The majority of metropolitan areas surveyed by foreclosure data firm RealtyTrac experienced year-over-year spikes in foreclosure activity in 2012.
Of the 212 metropolitan statistical areas studied by the California-based research firm, 120 markets, or 57% of all surveyed MSAs, saw foreclosure activity pick up in 2012 when compared to year earlier levels.
The MSAs studied maintain populations of 200,000 or more people.
Despite an overall uptick in foreclosure activity in a majority of U.S. markets last year, 12 of the nation's largest metros experienced sharp year-over-year declines in foreclosure activity, with Phoenix leading the way as foreclosures plummeted 37% from 2011.
San Francisco foreclosure activity also experienced a 30% decline in foreclosure activity year-over-year, followed by Detroit (down 26%), Los Angeles (down 24%), and San Diego (down 85%).
Still, foreclosure activity overall is down from 2010 levels when 181 markets reported peak foreclosure activity levels.
Eight of the largest U.S. metros – Baltimore, Chicago, Miami, New York and Tampa experienced year-over-year spikes in foreclosure activity, with Tampa's 80% increase outpacing them all.
"Markets with increasing foreclosure activity in 2012 took the first step in finally purging delayed distress left over from the bursting housing bubble," said Daren Blomquist, vice president at RealtyTrac.
"Meanwhile, the underlying fundamentals in many of those markets are slowly improving, making it an opportune time to absorb additional foreclosure inventory this year — and that is particularly good news for buyers and investors hungry for more inventory to purchase in those markets."
Florida continues to be a standout in terms of high foreclosure activity. The state took eight of the top 20 spots on RealtyTrac's list of metros with the highest foreclosure rates.
The upside is the state also dominates RealtyTrac's list of best places to buy a foreclosure.
To select the best market for acquiring a foreclosure, RealtyTrac scored all metro areas with a population of 500,000 or more and analyzed the region's monthly supply of foreclosure inventory, percentage of foreclosure sales, foreclosure discount, and percentage increase in 2012 foreclosure activity.
After evaluating the data, RealtyTrac concluded that the Palm Bay-Melbourne-Titusville metro in Florida is the best place to buy a foreclosure. Other Florida cities on the list include Jacksonville, Miami, Oregon and Tampa. (See the full list below).
Best Places to Buy a Foreclosure
Click here to access RealtyTrac's full report.