By John W. Schoen Senior producer
msnbc.com
updated 11/29/2007 9:58:45 AM ET 2007-11-29T14:58:45

The number of mortgage foreclosure filings continued to rise in October as hundreds of thousands of Americans struggled with monthly payments they can’t keep up with.

The latest data from RealtyTrac, an online clearinghouse for foreclosure information, pegged the increase at 2 percent for October to a total of 224,451 filings. That’s up 94 percent from a year ago, according to the site.

Foreclosure activity remains highest in relatively few states that have been hit hardest by the housing bust, including California, Florida and Nevada. Other states that rank in the top ten with the highest levels of foreclosure activity include Ohio, Georgia, Michigan, Colorado, Arizona, Indiana and Illinois, according to the site.

Default notices were down nearly 9 percent for the month, a sign that some borrowers and lenders may be finding ways to avoid foreclosure, according to RealtyTrac CEO James Saccacio. But bank repossessions were up 35 percent for the month, an indication that more homeowners who enter the foreclosure process are losing their homes.

Foreclosure activity is reported state by state, based on filings at the county level; there is no federal clearinghouse for the data. Because there are often multiple filings in the foreclosure process, some critics have complained that RealtyTrac’s data overstates the severity of the pace of foreclosures.

But because those filings rarely occur more than once in any given month, the report provides an accurate picture of how many households are involved in some stage of the foreclosure process in any given month, according to RealtyTrac spokesman Rick Sharga.

“We believe we have the largest and most accurate database in the country,” he said.

In some cases, reported foreclosure filings may understate the number of homeowners who are losing their homes because they can’t make their mortgage payments. That’s because some common resolutions to mortgage defaults don’t show up in the filings. Those include so-called “short sales” — in which the bank approves a sale of the property for less than the value of the outstanding mortgage, allowing the homeowner to avert foreclosure.

The overall trend is confirmed by Foreclosures.com, another Web site that collects foreclosure data, which reported that pre-foreclosure filings were up 11 percent in October from the previous month and nearly double the pace a year ago.

The number of defaults and foreclosures is expected to continue to rise as payments on adjustable mortgages rise to levels that some homeowners can’t afford. Roughly $1.5 trillion in adjustables are scheduled to reset over the next two years, according to figures compiled by Credit Suisse. Though rates on traditional adjustable mortgages rise and fall with market interest rates, many of those written during the last few years of the lending boom will automatically reset to higher payments after their two- or three-year “starter” rates expire.

The rising number of foreclosures is adding more unsold homes to an already glutted housing market. The National Association of Realtors reported Wednesday that sales of existing homes fell for the eighth consecutive month in October, with median home prices falling by a record amount.

Sales of existing single-family homes and condominiums dropped by 1.2 percent, while the median price of a home declined to $207,800, a drop of 5.1 percent from a year ago. That's the biggest year-over-year price decline on record.

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