Sales of distressed real estate made up nearly a quarter of all single-family residential sales both in the fourth quarter of 2011 and the entire year according to information released today by RealtyTrac. Homes that were in some stage of foreclosure or lender-owned (REO) comprised 24 percent of the market in the fourth quarter compared to 20 percent in the third quarter.  Pre-foreclosure sales and sales of REO represented 23 percent of all sales during the year compared to 25 percent in 2010.

RealtyTrac, the Irvine, California company that tracks foreclosures nationwide, reported that 204,080 residential properties in some stage of foreclosure or held in REO were sold to third parties during the fourth quarter, down 8 percent from the third quarter and 2 percent from the same period in 2010.  Total foreclosure related sales in 2011 totaled 907,138, down 2 percent from 2010.

"Sales of foreclosures in the fourth quarter continued to be slowed by questions surrounding proper foreclosure paperwork and procedures," said Brandon Moore, chief executive officer of RealtyTrac. "Even so, foreclosures accounted for nearly one in every four sales during the quarter and for the entire year. We expect to see foreclosure-related sales increase in 2012, particularly pre-foreclosure sales, as lenders start to more aggressively dispose of distressed assets held up by the mortgage servicing gridlock over the past 18 months.

Homes purchased pre-foreclosure, i.e. short sales, totaled 88,303, about one-third of foreclosure related sales.  This was down five percent fewer than in the previous quarter but a 15 percent year-over-year increase.  Pre-foreclosure sales were 10 percent of the market in Quarter Four and 9 percent over the course of the year.

Distressed sales had an average price of $164,944, little changed from Quarter Three and down 5 percent from one year earlier.  Distressed properties typically sold at a 29 percent discount compared to a sale of a non-foreclosure related property during the quarter.  The discount in the third quarter had averaged 34 percent and one year ago it was 35 percent.  Pre-foreclosure sales sold for an average of $184,221 in the fourth quarter, 21 percent below the average price of a non-foreclosure home.  REOs sold for an average of $149,686 in the fourth quarter, up 2 percent from the previous quarter but down 2 percent from the fourth quarter of 2010. The average sales price of a bank-owned home in the fourth quarter was 36 percent below the average sales price of a non-foreclosure home, while the discount on bank-owned homes for the entire year was 40 percent.

"We continued to see a shift toward pre-foreclosure sales, or short sales, and away from REO sales in the fourth quarter," Moore continued. "Nationally, pre-foreclosure sales increased 15 percent from a year ago while REO sales decreased 12 percent.  Pre-foreclosure sales outnumbered REO sales in several bellwether markets, including Los Angeles, Miami and Phoenix, where REO sales had outnumbered pre-foreclosure sales a year ago. That trend will likely show up in more local markets in 2012 as lenders recognize short sales as a better option for many of their non-performing loans." 

Pre-foreclosure sales increased dramatically year-over-year in several states, more than doubling in Michigan (+103 percent.)  Other states with big increases were Georgia (+59 percent), Arizona (+48 percent), and Washington (+36 percent.)  Year-over-year increases in REO were less striking but several states did see significant jumps.  Sales in Minnesota increased 65 percent, Wisconsin 23 percent, Washington 21 percent, and Illinois 20 percent.

Homes that sold pre-foreclosure in the fourth quarter had been in the foreclosure process for an average of 308 days compared to an average of 237 days in the fourth quarter of 2010.  REOs that sold in the fourth quarter took an average of 175 days to sell after completing the foreclosure process, compared to 171 days in the fourth quarter of 2010.

During 2011 the states with the highest percentage of real estate sales that were foreclosure related were Nevada (54 percent), California (43.5), and Georgia (36 percent).