U.S. foreclosure filings edged up 3% in January as judicial foreclosure states began to see a thaw in delayed foreclosure activity, RealtyTrac said.
The Irvine,Calif.-based firm said foreclosure starts picked up for the first time since the fall 2010 robo-signing crisis in the states of Indiana, Illinois, Pennsylvania and Florida.
Nationwide, the firm reported 210,941 foreclosure filings in January, which includes default notices, scheduled auctions and bank repossessions. While that's up 3% from the previous month, it's still down 19% from January of last year.
By the end of January, one in every 624 housing units was in foreclosure, RealtyTrac said.
Daren Blomquist with RealtyTrac said increased foreclosure activity in key judicial foreclosure states is the likely result of lenders gaining some certainty over foreclosure processing issues, court decisions and regulations impacting the default process. He also points to the $25 billion mortgage servicing settlement that financial firms reached with state attorneys general over robo-signing and foreclosure issues.
"It's a bit surprising that we are seeing this increase in January before the settlement was even announced," Blomquist said. "It may be that lenders were ramping up (foreclosure activity) with the expectation of the settlement happening."
Default notices remained unchanged in January from the previous month with 58,362 notices filed on properties, down 22% from January 2011, RealtyTrac said.
Several states saw at least 20% increases year-over-year in default notices, including Maryland (100%), Pennsylvania (112%), Florida (36%), Massachusetts (27%) and Connecticut (23%).
Meanwhile, 86,037 properties were scheduled for auction in January, up 1% from December and down 20% from last year.
Five states saw more than a 20% year-over-year increase in scheduled foreclosure auctions with Indiana and Illinois both up 141%. Others were Minnesota (24%), Massachusetts (57%) and South Carolina (79%).
REO activity also jumped 30% over last year in the states of Wisconsin, Connecticut, Illinois, Indiana, New Hampshire and Massachusetts, according to the report.
Looking ahead, Blomquist said RealtyTrac is expecting a 25% increase in completed foreclosures for 2012. "We had about 800,000 foreclosures in 2011, and we are expecting around a million for this year," he said.
He said the only caveat is the risk associated with lingering lawsuits against lenders, which could turn into a potential roadblock for efficient foreclosures.
The states with the highest foreclosure rates in January included Nevada, which ranked first for the 61st straight month in a row; California and Arizona.