Foreclosure filings - default notices, scheduled auctions and bank repossessions - were reported on 119,888 U.S. properties in January, an increase of 5% from the previous month but still down 4% from a year ago, reports RealtyTrac, a company that tracks housing data.

The 5% monthly increase was driven primarily by a 55% monthly jump in bank repossessions (REOs) to a 15-month high, according to RealtyTrac’s U.S. Foreclosure Market Report for January. A total of 37,292 U.S. properties were repossessed by lenders in January, up 23% from a year ago to the highest monthly total since October 2013.

"The year-over-year increase in REOs in January was the first annual increase nationwide following 25 consecutive months of declines, getting the foreclosure spring cleaning we anticipated in our last foreclosure report off to a quick start in 2015," said Daren Blomquist, vice president at RealtyTrac. "Meanwhile, the number of future foreclosure auctions scheduled in January continued to increase in many states, foreshadowing more foreclosure spring cleaning to come in the next several months in those states.”

Twenty-one states posted a year-over-year increase in scheduled foreclosure auctions in January, including Massachusetts (up 268%), New Jersey (up 125%), North Carolina (up 111%), New York (up 79% to a 55-month high), Missouri (up 74% to a 29-month high), California (up 43% to a 22-month high), Arizona (up 37% to a 20-month high),  Oregon (up 29%), and Washington (up 13%).

“There has been a slow but persistent increase in new foreclosure filings in the seven front-range counties in Colorado,” said Greg Hagan, owner/broker at RE/MAX Alliance, covering the Denver market, where scheduled foreclosure auctions in January jumped 166% from December and were up 14% from a year ago. “It appears that a number of these new filings are in fact re-filings with new law firms who took over the business after the bad-actor law firms were eliminated. Many of these new filings have been in foreclosure limbo for more than a year and are now coming to sale in 2015. There does appear to be upcoming opportunities for short sales and REO business despite our strong local market where inventory is in short supply.”    

Blomquist added: "It’s important to note that in most of these states, foreclosure auctions and REOs are coming off somewhat artificially low levels last year and are still far below the highs reached during the worst of the foreclosure crisis back 2009 and 2010."

A total of 51,782 properties in January were scheduled for a future foreclosure auction, up 8% from the previous month but still down 7% from a year ago and down 67% from the peak of 158,105 in March 2010. U.S. REOs in January were down 63% from a peak of 102,134 in September 2010.

Twenty-seven states posted annual increases in REOs in January, including Ohio (up 197%), New Jersey (up 116% to a 51-month high), Maryland (up 100%), Washington (up 75% to a 39-month high), Arizona (up 61% to a 20-month high), California (up 58% to a 24-month high), Pennsylvania (up 44% to a 42-month high), Michigan (up 39% to a 16-month high), North Carolina (up 38% to a 15-month high), Texas (up 24% to a 16-month high), New York (up 24% to a 55-month high), and Florida (up 17%). 

A total of 48,838 U.S. properties started the foreclosure process in January, down 18% from a 17-month high in December and down 15% from a year ago following two consecutive months with year-over-year increases in foreclosure starts.

There were still 19 states where foreclosure starts, which in some states are the scheduled foreclosure auctions, increased from a year ago, including Nevada (up 255%), Indiana (45%) and Massachusetts (up 14%).

Nine of the nation’s 20 largest metro areas posted year-over-year increases in foreclosure activity, led by St. Louis where overall foreclosure activity increased 47% from a year ago driven by a 51% year-over-year increase in scheduled foreclosure auctions. There were a total of 1,116 properties in the St. Louis metro area with a foreclosure filing in January, an increase of 52% from December.

There were a total of 2,305 properties in the Phoenix metro area with a foreclosure filing in January, an increase of 104% from the previous month and up 45% from a year ago to a 20-month high.  

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