Foreclosures fell in nearly two-thirds of the nation's largest metro areas during the third quarter, according to RealtyTrac Thursday.
With 62 percent of the nation's 212 largest markets seeing foreclosure activity shrink during the latest quarter, the ongoing decline is yet another sign that the housing market is starting to stabilize.
During September, foreclosure activity in 58 percent of the major metro markets had even dropped below September 2007 levels.
The numbers indicate that "most of the nation's housing markets are past the worst of the foreclosure problem," Daren Blomquist, RealtyTrac's vice president said in the report.
Major cities like San Francisco, Detroit, Los Angeles, Phoenix and San Diego saw foreclosures fall by double-digit percentages of 26 percent or more.
Stockton, Calif., which saw a 21 percent decline in foreclosures, still managed to claim the nation's highest foreclosure rate, however. "That foreclosures there are still the highest in the country speaks to how severe the problem was," said Blomquist.
Other California cities in the top 10, Riverside, Vallejo, Modesto, Merced, Bakersfield and Sacramento, all posted year-over-year declines of between 22 percent and 34 percent.
Yet, there are still some trouble spots, particularly in Florida.
In Miami, which had the 10th highest foreclosure rate, filings rose 11 percent. In Jacksonville, foreclosures were up 32 percent, Palm Bay saw a 64 percent increase, Tampa was up 43 percent and Orlando notched a 15 percent jump.
Blomquist attributed Florida's problems to the after effects of the robo-signing scandal. Florida is a "judicial state," where foreclosures get processed through the courts. Lenders hesitated to bring foreclosure cases before a judge until they were confident their paperwork would stand up to the stepped-up scrutiny that followed the scandal. But now that new rules have been put in place through the $25 billion mortgage settlement, they are playing catch-up.
Of the metro areas with the 20 highest foreclosure rates, all are still in California, Arizona, Nevada and Florida, with two notable exceptions. Chicago saw a 34 percent jump from a year-ago, and had the ninth highest foreclosure rate. Atlanta had the 15th highest rate. The good news there: Foreclosures fell 20 percent year-over-year.
In Las Vegas, filings fell dramatically -- 71 percent -- because of state legislation passed last year that requires lenders to file affidavits vouching for their paperwork and their foreclosure action against a borrower, Blomquist said.
Many lenders now bypass the foreclosure process entirely in Nevada, working with troubled borrowers to arrange short sales even before filing notices of default. That's not all good news, however. "(For cities like Las Vegas,) it's a shift in the way the distress is handled rather than the distress evaporating," said Blomquist.