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Florida leads nation in foreclosure activity

Florida claimed first place in the nation in foreclosure activity in January — eclipsing much-larger California, according to data firm RealtyTrac.

Among metro areas, the Miami-Fort Lauderdale-Pompano Beach area ranked No. 2 in the nation in foreclosure activity in January, with one in 228 homes receiving some type of foreclosure filing in January.

Florida’s dubious distinction came as the state logged the highest foreclosure rate in the nation for the fifth consecutive month, said RealtyTrac, which is based in Irvine, Calif. One in every 300 Florida homes received some type of foreclosure filing in January. That is more than twice the national average.

“This is the first time since January 2007 that California wasn’t number one,” in terms of the sheer numbers of properties receiving foreclosure filings, said Daren Blomquist, vice president of RealtyTrac.

In January, Florida’s foreclosure filings — which include default notices, scheduled auctions and bank repossessions — increased 12 percent from the prior month and were up 20 percent from a year earlier, RealtyTrac said.

Five metropolitan areas in Florida besides greater Miami ranked among the nation’s top 10 in foreclosure activity in January, with Ocala ranking No. 1, with one of every 223 housing units getting a foreclosure filing. The others are: No. 3 Orlando (one in 241 housing units); No. 8 Jacksonville (one in 301 housing units); No. 9 Tampa (one in 307 housing units); and No. 10 Lakeland (one in 332 housing units.)

Miami-Dade Circuit Court, choked by a backlog of cases, has gotten tough in the past seven months in pushing cases through the system.

The surge in Florida comes as much of the nation is seeing foreclosure activity wane. RealtyTrac said nationwide foreclosure activity was down 7 percent in January from December 2012 and plunged 28 percent from a year earlier.

One factor adding to Florida’s brisk activity is the state handles cases through time-consuming court hearings, rather than administrative proceedings, which move quicker.

The recent rise in foreclosure activity in Florida follows the major regulatory settlement last spring in the robo-signing cases. Forty-nine state attorneys general settled litigation against five big mortgage banks over improper foreclosure tactics, providing a clearer path for lenders to press cases that had been long delayed.

While Florida was an epicenter of the housing meltdown, it has shown solid recovery in many markets, with prices for single-family homes and condominiums rising steadily amid increased sales and a tight inventory of available properties.

John Tuccillo, chief economist for the Florida Realtors Association, said the rise in foreclosure activity isn’t expected to derail Florida’s housing recovery. “I don’t think this news changes where the market is going, which is everything that should be going up is going up — sales are up, prices are up — and everything that should be going down is going down: the days on the market, the inventory.’’

Tuccillo said lenders increasingly are pursuing alternatives to foreclosures, such as short sales.

Contributing to Florida’s move to first place in foreclosure activity: New legislation took effect in California at the beginning of 2013, creating a sort of “homeowners’ bill of rights,” that has sharply curtailed foreclosure activity in that state, said RealtyTrac’s Blomquist.