NEW YORK (Reuters) - Completed U.S. foreclosures plunged by 39 percent in September compared to a year ago, the biggest annual decline since the housing downturn began in 2007, data from CoreLogic showed on Thursday.
There were 51,000 completed foreclosures last month, down from 84,000 in September, 2012. Foreclosures are completed when a home is either seized by the lender or sold at auction.
There were also 51,000 foreclosures in August.
Between 2000 and 2006 and before the housing market's downturn in 2007, completed foreclosures averaged 21,000 per month. Since the financial crisis began in September 2008, there have been about 4.6 million foreclosures.
"The number of seriously delinquent mortgages continues to drop across the country at a rapid rate with every state showing year-over-year declines in foreclosure inventory," said Anand Nallathambi, president and CEO of CoreLogic.
"We're not out of the woods yet, but these are encouraging signs for a return to a healthier housing market."
Housing began to improve in early 2012, with prices and sales volume increasing and the foreclosure landscape improving.
A spike in borrowing costs over the summer sapped some of that momentum, which might slow foreclosure resales. Rates have retreated from recent highs, however, over the last month.
There were approximately 902,000 homes in some stage of foreclosure in September, down from 1.4 million a year ago. That inventory represented 2.3 percent of all homes with a mortgage, compared to 3.2 percent in September of last year.
The five states with the highest number of foreclosures in the year leading up to September were Florida, California, Texas, Michigan and Georgia, which together accounted for almost half of all foreclosures nationally.
Florida also had the highest percentage of homes sitting in foreclosure, followed by New Jersey, New York, Maine and Connecticut.
Reporting By Steven C. Johnson; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama