One in every 624 U.S. homes, nearly 211,000 in total, got hit with some sort of foreclosure filing last month.
NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- Foreclosures picked up in January, yet another sign that the nation's huge glut of delinquent homes may soon start making their way onto the market.
The number of homes hit with a notice of default, auction sale, bank repossession or some other foreclosure filing in January rose 3% since December, but it was still significantly lower than it was a year ago, according to RealtyTrac.
One in every 624 U.S. households, nearly 211,000 in total, got hit with some sort of foreclosure filing last month. That was down 19% since January 2011, the 16th month of consecutive declines.
While the declines seem like good news for the housing market, where the large number of foreclosed homes have depressed home prices, much of it was due to processing delays caused by fall-out from the robo-signing scandal that broke in late 2010.
Last year, banks spent more time making sure paperwork was legal and proper, creating a backlog in the foreclosure pipeline.
But now there are signs that "the frozen-up foreclosure process is beginning to thaw," especially in some parts of the country, said Brandon Moore, CEO of RealtyTrac.
"Foreclosure activity increased on a year-over-year basis for the first time in more than 12 months in Florida, Illinois, Indiana and Pennsylvania, following a pattern we saw in late 2011 in states such as California, Arizona and Massachusetts."
The $26 billion foreclosure settlement that the state attorneys general signed with the nation's five largest banks should help move foreclosures more quickly through the pipeline.
Under the terms of the settlement, banks agreed to process foreclosures more openly and uniformly. While it may mean an initial surge of foreclosures, the new rules should eventually cause the numbers to shrink since many borrowers draw multiple filings as they stay in the pipeline for months or even years.
In fact, there are already signs that lenders are getting past the robo-signing mess, said Daren Blomquist, RealtyTrac's director of marketing communications. Florida saw a 14% increase in foreclosure filings compared with a year earlier, for example.
"That was the first month-over-month increase in Florida filings after 14 months of declines," he said.
The robo-signing scandal, in which bank employees improperly signed hundreds of legal documents a day, often without even reading them, was a particularly strong issue in the Sunshine State.
Florida judges came down hard on the lenders, forcing them to clean up their act. The banks reacted by slowing down foreclosure processing, which kept some cases out of the foreclosure pipeline for months.
Nevada led all other states in the rate of foreclosure filings for the 61st consecutive month. One in every 198 homes drew a foreclosure notice in January.
More California households, nearly 52,000, received a notice of default or foreclosure than any other state. With one out of every 265 homes with a filing, it had the second highest foreclosure rate in the nation. Arizona (one in 325) and Georgia (one in 328) finished third and fourth in the nation.
California cities occupied nine of the top 10 hardest hit metro areas. Las Vegas, which took fifth place, was the only exception. The worst hit place was Stockton, where one out of every 140 households received a foreclosure notice.
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