LOS ANGELES -- U.S. home repossessions rose to a nine-month high in November, even as the number of homes starting on the path to foreclosure declined to the lowest level in six years.
Banks completed foreclosure on 59,134 homes last month, an increase of 11 percent from October and up 5 percent from November last year, foreclosure listing firm RealtyTrac Inc. said Thursday.
Last month marked the first annual increase in bank repossessions since October 2010, when allegations of abuses by the mortgage industry compelled many lenders to temporarily halt foreclosures.
But the number of homes entering the foreclosure process or scheduled for auction for the first time, so-called foreclosure starts, sank to 77,494. That's a decline of 13 percent from October and a drop of 28 percent from November last year, the firm said.
It's also the lowest number of foreclosure starts since they hit 72,163 in December 2006.
The combination of declining foreclosure starts and a sharp increase in the number of homes taken back by lenders signals that banks are moving to complete foreclosures on homes with mortgages that have gone unpaid for a year or two, if not longer.
And it's likely that the borrowers who owned these homes already tried to refinance, get a loan modification or sell the home as a short sale – when the bank agrees to accept less than what is owned on the mortgage – but did not succeed, said Daren Blomquist, a vice president at RealtyTrac.
"Now foreclosure is the final recourse the banks have to go forward on these properties," Blomquist said.
There are close to 1 million U.S. homes that are in some stage of the foreclosure process, and any of those could potentially end up repossessed by a lender.
But several factors are now working to stem, or in some cases merely delay, foreclosures. That's a stark change from two or three years ago, when the foreclosure crisis was more severe.
Mortgage servicers and banks are increasingly favoring short sales as an alternative to foreclosure. Efforts by federal and state lawmakers to slow down the foreclosure process or make loan modifications a more likely option for homeowners also are having an impact. And borrowers are getting better about keeping up with mortgage payments.
The percentage of mortgage-holding homeowners who were at least two months behind on their payments sank in the third quarter to the lowest level in more than three years, according to credit reporting firm TransUnion.
In addition, an improving housing market, rising home prices and stronger hiring likely has helped some homeowners avoid foreclosure.
Even so, bank repossessions remain elevated and on pace to exceed 650,000 this year, according to RealtyTrac. That would be down from 800,000 last year.
"We're seeing more signs of the light at the end of the tunnel, with foreclosure starts being down," Blomquist said. "But the market still has to deal with the properties that already started foreclosure, and that could keep the (bank repossession) numbers stubbornly high the next year."
Also, lenders are still adjusting to new foreclosure ground rules set forth in a $25 billion settlement reached in February between five major banks and federal and state government officials over claims that many lenders had processed foreclosures without verifying documents.
As banks get a handle on those rules, they may move more quickly against late-paying mortgage-holders, Blomquist said.
All told, banks filed foreclosure-related notices on 180,817 properties last month, down 3 percent from October and down 19 percent from a year earlier.
Foreclosure activity, which RealtyTrac measures as the number of homes receiving a notice of default, scheduled auction or bank repossession, increased on an annual basis in 23 states and Washington D.C.
At the state level, Florida had the highest foreclosure rate of any other state, with one in every 304 households in some stage of foreclosure, or twice the national average.
Rounding out the top 10 states by foreclosure rate were Nevada, Illinois, California, South Carolina, Ohio, Arizona, Georgia, Michigan and Indiana.
Also on HuffPost:
Mom Evicted On Mother's Day
After she and her husband were allegedly duped into a bad loan, California mom Sheri Prizant faced the possibility of being evicted from her home on Mother's Day, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/11/sheri-prizant-eviction-mothers-day_n_1507681.html?1336741860" target="_hplink">MSNBC</a> reports.
Columbine Shooting Survivor Fighting Foreclosure With Occupy LA's Help
Richard Castaldo survived the shooting at Columbine High School 13 years ago and now he is fighting to <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/11/27/richard-castaldo-columbine-foreclosure-occupy-la_n_2198146.html?utm_hp_ref=business" target="_hplink">rescue his home from foreclosure</a>. The people of Occupy Los Angeles are helping Castaldo and others like him to save their homes.
USDA Forecloses On 78-Year-Old Cancer Patient
The USDA foreclosed on 78-year-old Texas resident Alicia Ramirez, reportedly <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/06/alicia-ramirez-cancer-eviction_n_1747933.html?utm_hp_ref=business" target="_hplink">after she was diagnosed with cancer.</a> While the USDA has thus far allowed Ramirez to remain in her home, a court order evicting the senior citizen could be issued at any time.
Foreclosure Victims Lose Belongings After Free Yard Sale Goes Wrong
The Vercher family of Woodstock, Georgia, offered to give away a <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/25/vercher-family-woodstock-craigslist-foreclosed_n_2017738.html?1351188857" target="_hplink">number of household items in a Craigslist ad</a> after their house was foreclosed on. Instead, they ended up losing nearly all of their belongings when people began taking items from inside the house.
