Legal filings related to foreclosure declined both in March and in the entire first quarter compared to previous periods RealtyTrac said today.  The company's U.S. Foreclosure Report covering the month and quarter reported there were filings of some type on 152,500 properties in March, down 1 percent from February and 23 percent compared to March 2012.   This was a rate of one filing for every 859 housing units in the country on a monthly basis.

Filings during the first quarter affected 442,117 properties, down 12 percent from the fourth quarter of 2012 and 23 percent from the first quarter last year.  Filings over the quarter impacted one in 296 housing units and were at the lowest level since the second quarter of 2007.

 "Although the overall national foreclosure trend continues to head lower, late-blooming foreclosures are bolting higher in some local markets where aggressive foreclosure prevention efforts in previous years are wearing off," said Daren Blomquist, vice president at RealtyTrac. "Meanwhile, more recent foreclosure prevention efforts in other states have drastically increased the average time to foreclose, which could result in a similar outbreak of delayed foreclosures down the road in those states."

Irvine California based RealtyTrac follows foreclosure filings in three categories - Notice of Default or Lis Pendens, Notice of Trustee or Foreclosure Sale (foreclosure starts) , and Real Estate Owned (REO) or bank repossessions. 

The 73,113 foreclosure starts in February represented the second consecutive increase in that category following three months when starts declined.  The change from January to February was +2 percent but was lower by 28 percent than in March 2012.  There were 43,597 bank repossessions during the month, down 3 percent from February, 21 percent from a year earlier, and the fewest repossessions since 2007. 

The length of time needed to complete a foreclosure continues to increase.  The average timeline from first missed payment to repossession was 477 days in the first quarter compared to 414 days in Q4 2012 and 370 days Q1.

There were huge state-to-state discrepancies in foreclosure times - ranging from 159 days in Texas to 1,049 days in New York and 1,002 in New Jersey.  States with the longest timelines are almost all judicial foreclosure states but the states with the greatest increase in the length of the process from the fourth quarter of 2012 were all non-judicial states.  Oregon was up 61 percent, Arkansas 42 percent, and Texas 40 percent

There was also a striking divergence in foreclosure activity between judicial and non-judicial states.  Activity in states using a judicial or quasi-judicial process saw a year-over-year increase of 4 percent in March and 6 percent in the first quarter while activity declined in non-judicial states by 44 percent in both periods.

Foreclosure starts increased in 23 states in March compared to February and in 12 states compared to one year earlier.  The largest increases were in New York (+200 percent), Maryland (+193 percent), and Washington (+154 percent).  Bank repossessions increased on an annual basis in 16 states led by Arkansas (+121 percent), Maryland (+114 percent) and Washington (+88 percent.)

Florida continues to lead the country in foreclosure filings with 85,671 in the first quarter or one in every 104 housing units, nearly three times the national average.  The Florida rate in the first quarter was 7 percent higher than in the previous quarter and 17 percent above one year earlier.  Seven of the ten metropolitan areas with the highest foreclosure rates are located in the state.

Nevada continues to be among the most foreclosure-plagued states with activity up 13 percent quarter over quarter.  One in every 115 housing units had a filing during the quarter and foreclosure starts in March were at an 18 month high, 88 percent higher than one year earlier.

While Illinois saw foreclosure activity decrease 2 percent quarter-over-quarter and 5 percent year-over-year it still had the nation's third highest filing rate, one in every 147 housing units.  Ohio, (one in every 188 housing units) and Georgia (one in every 200 units despite three consecutive quarters of improvement) rounded out the top five. 

Miami had the highest rate among large metropolitan areas with one in every 79 housing units receiving a filing.  Orlando (one in 86 units) and Ocala (one in 92 units) were second and third in the nation while Las Vegas (one in 99) and Jacksonville, Florida (one in 105) were fourth and fifth.