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US foreclosure filings rise in February

US home foreclosure activity resumed its upturn in February after a brief dip, despite numerous programs meant to quell the record pace of failing mortgages, RealtyTrac reported.

Filings, which include notice of default, auction sale or bank repossession, rose 6% in February after slipping 10% in January, and leaped 30% from a year ago, the Irvine, California-based real estate data firm said.

One in every 440 households with loans drew a filing last month, RealtyTrac said. Nearly 291,000 properties in the US got a foreclosure filing in February, the third highest monthly total since RealtyTrac began tracking the data in January 2005.

“The rate of foreclosure activity is increasing beyond the ability of even these types of moratoria to slow down,” Rick Sharga, senior vice president at RealtyTrac, said in an interview, referring to major state and corporate moratoriums on foreclosures.

In Florida, where a 45-day voluntary moratorium ended at the end of January, filings jumped 14% in February, James J. Saccacio, RealtyTrac chief executive, said in a statement. Florida has one of the highest foreclosure rates in the nation.

President Barack Obama late last month unveiled a $275 billion housing stimulus plan, but the housing market is still contending with dire employment conditions and falling house prices.

The administration's housing rescue won't be enough to fix the rapid rate of foreclosure, though it is by far the best-constructed program to date, he contended. Many borrowers in the hardest hit states have mortgages far exceeding the value of their homes, and thus don't meet the criteria to refinance under the new federal program.

Three of the 10 states with the most foreclosure activity are fairly new to these ranks: Idaho, Illinois and Oregon.

“Everything we've been able to gather on those states suggests that this is the first wave of unemployment-related foreclosure problems,” Sharga said.

One in every 54 US households with mortgages got at least one filing notice last year, suggesting various temporary state programs to slow the process had little lasting effect.

Home prices began toppling in mid-2006, preventing many homeowners from selling or refinancing.

Prices have tumbled by more than 26% since peaking nearly three years ago, according to Standard & Poor's/Case-Shiller indexes.

Nevada, Arizona, California and Florida remained the states with the highest foreclosure rates and totals in February. All four had the biggest price run-ups and some of the most overbuilding in the nation before cratering.

Nevada had the top foreclosure rate, with one in every 70 housing units getting a notice in February. Filings on 15,783 properties meant activity ballooned by 9% from January and by 156% from a year earlier.

Las Vegas had the highest foreclosure rate for metropolitan areas with populations of at least 200,000 - a rate more than seven times higher than the national average, RealtyTrac said.

Arizona and California had the second and third highest foreclosure rates in February, and California had the largest number of foreclosure filings., with notices up 5% from January and up 51% from a year ago.

Florida and Arizona were in second and third places for total foreclosure filings.

Florida's monthly foreclosure activity increase and 43% annual rise was driven mainly by a nearly 158% annual surge in auction sales notices and 128% jump in bank repossessions. (Reuters)