing lender, were down 15 percent nationwide from the previous month,” Saccacio said.

“And in Florida overall foreclosure activity was down 20 percent from the previous month,” he said.

Real Estate Owned, or REO, are properties that have been foreclosed on and repurchased by a bank. But fewer foreclosures help assuage one of the housing market’s biggest banes, which is a huge supply of unsold homes.

“Any inventory off the market at this point is a good thing, but the problem is that many homes that have been taken back by banks have not yet been included in the data,” Rick Sharga, senior vice president at RealtyTrac, said on Wednesday.

There is more inventory in the pipeline and that will probably show up in the months ahead, he said.

“As for the January data, I would not read too much into it and it is doubtful that we are about to hit a bottom,” he said.

Nevada’s foreclosure activity decreased from the previous month but continued to register the highest rate in the country, with one foreclosure filing for every 76 households, followed by California and Arizona.

All three states had been among the hottest U.S. housing markets during the boom years.

Nevada had 14,444 foreclosure filings in January, down nearly 4 percent from the previous month and a 137 percent increase from January 2008.

California foreclosure activity in January decreased 14 percent from the previous month, but the state continued to register the nation’s second highest state foreclosure rate. One in every 173 California households received a foreclosure filing during the month.

California, the most populous U.S. state, reported 76,761 foreclosure filings, the most of any state and up 34 percent from January 2008.

Arizona ranked third highest in the nation with one foreclosure filing for every 182 households in January, with 14,674 filings, down 8 percent from December and nearly 62 percent higher than a year earlier, RealtyTrac said.

Florida ranked fourth highest in the nation with one foreclosure filing for every 214 households in January, with 40,770 filings, down nearly 20 percent from December and 35 percent higher than a year earlier, RealtyTrac said.

Reporting by Julie Haviv, Editing by Chizu Nomiyama

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