RealtyTrac, the Irvine California company that tracks foreclosure filings, just issued a pre-election "exclusive report on the health of local housing markets compared to four years ago," which concludes that 65 percent of local housing markets nationwide "are worse off than four years ago."  The report draws comparisons between conditions in the period of January to September 2008 and same period in 2012.  The company looked at five metrics in compiling its report, unemployment rates, average home prices, foreclosure inventory, foreclosure starts, and the share of distressed sales in 919 counties.  The counties counted in the report were those that had data supporting all five metrics.

The study is interesting in that, by picking a point in time when the economy was just beginning a rapid downward spiral, the final conclusion of the report flies in the face of the most recent (September 2012) U.S. Foreclosure Report also issued by RealtyTrac which shows foreclosure activity at the lowest level it has been since July 2007.

RealtyTrac says it data shows that home prices are lower than they were four years ago in the majority of counties nationwide.

Unemployment rates are up in more that 90 percent of the counties for which data were available.

Slightly more than half of all counties reported a lower foreclosure inventory and fewer foreclosure starts than four years ago.

Distressed sales, that is sales of bank-owned real estate or short sales of properties in some stage of foreclosure represented a smaller share of home sales than four years ago in about half of the counties but had at least a 10 percent share of all sales in the majority of counties.  Distressed sales account for one-quarter of all sales in about 20 percent of counties.

"The U.S. housing market has shown strong signs of life in recent months, but many local markets continue to struggle with high levels of negative equity as the result of home prices that are well off their peaks. In addition, persistently high unemployment rates are hobbling a robust real estate recovery in most areas," said Daren Blomquist, vice president at RealtyTrac. "While the worst of the foreclosure problem is in the rear view mirror for a narrow majority of counties, others are still working through rising levels of foreclosure activity, inventory and distressed sales as they continue to clear the wreckage left behind by a bursting housing bubble."