Foreclosures filings fell in the first quarter to the lowest level in more than nine years and foreclosure activity dropped below pre-recession levels in more than one-third of major metropolitan areas.

Data from RealtyTrac, a real-estate information service, show that there were 289,116 properties receiving a foreclosure filing during the quarter. That was down 8% from a year earlier and the fewest since the fourth quarter of 2006. Foreclosure filings remain about 25% above pre-recession norms.

Despite the first-quarter drop, foreclosure filings actually rose slightly in March, the last month of the quarter. In central Ohio, March filings were up about 20% from a year earlier, driven mostly by a rise in sheriff's sales. RealtyTrac’s tally includes foreclosure lawsuits, sheriff sales and bank repossessions.

Among metropolitan areas with populations greater than 200,000, 78 had foreclosure activity that was lower than pre-recession levels. In many cases, those levels were well below their averages before the recession: Los Angeles by 27%, Atlanta by 57% and Dallas by 65%.

In the first quarter, nearly all - 97% - of the markets RealtyTrac analyzed saw foreclosure activity well below the 2009 peak. But six markets hit fresh peaks, including Syracuse, N.Y.; Kingsport, Tenn.; Utica-Rome, N.Y.; Binghamton, N.Y.; College Station, Texas; and Tuscaloosa, Ala.

Across the U.S., the average time to foreclose declined for the second straight quarter, to an average of 625 days. But there are sharp differences among states, from an average of 1,234 days in New Jersey, the state with the longest process, to 195 in Virginia, the nation’s shortest timeline. 


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