RealtyTrack has reported a generally downward trend in foreclosure filings since last fall, but the monthly variations tended to mask the magnitude of the trajectory.  The mid-year report, released on Thursday, solidifies the impression of an improving situation.  Foreclosure filings nationwide were down 29 percent during the first half of 2011 compared to the last half of 2010 and were 25 percent lower than filings during the first half of last year.

Still, the numbers are still depressing; one in every 111 housing units (0.9 percent) received some type of foreclosure filing during the six month period, a total of 1,170,402 filings. 

RealtyTrac, an Irvine California firm bases its reports on a database derived from a nationwide survey of foreclosure filings in three categories:

  1. Notice of Default (NOD) and Lis Pendens (LIS). This is the first legal notification from a lender that the borrower on a mortgage loan has defaulted under the terms of their mortgage and the lender intends to foreclose unless the loan is brought current.
  2. Auction - Notice of Trustee Sale and Notice of Foreclosure Sale (NTS and NFS): if the borrower does not catch up on their payments the lender will file a notice of sale (the lender intends to sell the property). This notice is published in local paper and contains information pertaining to the date, time and subject property address.
  3. Real Estate Owned or REO properties : "REO" stands for "real estate owned" and typically refers to the inventory of real estate that banks and mortgage companies have foreclosed on and subsequently purchased through the foreclosure auction if there was no offer higher than the minimum bid.

June filings were up 4 percent from those in May but were still down 29 percent from June 2010 marking the ninth straight month where filings were down on a year-over-year basis.  The June increase affected all three categories of filings. 

The report contains not only half year and June data but also information on the second quarter of 2011 during which there were 608,235 foreclosure filings.  This was a decrease of 10.7 percent form quarter one and 32 percent from the second quarter of 2010.

The length of time from default to foreclosure auction continues to grow.  U.S. properties foreclosed in the second quarter were in the foreclosure process an average of 318 days from the initial foreclosure notice to the completed foreclosure, up from a revised 298 days in the first quarter and 277 days in the second quarter of 2010.

 "It would be nice to report that foreclosure activity is dropping as a result of improvements in the economy or the housing market," said James J. Saccacio, chief executive officer of RealtyTrac. "Unfortunately, with unemployment rates inching back up, consumer confidence weak and home sales and prices continuing to languish, this doesn't appear to be the case.

"Processing and procedural delays are pushing foreclosures further and further out - we estimate that as many as 1 million foreclosure actions that should have taken place in 2011 will now happen in 2012, or perhaps even later. This casts an ominous shadow over the housing market, where recovery is unlikely to happen until the current and forthcoming inventory of distressed properties can be whittled down to a manageable number."

Nevada, Arizona, and California continue to have the highest rate of foreclosure filings.  In Nevada one in every 21 housing units received a filing during the first half of 2011, a drop of 17 percent from both the previous six months and from the first half of 2010.  In Arizona one in 36 housing units received a filing, a decrease of 6.9 percent from the previous quarter and 15.3 percent from a year earlier; in California the rate was one in 51 units, down 13.2 percent and 22.7 percent.  

Other states with foreclosure rates ranking among the nation's 10 highest were Utah, Georgia, Idaho, Michigan, Florida, Colorado, and Illinois.

States with the most lengthy foreclosure process were New York (966 days), New Jersey (944 days), and Florida (676 days.)  Texas, however, wastes no time, foreclosing on the average property in 92 days following default. 

U.S. REO properties that sold in the second quarter took an average of 178 days to sell from the time they were foreclosed, up slightly from 176 days in the first quarter and up from 164 days in the second quarter of 2010. REO properties took the longest to sell in New York, 309 days, followed by New Jersey at 285 days and Minnesota at 268 days.