Foreclosure activity in the first half of 2012 picked up in 125 of the 212 U.S. metros surveyed by RealtyTrac in the research firm's latest Foreclosure Market Report.

Despite foreclosure increases in many markets, 129 metros still experienced year-over-year declines in foreclosure activity, according to the Irvine, Calif-based real estate research firm.

Seven of the 10 metros with the highest foreclosure rates are located in the state of California. Meanwhile, Florida metros represented four of the areas on the list of 20 metros with the highest foreclosure rates.

"Increasing foreclosure starts in many local markets helped push total foreclosure activity higher in the first half of this year compared to the second half of 2011," said Brandon Moore, CEO of RealtyTrac. "Those foreclosure starts are welcome news for prospective buyers and real estate brokers in many local markets where a shortage of aggressively priced inventory has been holding up sales activity. Markets with increasing foreclosure starts will likely see more distressed inventory for sale in the form of short sales and bank-owned properties in the second half of the year."

Stockton, Calif., remains a market riddled with foreclosures, according to RealtyTrac. The metro had the highest foreclosure rate in the nation with 2.66% of its housing units facing a foreclosure filing in the first half. That figure is three times higher than the national average.

Overall, 6,218 Stockton housing units faced a foreclosure filing in the first half of 2012, down 13% from the previous six months and 16% from the first half of 2011.

Other California cities topping the list of areas with high foreclosure rates included Modesto, Calif. (No. 2 with 2.61% of its housing units facing a foreclosure filing); Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario (No. 3 with 2.59% of its units facing a filing); Vallejo-Fairfield (No. 4 with 2.56% facing a filing); and Merced (No. 5 with 2.15% of its units seeing a filing).

Atlanta also continues to plow through a foreclosure epidemic. The metro had 46,267 properties with a foreclosure filing in the first six months of the year, which translates to a foreclosure rate of approximately 2.14%. In the first half, the Atlanta market had the sixth highest metro foreclosure rate in the nation. Atlanta foreclosure activity also grew 3% from the previous six months and rose 5% from the first half of 2011.

Looking at larger U.S. cities, foreclosure activity in the first half of 2012 grew more than 20% from the second half of 2011 for the cities of Philadelphia (30%); Chicago (28%); New York (26%); and Baltimore (21%).

Seattle, on the other hand, noted a steep 24% decline in foreclosure activity when compareing the first half to the final six months of 2011. Foreclosure activity also declined more than 10% in the cities of San Francisco (21%), Detroit (17%); Los Angeles (13%); Boston (12%); and San Diego (11%).

kpanchuk@housingwire.com