Foreclosures jumped 72 percent in first-quarter 2006 compared to first-quarter 2005, according to RealtyTrac, a company that tracks U.S. properties that have entered the foreclosure process.

The first-quarter 2006 foreclosure report revealed that 323,102 properties nationwide entered some stage of foreclosure, up 38 percent from fourth-quarter 2005. The nation’s quarterly foreclosure rate of one new foreclosure for every 358 U.S. households was higher than in any quarter of last year, the company also reported.

RealtyTrac publishes a national database of pre-foreclosure and foreclosure properties and is the foreclosure data provider to MSN Real Estate, Yahoo! Real Estate, AOL Real Estate and Knight Ridder Online. The latest market report includes properties in a notice of default, lis pendens, notice of trustee sale or notice of foreclosure sale process, and those real estate owned (REO) properties that have been re-purchased by a bank.

“The sharp increase in foreclosures … continues a steady upward trend that we’ve observed since the beginning of last year,” said James J. Saccacio, RealtyTrac CEO, in a statement. “Foreclosures have now increased in four consecutive quarters and are on track to go above 1.2 million in 2006, which would push the nation’s annual foreclosure rate to more than 1 percent of U.S. households.”

Saccacio said that foreclosures actually dipped 13 percent from February to March, which could be a sign that the foreclosure rate is leveling off.

“With the current market conditions, it’s unlikely that foreclosures will return to the historically low levels they were at in recent years when interest rates hit rock bottom and home price appreciation skyrocketed in many areas of the country,” he stated. “But it’s possible that foreclosures will flatten or even move a bit lower this Spring if more buyers and investors enter the market, giving homeowners in distress a better chance of selling their properties to avoid going into default or foreclosure.”

Despite a 19 percent decrease in new foreclosures in March, Georgia documented the highest state foreclosure rate in the first quarter of 2006 – one new foreclosure for every 127 households. The state reported 24,419 properties entering some stage of foreclosure, which is more than double the number reported in the previous quarter and triple the number reported in first-quarter 2005, RealtyTrac reported.

Colorado had the second highest state foreclosure rate in the nation – one new foreclosure for every 138 households and a total of 13,267 properties entering some stage of foreclosure in the first quarter. The number of foreclosure properties in Colorado more than doubled since fourth-quarter 2005 and represented a 96 percent increase from first-quarter 2005.

Indiana was third on the list with one new foreclosure for every 165 households, and 15,261 total properties in a foreclosure process – an 84 percent increase from the previous quarter and more than double the number reported in first-quarter 2005.

Nevada, Michigan, Texas, Ohio, Tennessee, Utah and Florida also were among the states with the highest foreclosure rates in first-quarter 2006.

Texas reported the most first-quarter foreclosures of any state, 40,236, and Florida reported the second most with 29,636. California was third with 29,537 properties entering some stage of foreclosure in the first quarter of 2006, but the state’s quarterly foreclosure rate of one foreclosure for every 414 households was below the national average, according to the report.

New York reported 13,795 properties entering some stage of foreclosure and Illinois reported 13,691 properties entering some stage of foreclosure.

Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Maine, Vermont and Washington, D.C., had the lowest foreclosure rates in the country in first-quarter 2006, according to RealtyTrac.

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