LOS ANGELES (AP) — U.S. home repossessions rose to a nine-month high in November, even as the number of homes starting on the path to foreclosure declined to the lowest level in six years.
Banks completed foreclosure on 59,134 homes last month, an increase of 11 percent from October and up 5 percent from November last year, foreclosure listing firm RealtyTrac Inc. said Thursday.
Last month marked the first annual increase in bank repossessions since October 2010, when allegations of abuses by the mortgage industry compelled many lenders to temporarily halt foreclosures.
But the number of homes entering the foreclosure process or scheduled for auction for the first time, so-called foreclosure starts, sank to 77,494. That's a decline of 13 percent from October and a drop of 28 percent from November last year, the firm said.
It's also the lowest number of foreclosure starts since they hit 72,163 in December 2006.
The combination of declining foreclosure starts and a sharp increase in the number of homes taken back by lenders signals that banks are moving to complete foreclosures on homes with mortgages that have gone unpaid for a year or two, if not longer.
And it's likely that the borrowers who owned these homes already tried to refinance, get a loan modification or sell the home as a short sale — when the bank agrees to accept less than what is owned on the mortgage — but did not succeed, said Daren Blomquist, a vice president at RealtyTrac.
"Now foreclosure is the final recourse the banks have to go forward on these properties," Blomquist said.
There are close to 1 million U.S. homes that are in some stage of the foreclosure process, and any of those could potentially end up repossessed by a lender.
But several factors are now working to stem, or in some cases merely delay, foreclosures. That's a stark change from two or three years ago, when the foreclosure crisis was more severe.
Mortgage servicers and banks are increasingly favoring short sales as an alternative to foreclosure. Efforts by federal and state lawmakers to slow down the foreclosure process or make loan modifications a more likely option for homeowners also are having an impact. And borrowers are getting better about keeping up with mortgage payments.