Completed U.S. foreclosures dropped to 51,000 in September from 84,000 in September 2010, a 39% decrease that marks the biggest annual decline since the housing downturn began in 2007, according to data from CoreLogic.
Foreclosures are completed when a home is either seized by the lender or sold at auction.
Between 2000 and 2006, completed foreclosures averaged 21,000 per month. There have been about 4.6 million foreclosures since September 2008.
Anand Nallathambi, president and CEO of CoreLogic, said the September numbers could indicate a return to a healthier housing market is ahead.
"The number of seriously delinquent mortgages continues to drop across the country at a rapid rate with every state showing year-over-year declines in foreclosure inventory," he said. Still, "we're not out of the woods yet."
There were an estimated 902,000 homes in some stage of foreclosure in September, down from 1.4 million a year ago. That inventory represented 2.3% of all homes with a mortgage, compared to 3.2% in September last year.
The five states with the highest number of foreclosures in the year leading up to September were Florida, California, Texas, Michigan and Georgia, which together accounted for almost half of all foreclosures nationally.
Florida also had the highest percentage of homes sitting in foreclosure, followed by New Jersey, New York, Maine and Connecticut.
Housing began to improve in early 2012, as prices and sales volume increased. A spike in borrowing costs over the summer sapped some of that momentum, which might slow foreclosure resales. Rates have retreated from recent highs, however, over the last month.