Foreclosure activity increased by 20 percent in March compared to February and was up 4 percent from a year earlier.  RealtyTrac, in its combined March and 1st Quarter 2015 report said it was the first annual increase in foreclosure filings, which include default notices, scheduled auctions, and completed foreclosures or bank repossessions, since September 2010 but that the increases indicated a cleanup of lingering problems rather than a new round of distress. 

Despite the substantial month over month and small annual increase for the month the quarterly total was down.  Filings were 7 percent lower than in the 3rd quarter of 2014 and down 8 percent year over year to the lowest level in eight years.

RealtyTrac said a total of 122,060 properties received foreclosure filings in March and 313,487 for the quarter.  The 20 percent month-over-month increase came off of a 104-month low in filings in February.  The surge was driven by 36,152 bank repossessions or REO, a 49 increase from February and 25 percent from March 2014.   REOs for the quarter numbered 82,081, down 14 percent from the 1st quarter of 2014.  Repossessions increased 54 percent in Ohio, 39 percent in Maryland, and 34 percent in New Jersey.

"The 17-month high in bank repossessions in March corresponds to a 17-month high in scheduled foreclosures auctions in October," said Daren Blomquist, vice president at RealtyTrac. "The March increase is continued cleanup of distress still lingering from the previous housing crisis; not the beginning of a new crisis by any means. Some of most stubborn foreclosure cases are finally being flushed out of the foreclosure pipeline, and we would expect to see more noise in the numbers over the next few months as national foreclosure activity makes its way back to more stable patterns by the end of this year."

There were 152,147 foreclosure starts during the quarter, down 11 percent from the previous quarter and 8 percent from a year ago.  For the month foreclosure starts were up 11 percent 53,514 properties, 4 percent fewer than in March 2014.  Starts were elevated on an annual basis in several states including a 58 percent increase in Massachusetts and 11 percent in both Virginia and Michigan. 

A total of 50,760 properties were scheduled for foreclosure auction in March.  This was 11 percent more than in the previous month and up less than 1 percent from a year ago.

The timeline of the foreclosure process continued to expand, increasing to an average of 620 days in the first quarter compared to 604 days in the fourth quarter of 2014.  States with the longest average days to complete foreclosure in the first quarter were New York (1,475 days), New Jersey (1,115 days), Hawaii (1,058 days), Florida (975 days), and Kansas (963 days).

The states with the highest foreclosure rates in the first quarter were Florida, Maryland, Nevada, Illinois, and New Jersey.  Among metropolitan areas with populations of 200,000 or more rates were highest rates of activity were in Atlantic City, New Jersey, Rockford, Illinois, Ocala, Winter Haven, and Miami, Florida.