Wells Fargo Offers Cancer Patient 'Assistance' Then Forecloses
Terminal breast cancer patient Cindi Davis could no longer keep up with her mortgage payments due to the cost of her medical bills. Faced with media scrutiny, her lender <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/09/14/wells-fargo-forecloses-cancer-patient-cindi-davis_n_1883956.html?1347635836" target="_hplink">Wells Fargo told a local radio station it was seeking "assistance"</a> for Davis just weeks before setting the date to auction her home for December 19th, 2012.
Coca-Cola Heirs Lose $37.5 Million To Foreclosure
Descendants of Coca-Cola founder Asa Candler have been hit hard by the housing bust with their <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/09/17/candler-family-foreclosure-losses_n_1890911.html?1347906436" target="_hplink">real estate development company losing $37.5 million to foreclosure since the Great Recession began</a>. (Pictured: the former mansion of Coca-Cola heir Asa Griggs "Buddy" Candler, Jr.)
CT Family Never Missed A Payment
Shock Baitch and his wife Lisa of Connecticut <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/12/30/bank-of-america-foreclosure_n_802861.html" target="_hplink">were threatened with foreclosure by Bank of America</a> after never missing a payment. BofA mistakenly told credit agencies they were seeking a loan modification. "Now I am literally and financially paying for it," Baitch told <a href="http://ctwatchdog.com/finance/bank-of-americas-christmas-present-foreclose-even-though-not-a-payment-missed" target="_hplink">CTWatchdog.com</a>.
Man Gets Free Home After Lender Shutdown
Facing foreclosure, Perry Laspina of Jacksonville, Florida ended up with a home practically for free after his mortgage lender was shut down by parent company Wells Fargo, <a href="http://realestate.aol.com/blog/2011/04/14/foreclosure-foul-up-wins-man-a-free-home/" target="_hplink">AOL Real Estate reports</a>. Laspina got the home "because of the significant decreased value of the property," a bank spokesman said.
BofA Forecloses On Building With Own Branch Office
In Boynton Beach, Florida, Bank of America filed a foreclosure lawsuit against the owner of a building that houses one of its own branches, <a href="http://www.bizjournals.com/southflorida/news/2011/05/27/foreclosure-roundup.html?page=all" target="_hplink">South Florida Business Journal reports</a>.
Threatened Over $0.00 Unpaid Mortgage Payment
A Massachusetts man was told he'd <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/06/08/massachusetts-homeowner-receives-foreclosure_n_872518.html" target="_hplink">face foreclosure unless he paid an outstanding mortgage payment worth $0.00</a>. "I'm going to write a check to them for zero dollars and have it clear? I couldn't help but laugh," he joked with local <a href="http://www.wwlp.com/dpp/news/i_team/I-Team:Man-gets-a-$0-foreclosure-notice" target="_hplink">News 22 WWLP</a>.
Home Allegedly Ransacked By Mortgage Company
Chris Boudreau of Brooksville, Florida <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/07/06/florida-home-ransacked_n_890656.html" target="_hplink">told local news that his house was ransacked by his mortgage company</a>, 21st Mortgage Corporation, who he says even shredded his wife's wedding dress. "When she saw what happened...she was crying her eyes out," <a href="http://www.wtsp.com/news/local/article/199268/8/Mans-home-trashed-by-mortgage-company" target="_hplink">he told WTSP 10 News</a>.
Mortgage Payment Made Too Early
A senior couple in Pasco County, Florida faced foreclosure not for missing payments, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/08/22/senior-florida-couple-faces-foreclosure-mortgage-early_n_933147.html" target="_hplink">but for making one too early</a>. According to a Bank of America representative, they made themselves ineligible for a mortgage modification under the Home Affordable Modification Program when they did not make their payment in the "month in which it [was] due."
Foreclosure In 'World's Richest Apartment Building'
Property developer Kent Swig and his soon-to-be ex-wife Elizabeth faced foreclosure from their apartment at 740 Park Avenue, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/08/26/foreclosure-hits-property-developer-billionaire-building_n_937676.html" target="_hplink">a New York City address often cited as "the world's richest apartment building."</a>
Untransferred Title Leads To Unfair Foreclosure
Brian and Khanklink Pyron of Houston, Texas were <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/10/brian-khanklink-pyron-foreclosure_n_1003339.html" target="_hplink">threatened with foreclosure despite keeping current on their payments due to an untransferred title</a>. "We did everything we were supposed to do," Brian Pyron told <a href="http://www.myfoxhouston.com/dpp/news/local/110926-family-hit-by-surprise-foreclosure?CMP=201110_emailshare" target="_hplink">MyFoxHouston</a>.
Foreclosure On Hurricane-Destroyed Home
Brad Gana, of Seabrook, Texas was threatened with foreclosure by Bank of America even though his <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/31/foreclosure-crisis-bank-of-america-hurricane-ike_n_1068080.html" target="_hplink">house had been completely destroyed years earlier in Hurricane Ike</a>. "Bank of America is ruthless in their incompetency," <a href="http://www.click2houston.com/news/Bank-Forecloses-On-Home-Destroyed-By-Ike/-/1735978/4718190/-/vpooliz/-/index.html" target="_hplink">he told Houston 2 News</a>.
