U.S. foreclosure filings declined 2% from January to February even as foreclosure activity picked up in half of the nation’s major metro areas, RealtyTrac said in its foreclosure update Thursday.

In February, the foreclosure data firm documented 206,900 foreclosure filings nationwide, down 2% from January and down 8% from year-ago levels. One out of every 637 housing units faced some type of foreclosure activity. 

Still, 21 states posted increases in foreclosure activity — the most with increases since November 2010.

Foreclosure activity in the nation’s 26 judicial foreclosure states grew 2% from January and 24% from a year ago.

Meanwhile, the nation’s 24 nonjudicial foreclosure states saw a 5% decline in foreclosure activity month-over-month and a 23% drop from February of 2011.   

“February’s numbers point to a gradually rising foreclosure tide as some of the barriers that have been holding back foreclosures are removed,” said Brandon Moore, CEO of RealtyTrac. “Although national foreclosure activity was pushed lower by decreases in a handful of larger states, 21 states posted annual increases in foreclosure activity, the most states with annual increases since November 2010.”

Moore said states with a judicial foreclosure process experienced a series of legislative and judicial stalls over the past few years, delaying foreclosure activity until now.

On Monday, the state attorneys general and the Department of Justice filed  settlement court documents affecting the nation’s top five mortgage servicers. New servicing standards are also detailed in the filing. The long-pending legal action, which arose after robo-signing allegations surfaced in the fall of 2010, was among issues that some felt had stalled the foreclosure process.

“Not surprisingly, many of the biggest annual increases in February were in states with the more bureaucratic judicial foreclosure process, which resulted in a larger backlog of foreclosures built up over the last 18 months in those states,” said Moore.

States with top foreclosure rates included Nevada, where one out of every 278 homes faced a foreclosure warning in February; California, where the ratio is one out of every 283 homes; and Arizona where one out every 312 housing units received a filing. Foreclosure activity in Nevada reached a 58-month low in February, but the state still posted the nation’s highest state foreclosure rate for the 62nd straight month.

Ten of the nation’s 20 largest metro areas by population documented year-over-year increases in foreclosure activity in February, led by the Florida cities of Tampa (+64%) and Miami (+53%).

The 10 metro areas with increases were all on the East Coast or in the Midwest, while most of the metro areas with year-over-year decreases in foreclosure activity were in the West, led by Seattle (-59%) and Phoenix (-43 percent decrease).


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