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NEW YORK, Feb 28 (Reuters) - Sales of U.S. homes seized by banks fell in 2012 as lenders shifted to other ways of dealing with struggling homeowners, a report from RealtyTrac showed on Thursday.
Bank-owned home sales across the country tumbled 15 percent to 498,122 units last year. Still, in 26 states, including Illinois and Pennsylvania, such home sales were higher.
Investor demand and tighter supply helped the average price of bank-owned sales rise 3 percent in the fourth quarter to $151,998, compared with a year earlier.
At the same time short sales - where the lender allows the homeowner to sell the property at a reduced price before it is foreclosed - rose 6 percent to 449,873 units for the year. That was slightly below a record 454,111 units in 2010.
These short sales outnumbered sales of bank-owned homes in 12 states, including Arizona and California.
Short sales done preemptively before the homeowner entered the foreclosure process also accelerated, rising 4 percent to an estimated 973,000 units.
"We're past the worst of new foreclosures but we're still in the thick of the market having to dispose of these foreclosures and distressed properties," said Daren Blomquist, vice president of RealtyTrac.
"It's going to take time to get through this."
Selling homes early on helped lenders mitigate their losses better than they might have otherwise. Prices on so-called non-foreclosure short sales were, on average, $81,621 below the amount owed on the loan, compared with a deficit of $129,817 on regular short sales.
Altogether, total distressed sales accounted for 43 percent of all U.S. home sales.
California took the top spot for foreclosure-related sales, which made up more than 38 percent of its total home sales. For Georgia and Nevada, such sales were nearly 38 percent of total home sales.