Lenders started the foreclosure process on 57,286 homes in June, the lowest mark for any month in nearly eight years and a sign the nation has moved far beyond the housing bust, according to RealtyTrac Inc., a national foreclosure listing firm.
The number of homes that entered the foreclosure process was down 21% in June from May and about 45% below the year-ago total.
Foreclosure starts are on pace to reach an estimated 800,000 this year, down from 1.1 million last year, the firm said. Completed foreclosures, where a lender repossesses a home, are on track to hit a half-million, or about a quarter below last year's total. The trend comes as the housing recovery gains momentum, led by steady job gains, favorable interest rates, improving consumer confidence and more demand for homes at a time when there's a thin supply available for sale in many markets.
Tighter lending standards for mortgage loans since the housing bubble burst have helped slow the pace of foreclosures. An estimated 75% of the 824,292 U.S. homes in the foreclosure process as of June are tied to loans originated between 2004 and 2008.
"That's a good sign that the lending has much improved and we're not seeing high foreclosure rates on mortgages that have been taken out since 2008," said Daren Blomquist, a vice president at RealtyTrac.
The slowdown has helped home prices, which jumped 12.2% in May from a year earlier. That's the biggest gain in seven years, according to data provider CoreLogic.
Still, foreclosures continue to dog housing in many states - including Florida, Nevada, Illinois and Ohio. Homes scheduled for auction in states such as Florida, where the courts play a role in the foreclosure process, were up 34% in June from a year earlier, the firm said. Scheduled home auctions doubled last month in New Jersey and Florida, which also posted the highest foreclosure rate of any state nearly three times the national average in the first six months of the year, the firm said.
"Halfway through 2013, it is becoming increasingly evident that while foreclosures are no longer a national problem, they continue to be a state and local market problem," added Blomquist.
Most homes lined up for public auction typically end up going back to lenders, which opens the door for the properties to be placed on the market as sharply discounted foreclosed homes later this year or in 2013.
Nationally, the inventory of previously occupied homes on the market was 10% down in May from year-ago levels, according to the National Association of Realtors.
Lenders repossessed 35,507 homes in June, down nearly 9% from May and a drop of 35% from a year earlier. That's still short of the roughly 25,000 a month that Blomquist considers the benchmark for foreclosures in a "normal" housing market.
At the height of the housing boom in 2006, completed foreclosures averaged 22,000 a month. They peaked in September 2010 at 102,000.