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Lenders took possession of fewer U.S. homes in 2012 than a year earlier, as the pace of new homes entering the path to foreclosure slowed and banks increasingly opted to allow troubled borrowers to sell their homes for less than what they owed on their mortgage.
U.S. foreclosure filings dropped to a five-year low in September as fewer homes were on track to be seized by lenders.
Foreclosure activity surged last month across about half of the nation's states, as banks tackled a backlog of homes with mortgages that had gone unpaid yet remained in limbo because of delays stemming from foreclosure-abuse claims.
About 1.9 million homes entered the foreclosure process in 2011, the lowest level since 2007 when the recession began, according to a report Thursday by the foreclosure listing firm RealtyTrac Inc.
Foreclosures made up roughly one-third of all home sales this spring. While that's a smaller share of sales from the previous quarter, it's six times the percentage of foreclosures in a healthy housing market.
The gap between the average sale price of a foreclosed home and that of other properties grew wider last year, giving homebuyers who snapped up bank-owned homes big discounts.
Lenders are poised to take back more homes this year than any other since the U.S. housing meltdown began in 2006. About 5 million borrowers are at least two months behind on their mortgages and more will miss payments as they struggle with job losses and loans worth more than their home's value, industry analysts forecast.
More than 1 million American households are likely to lose their homes to foreclosure this year as lenders work their way through a huge backlog of borrowers who have fallen behind on their loans.