Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

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March 14, 2013

Sharp drop in US homes lost to foreclosure in Feb.

LOS ANGELES (AP) — While the nation's foreclosure woes persist, new data show they're easing amid a resurgent housing market, rising home prices and efforts by some states to buy homeowners more time to avoid losing their homes.

The number of U.S. homes repossessed by lenders last month fell 11 percent from January and declined 29 percent from February last year, tumbling to the lowest level since September 2007, foreclosure listing firm RealtyTrac Inc. said Thursday.

Some states continued to see sharp increases in homes lost to foreclosure last month, including Washington, Wisconsin and Iowa. But home repossessions declined both on an annual and monthly basis in a majority of states, including past foreclosure hotbeds such as California, Georgia and Arizona.

All told, 45,038 U.S. homes completed the foreclosure process in February. That's less than half of the 102,000 homes lost to foreclosure in March 2010, when home repossessions peaked, according to the firm's records, which go back to January 2005.

Foreclosures remain at more than double the pace that RealtyTrac considers normal, roughly 20,000 foreclosures a month, the average in 2005. But their national impact has been contained, said Daren Blomquist, a vice president at RealtyTrac.

"It's definitely safe to say we're past the worst of it at a national level," he said.

Several factors are contributing to the overall decline in completed foreclosures. More jobs and ultra-low mortgage rates are helping the once-battered housing market recover, and the rising demand combined with fewer available homes has helped push home prices steadily upward since last year. They posted their biggest annual increase in six years in January.

Higher home values help restore equity to homeowners, which can help those at risk of foreclosure by improving their chances of refinancing their mortgage to a lower payment or place them in a better position to sell their home.

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