NEW YORK, Jan 17 (Reuters) - Foreclosure activity in the United States was at a near six-year low in December and declined over the entire year as the housing market continues to recover after foreclosures peaked two years ago.
But a build-up in backlogs, brought about in part by tougher rules for lenders to foreclose, could see new spikes in foreclosure activity this year, according to a report by RealtyTrac released on Thursday.
"Although we are comfortably past the peak of the foreclosure problem nationally, 2013 is likely to be book-ended by two discrete jumps in foreclosure activity," said Daren Blomquist, vice president at RealtyTrac.
There were about 2.3 million foreclosure filings on 1.8 million properties in 2012. That represents a decline of 3 percent on the year before and a drop 36 percent on a peak of 2.9 million properties in 2010.
Foreclosure activity was at 68-month low in December, falling 10 percent from the previous month and 21 percent from the same time a year ago.
Foreclosure filings in the fourth quarter fell to their lowest level since the third quarter of 2007.
Over the fourth quarter, foreclosure filings were reported on 503,462 U.S. properties, down 5 percent from the previous quarter and a 14 percent drop compared to last year.
The drop in new foreclosures coincides with rising prices and improved sentiment in the housing market that many economists believe mark a turning point for the sector after the housing bubble burst six years ago.
But the recovery in housing has not been evenly distributed across the country.
Florida, Nevada, and Arizona posted the top foreclosure rates by state. More than 3 percent of Florida homes had at least one foreclosure filing in 2012, the nation's highest.
A total of 279,230 Florida properties had a foreclosure filing during the year, a 53 percent increase from 2011 but still 42 percent below the more than 485,000 Florida properties with foreclosure filings in 2010.