RealtyTrac, the Irvine, California firm that tracks foreclosure activity nationwide, reports that foreclosure activity increased last year in 57 percent of large metropolitan areas.  Foreclosure filing increased in 120 of the 212 cities with populations over 200,000 that the firm follows and in eight of the 20 largest ones.

RealtyTrac measures activity through court filings of Notices of Default or Lis Penis, notices of sale or scheduled auctions, and bank repossessions or actual foreclosure sales. The company reports that, despite the increases in 2012, activity in 181 of the 212 cities was below that of 2010 when filing peaked in most markets.

Top among the eight largest metros in which foreclosure activity increased in 2012 were Tampa (80 percent increase), Miami (36 percent), Baltimore (34 percent), Chicago (30 percent), and New York (28 percent).  Among the 12 that decreased from 2011 to 2012 were Phoenix (-37 percent), San Francisco (-30 percent), Detroit (-26 percent), Los Angeles (down 24 percent), and San Diego (down 24 percent).

 "Markets with increasing foreclosure activity in 2012 took the first step in finally purging delayed distress left over from the bursting housing bubble," said Daren Blomquist, vice president at RealtyTrac. "Meanwhile, the underlying fundamentals in many of those markets are slowly improving, making it an opportune time to absorb additional foreclosure inventory this year - and that is particularly good news for buyers and investors hungry for more inventory to purchase in those markets."

While statewide activity dropped by double digits in California four of its cities led the nation in the rate of foreclosure activity.  At the stop was Stockton, California where foreclosure filings affected one in 25 housing units or 3.98 percent.  This was nearly three times the national average.  The Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario area was second at 3.86 percent, followed by Modesto (3.82 percent), and Vallejo-Fairfield (3.73 percent).   Three other California cities were among the top 20 but all seven posted improvements compared to 2011.

Florida cities accounted for eight of the 20 highest metro foreclosure rates and three of the top ten, led by Miami at No. 5 with 3.71 percent of housing units with a foreclosure filing during the year and Palm Bay-Melbourne-Titusville at No. 6 (3.60 percent).  Foreclosure activity increased from 2011 in all but one of the eight most distressed Florida cities 

Other cities with foreclosure rates among the nation's 10 highest were Atlanta at No. 7 (3.51 percent of housing units with a foreclosure filing), Orlando at No. 8 (3.46 percent), Chicago at No. 9 (3.31 percent), and Rockford, Illinois at No. 10 (3.28 percent). 

RealtyTrac scored the largest cities (populations over 500,000) by their inventory of foreclosed properties, the percentage of foreclosure sales, foreclosure discount, and percentage increase in foreclosure activity in 2012 and rated the Palm Bay-Melbourne-Titusville metro areas in Florida as the best place to buy foreclosures in 2012, Five other Florida cities ranked among the Top 20 best places to buy foreclosures: Lakeland, Tampa, Jacksonville, Orlando, and Miami.

 Five New York cities ranked among the 20 best places to buy foreclosures in 2013, based largely on big backlogs of foreclosure inventory and big increases in foreclosure activity in 2012: Rochester, Albany, New York, Poughkeepsie, and Syracuse.

 Other cities in the Top 20 were Chicago, El Paso, Philadelphia; Allentown, Pennsylvania; Youngstown, Ohio; Bridgeport, Connecticut; Cleveland, New Haven, Connecticut, and Indianapolis.