Homes in some state of foreclosure represented 24% of all U.S. home sales in the fourth quarter, up from 20% of all sales in the third quarter and down 26% from a year earlier, RealtyTrac said Thursday. 

The Irvine, Calif.-based foreclosure data firm said third parties acquired 204,080 homes classified as distressed or bank-owned in the fourth quarter, down 2% from the same period a year earlier. 

“Sales of foreclosures in the fourth quarter continued to be slowed by questions surrounding proper foreclosure paperwork and procedures,” said Brandon Moore, chief executive officer of RealtyTrac.

Total foreclosure-related sales in 2011 hit 907,138 transactions, down 2% from 2010. 

The average sale price of a home in foreclosure or a bank-owned property hit $164,944 in the fourth quarter, a 5% decline from the fourth quarter of 2010. 

“Foreclosures accounted for nearly one in every four sales during the quarter and for the entire year,” Moorse said. “We expect to see foreclosure-related sales increase in 2012, particularly pre-foreclosure sales, as lenders start to more aggressively dispose of distressed assets held up by the mortgage servicing gridlock over the past 18 months.”

Moore added that trends show a shift towards pre-foreclosure sales and short sales and away from REO sales. 

During the fourth quarter, third parties acquired 88,303 pre-foreclosure properties scheduled for auction or in default, down 5% from the previous quarter but up 15% from a year earlier. In addition, 115,777 bank-owned homes in the fourth quarter were acquired, down 10% from the previous quarter and 12% from the fourth quarter of 2010. 

Pre-foreclosure sales in 2011 rose more than 20% from the year earlier in Michigan, Georgia, Arizona, Washington, Nevada, Oregon, Illinois, Ohio, California and Texas.

Nevada, California and Georgia had the highest percentage of foreclosure sales. Distressed properties  accounted for 56% of all residential sales in Nevada.

California foreclosure-related sales accounted for 43% of all fourth-quarter property sales, followed by Georgia, where foreclosures or distressed sales accounted for 39% of all fourth-quarter home sales.

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