updated 12/11/2008 9:22:56 AM ET 2008-12-11T14:22:56

The number of American homeowners dragged into the housing crisis fell last month to the lowest level since June as new state laws lengthened the foreclosure process, RealtyTrac reported Thursday.

"We're going to have a pretty significant spike in January," said Rick Sharga, RealtyTrac's vice president for marketing. Plus, as job losses mount, "increases in foreclosure activity follow that pretty directly," he added.

Nationwide, more than 259,000 homes received at least one foreclosure-related notice in November, down 7 percent from October, but 28 percent higher than a year ago, RealtyTrac said.

The report comes as Democrats, including President-elect Barack Obama, insist that the government must use some of the bailout funds to halt rising foreclosures.

Last week, the Mortgage Bankers Association reported that a record one in 10 American homeowners with a mortgage was either at least one month behind on their payments or in foreclosure at the end of September.

RealtyTrac monitors default notices, auction sale notices and bank repossessions. More than 78,000 properties were repossessed by lenders last month, said the Irvine, Calif.-based company.

The worst recession in decades, falling home values and stricter lending standards have ensnared millions of U.S. households. The Federal Reserve predicts that new foreclosures this year will reach about 2.25 million, more than double pre-crisis levels.

In RealtyTrac's report, Nevada, Florida and Arizona had the nation's top foreclosure rates. In Nevada, one in every 76 homes received a foreclosure filing last month. Florida saw one in every 173 properties receive a foreclosure filing, and in Arizona it was one in every 198 homes. Rounding out the top 10 were California, Michigan, Georgia, Ohio, Colorado, Utah and Idaho.

Among metro areas, the Cape Coral-Fort Myers area in Florida was first, with one in every 59 housing units receiving a foreclosure filing. It was followed by Las Vegas, and the California cities of Merced, Modesto and Stockton.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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