$1 Coding Error Leads To Foreclosure
Utah's Shantell Curtis and her family were threatened with <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/11/03/bofa-foreclosure-missing-1-already-sold-home_n_1074538.html" target="_hplink">foreclosure by Bank of America on a home they had already sold years prior</a>. On top of that, the whole episode concerned the matter of just a $1 coding error.
Investigative Journalist Becomes Foreclosure Victim
George Knapp, chief investigative reporter for Las Vegas CBS affiliate KLAS, found he was a <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/11/29/foreclosure-crisis-investigative-reporter-george-knapp-victims_n_1119480.html?ref=business" target="_hplink">victim of the very brand of foreclosure fraud he was investigating</a> for a news report. Him being the reporter, the episode put him in a "very weird spot," <a href="http://www.poynter.org/latest-news/als-morning-meeting/153585/local-tv-station-tackles-mortgage-mess-as-investigative-reporter-discovers-hes-a-victim-too/" target="_hplink">he told the Poynter Insitute</a>.
BofA Falsely Threatens Paralyzed Man With Foreclosure
Robert Galanida, a 41-year-old man paralyzed from the shoulders down, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/12/bank-of-america-sends-false-statements-paralyzed-eviction_n_1202463.html" target="_hplink">battled Bank of America for nearly a decade</a> because it repeatedly sent him false statements threatening foreclosure.
Tracy Morgan Refuses Mother Foreclosure Help
In January 2012, actor Tracy Morgan reportedly refused to give his mother <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/31/tracy-morgan-foreclosure-mother_n_1244641.html" target="_hplink">$25,000 she needed to avoid foreclosure</a>, instead offering only $2,000.
Bank Of America Plaza Foreclosure
The Bank of America Plaza in Atlanta was sold at a foreclosure auction in February after its landlord, BentleyForbes, could no longer afford mortgage payments, <a href="http://www.businessweek.com/news/2012-02-14/american-foreclosure-bottoms-at-atlanta-tower-auction-mortgages.html" target="_hplink">BusinessWeek reports</a>. BofA <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/10/bank-of-america-plaza-foreclosure_n_1197040.html" target="_hplink">was a tenant in the building at the time</a> but had no other connection besides sharing the tower's ironic name.
JPMorgan Tries To Foreclose On Civil Rights Activist
Even while it promoted a February 2012 campaign to "fulfill" the "vision" of Martin Luther King Jr., <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/07/helen-bailey-foreclosure_n_1260078.html?ref=foreclosure-crisis" target="_hplink">JPMorgan Chase threatened 78-year-old civil rights activist Helen Bailey with foreclosure</a>. The bank ultimately allowed Bailey to stay in her home indefinitely after Occupy Nashville helped bring national attention to the issue, <a href="http://thinkprogress.org/economy/2012/02/14/425255/helen-bailey-foreclosure/" target="_hplink">Think Progress</a> reports.
Foreclosure At Luxury Retirement Home
Despite being billed as "cosmopolitan living for ages 60+," the luxury <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/02/fox-hill-foreclosure_n_1314970.html" target="_hplink">Fox Hill Senior Condominiums was threatened with foreclosure</a> in March after its lenders said they were backing out.
Man Fined For Not Mowing His Old Lawn
David Englett was charged with fines by the city of Arlington, Texas for not mowing the lawn of <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/02/david-englett_n_1317276.html" target="_hplink">a house he had already lost to foreclosure years earlier</a>.
101-Year-Old Woman Evicted From Home
Texana Hollis was evicted from her home due to foreclosure in September 2011, then <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/22/texana-hollis-evicted-detroit-woman_n_1222452.html?ref=foreclosure-crisis" target="_hplink">denied a subsequent promise that she could move back in</a> by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. It wasn't until April 2012 that <a href="http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-201_162-57409700/texana-hollis-evicted-at-101-allowed-back-home/" target="_hplink">she was finally granted permission to return to the home</a> she's lived in for 60 years.
BofA Forecloses On Woman After Telling Her To Miss Payments
According to Pamela Flores, an Atlanta homeowner, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/10/bank-america-foreclosure-miss-mortgage-payment_n_1414988.html" target="_hplink">Bank of America advised her to stop making payments</a> on her loan in order to negotiate a modification. After doing so, the bank foreclosed on her anyway, claiming she'd missed a trial payment
Mother, Disabled Daughter Forced Out Of Home Even After BofA Modification
Dirma Rodriguez and her disabled daughter<a href="https://editorial.huffingtonpost.com/entry/?blog_id=2&entry_id=1423883" target="_hplink"> were forced to flee their home in minutes</a> after Bank of America sold it to a flipper at a foreclosure auction, even though the bank had already modified her loan. But not all hope is lost; Rodriguez may get her home back after the Occupy Fights Foreclosure movement intervened.