Foreclosure filings climbed in three-quarters of U.S. metropolitan areas in the first half of 2010 as high unemployment left many homeowners unable to pay their mortgages, according to RealtyTrac Inc., in a report released today.

"While we're seeing early signs that foreclosure activity may have peaked in some of the hardest-hit markets ... the fragile stability achieved in many local housing markets hinges on improvements in the underlying economy, specifically job growth," says James J. Saccacio, chief executive at RealtyTrac.

"If unemployment remains persistently high and foreclosure prevention efforts only delay the inevitable, then we could continue to see increased foreclosure activity and a corresponding weakness in home prices in many metro areas," he adds.

The number of properties receiving a filing more than doubled from a year earlier in Baltimore, Oklahoma City and Albuquerque, N.M., the mortgage-data company said.

Notices of default, auction or bank seizure rose more than 50% in areas including Salt Lake City; Savannah, Ga.; and Atlantic City, N.J.

Private employers added fewer jobs than economists projected in June and the U.S. unemployment rate fell to 9.5% as discouraged job seekers stopped looking for work, the Labor Department said earlier this month. The Commerce Department last month reduced its estimate for first-quarter economic growth after consumer spending grew less than previously forecast.

The company said 154 of 206 U.S. metro areas with populations of more than 200,000 had increases in households with filings from January through June.

Cities in Nevada, Florida, California and Arizona accounted for the 20 highest foreclosure rates. Nine of the top 10 metro areas had decreases in the total properties receiving filings, a sign that foreclosures may have peaked in the states hurt the most by the housing market’s collapse, RealtyTrac said.

Las Vegas had the highest rate as 6.6% of households received a notice, while filings dropped 8.8%, the data company said.

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