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Foreclosures drop to lowest level since 2007

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Banks filed foreclosures on roughly 205,000 homes in December, the lowest monthly total since November 2007, according to RealtyTrac. The 1.8 million foreclosures for 2011 dropped nearly 35% from 2010. Unexpected delays kept 2011 numbers from passing the previous year's total as was originally expected. Still, one in every 69 homes received at least one filing. "Foreclosures were in full delay mode in 2011, resulting in a dramatic drop in foreclosure activity for the year," said Brandon Moore, RealtyTrac's new CEO. "The lack of clarity regarding many of the documentation and legal issues plaguing the foreclosure industry means that we are continuing to see a highly dysfunctional foreclosure process that is inefficiently dealing with delinquent mortgages — particularly in states with a judicial foreclosure process." Problems arose late in 2010 of improper filings at the state courthouses. Mortgage servicers and third-party firms will spend much of 2012 sorting through any financial harm done to borrowers, and settlement talks with the state attorneys general continue. Foreclosure timelines vary wildly from state to state. It takes the longest in New York. The foreclosures completed there in the fourth quarter of 2011 took an average 1,019 days to complete, up 37% from the same period one year ago. The next longest was Florida at 964 days. In Texas, a nonjudicial state, foreclosures took an average of 90 days to complete. The national average for the foreclosure process increased to nearly one year from start to finish: 348 days. One in 16 Nevada homes received a foreclosure filing in 2011, according to RealtyTrac. It's still the highest foreclosure rate in the country despite dropping 31% from the year before. Scheduled foreclosure auctions in Arizona dropped 41% from November to December alone. Still, the state registered the second highest foreclosure rate for the third year in a row with one in 24 homes there receiving a filing. One in 14 homes in Las Vegas received a foreclosure filing in 2011, the highest rate for metro areas of 200,000 population or more. Ten of the top 20 cities were in California, RealtyTrac said. Moore said lenders showed signs of pushing through the backlogs in the second half of last year. "We expect that trend to continue this year, boosting foreclosure activity for 2012 higher than it was in 2011, though still below the peak of 2010," he said. Write to Jon Prior. Follow him on Twitter @JonAPrior.

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