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Foreclosure rates up from January, down from last year

The U.S. housing market was hit with mixed foreclosure news Thursday.

In February, the number of homes going into foreclosure saw a slight increase from January, but was down from the same time last year, according to a monthly report from RealtyTrac, a real estate website that tracks foreclosures. Bank repossessions also declined to the lowest level in more than five years.

These rates are down from their peak in the fall of 2010, but are still much higher than they would be in a normal housing market, according to RealtyTrac.

"At the national level, we're past the worst of the foreclosure crisis," said Daren Blomquist, vice president of RealtyTrac. "But we're not completely out of the woods."

Foreclosure filings, which includes default notices, scheduled auctions and bank repossessions, ticked up 2 percent to 154,281 properties across the country from January, but that number is still down 25 percent from February 2012.

The report found that one in every 849 U.S. homes filed for foreclosure during the month.

After declining for three consecutive months, the number of U.S. foreclosure starts jumped 10 percent from January.

Still, though, it was down 25 percent from the same month in the previous year.

The number of bank repossessions of foreclosed homes, meanwhile, declined 11 percent from January and was down 29 percent from the same month in the previous year.

This pushed bank repossessions to their lowest level since September 2007, a sign that foreclosures are building up as more troubled owners stay in their homes, Mr. Blomquist said.

"If you're a homeowner who's not making your payments, the bank will not let you stay in your home forever. It may take them awhile to do so, but eventually, they're getting around and starting that foreclosure process," Mr. Blomquist said.

Florida once again was hit the hardest by foreclosures in February. The Sunshine State accounted for 31,726 foreclosure filings during the month, up 6 percent from January and one-fifth of the nation's total. It also had the nation's highest foreclosure rate for the sixth consecutive month with 1 in every 282 homes facing foreclosure, which is more than three times higher than the national average.

Cities such as Miami, Orlando, Ocala, Tampa and Palm Bay were the metro areas with the highest foreclosure rates.

Out West, Nevada also still is suffering from the foreclosure crisis. Foreclosures starts for the month increased 334 percent from the previous year. One in every 320 homes there posted a foreclosure filing in February. The state had the nation's second highest foreclosure rate for the fifth consecutive month.

Mr. Blomquist said the housing markets in these states is working through a glut of foreclosures and called it "necessary medicine that the market needs to get back to health, but, of course, it doesn't taste very good."

Even in those foreclosure hot spots, "It's not a sign that those markets are crumbling and falling apart again," Mr. Blomquist said. "It's a sign that those markets are finally dealing with the distress of the housing crisis, and they're not continuing to kick the can down the road."

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