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Foreclosures leveling off

By Les Christie, staff writer

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- The national foreclosure rate fell 2% in February from a month earlier, according to an industry report released Thursday, the latest sign that the pace of foreclosures is slowing.

In January, the foreclosure rate had fallen 10% from December, according to RealtyTrac. And though foreclosures were up 6% in February from a year earlier, even that marks the smallest jump since RealtyTrac began calculating year-over-year increases in January 2006.

Still, RealtyTrac CEO James Saccacio cautioned against calling an end to the foreclosure crisis, citing several factors that could be masking underlying weakness.

"This leveling of the foreclosure trend is not necessarily evidence that fewer homeowners are in distress and at risk for foreclosure, but rather that foreclosure prevention programs, legislation and other processing delays are in effect capping monthly foreclosure activity -- albeit at a historically high level," he said.

Lenders create the processing delays by not putting borrowers in default as soon as they fall behind on their payments. Instead, they evaluate their situations to decide whether they can benefit from the Obama administration's mortgage modification program.

That means many distressed mortgages are not counted in RealtyTrac's report; its numbers may be artificially depressed.

Also keeping a lid on foreclosures in February was foul weather, with heavy snow storms leading to court closings.

"If the county clerk's office is dark, it affects our numbers," said RealtyTrac's spokesman Rick Sharga.

It's possible that March will see a resurgence of foreclosure numbers. "We saw the same thing last January and February," said Sharga, "then, all hell broke loose in March."

Six states accounted for 60% of all foreclosure filings. California, with 68,562, led all states and had the fourth highest rate, with one of every 195 households receiving a filing.

The other top states for total filings included Florida, Michigan, Illinois, Arizona and Texas.

Nevada recorded the highest foreclosure rate of any state with one household of every 102 getting hit.

The number of homes actually taken back in bank repossessions fell to 78,683 during February, from 87,648 a month earlier.

According to Sharga, once those homes go back on the market, they're selling quickly. "In most parts of the country when a bank-owned home goes back on the market, it's getting multiple bids," he said. To top of page

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