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Feb. foreclosures up 60 percent over year before

/ Source: The Associated Press

Nearly 60 percent more U.S. homes faced foreclosure in February than in the same month last year, with Nevada, California and Florida showing the highest foreclosure rates, a research firm said Wednesday.

A total of 223,651 homes across the nation received at least one notice from lenders last month related to overdue payments, up 59.8 percent from 139,922 a year earlier, according to Irvine, Calif.-based RealtyTrac Inc.

Nearly half of the homes on the most recent list had slipped into default for the first time.

Nevada had the nation’s highest foreclosure rate, with one in every 165 households receiving at least one foreclosure-related notice. It had 6,167 properties facing foreclosure, a 68 percent increase from a year earlier and up 1 percent from January, RealtyTrac said.

Most of the troubled properties were located in California, Florida, Texas, Michigan and Ohio — states where home prices have plunged as the housing boom went bust.

The overall U.S. foreclosure rate last month was one filing for every 557 homes.

February’s total represents a 4 percent dip from January, but the decline was just a seasonal blip, said Rick Sharga, RealtyTrac’s vice president of marketing.

“We seem to be settling in at a new plateau in terms of monthly activity, but it’s a much higher plateau than we were at a year ago,” he said.

February marked the 26th consecutive month with a national year-over-year increase in foreclosure-related filings.

Meanwhile, the number of foreclosed properties that didn’t sell at auction and ended up going back to lenders soared more than 110 percent last month versus February 2007, RealtyTrac said.

Countrywide Financial Corp. said Thursday its home loan delinquency rate dipped slightly in February compared to the previous month, but foreclosure rates kept climbing.

The nation’s largest mortgage lender and servicer said loan delinquencies as a percentage of unpaid principal balance fell to 7.44 percent last month from 7.47 percent in January.

Delinquencies still remained far higher than a year earlier, when they stood at 4.48 percent.

The lender’s foreclosure rate increased to 1.64 percent in February, compared to 1.48 percent in January and 0.80 percent a year earlier.

Overall last month, some 46,508 properties were repossessed by lenders, up from 22,114 a year earlier.

In some areas such as Riverside County, east of Los Angeles, the trend was stark.

The county has seen home values plummet since the end of the speculator-driven demand that triggered a boom in home construction, sales and prices.

In February 2007, it had only 65 homes go unsold at auction and returned to a lender. Last month, the total was 1,346.

“You look at that kind of growth and it’s just mind-numbing,” Sharga said.

Los Angeles County saw a similar rate of growth. Some 215 homes went back to the banks in February 2007, compared with 1,670 last month, RealtyTrac said.

The company follows default notices, auction sale notices and bank repossessions. Lenders typically consider borrowers delinquent after they fall three months behind on mortgage payments.

In the 12-month period ended in February, 45 states saw an increase in the number of homes that had received at least one filing.

The latest data suggest many homeowners across the nation continue to struggle with mortgage payments, despite highly publicized efforts by government, financial institutions and consumer advocacy groups to modify loan terms or work out long-term repayment plans for troubled borrowers.

The number of homes facing foreclosure is still a small percentage of all U.S. homes. But the increases are further exacerbating a protracted housing downturn that some economists warn could tip the nation into a recession.

California had the second-highest foreclosure rate, with one in every 242 households receiving a foreclosure-related notice. The state had 53,629 properties on the foreclosure track, the most of any state. The total increased 131 percent from a year earlier but declined 6 percent from the previous month.

In Florida, 32,447 homes reporting at least one filing, up more than 69 percent from February last year and up more than 7 percent from January.

Rounding out the top 10 states with the highest foreclosure rates were Arizona, Colorado, Michigan, Ohio, Georgia, Indiana and Tennessee.