The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has unveiled a Web-based mapping tool displaying the location of all foreclosed properties held by Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) — nearly half of all "real estate owned" (REO) properties in the U.S.

HUD’s REO Portal is intended to help local communities, homebuyers and investors acquire properties and accelerate efforts to stabilize local housing markets, HUD said.

Also this week, HUD, the Department of the Treasury, and Fannie and Freddie’s regulator, the Federal Housing Finance Agency, said they are exploring options for doing bulk sales to investors and converting Fannie, Freddie and FHA REOs in some markets into rental properties.

The deadline for submitting ideas to the agencies for sales, joint ventures or other strategies that would benefit Fannie, Freddie and FHA REO disposition programs is Sept. 15.

According to data aggregator RealtyTrac, foreclosure-related filings dropped for the 10th consecutive month in July, falling 35 percent from a year ago.

The trend was set off in October by the robo-signing controversy, but "has now taken on a life of its own," with loan modifications, lender-borrower mediations and mortgage payment assistance for the unemployed allowing more distressed homeowners to stave off foreclosure, RealtyTrac said.

Many of those are short-term measures that will only extend current housing market woes into 2012 and beyond, RealtyTrac said. A long-term recovery in housing will require economic stabilization and improvements in the job market.

RealtyTrac identified a total of 212,764 properties that were hit with foreclosure-related filings in July — the lowest monthly total since November 2007 — with Nevada, California, Arizona posting the top state foreclosure rates.

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