Lenders foreclosed on homes last year at the lowest rate since 2007, but are expected to pick up the pace again this year as they put the "robo signing" scandal behind them.

A total of 1.89 million homes were subjected to some type of foreclosure-related filing in 2011, including default notices, scheduled auctions and bank repossessions, according to public records compiled by RealtyTrac. That’s a 34 percent drop from 2010.

During the final three months of 2011, lenders were taking 348 days on average to push properties all the way through the foreclosure process, up 24 percent from the third quarter of 2010.

"Foreclosures were in full delay mode in 2011, resulting in a dramatic drop in foreclosure activity for the year," said Brandon Moore, chief executive officer of RealtyTrac, in a statement. "The lack of clarity regarding many of the documentation and legal issues plaguing the foreclosure industry means that we are continuing to see a highly dysfunctional foreclosure process that is inefficiently dealing with delinquent mortgages — particularly in states with a judicial foreclosure process."

The three states with the longest foreclosure timelines — New York (1,019 days), New Jersey (964 days) and Florida (806 days) — all employ the judicial foreclosure process.

Moore said there were "strong signs" that lenders were pushing through backlogs in some markets during the second half of 2011, and that RealtyTrac expects that trend to continue this year. Foreclosure activity is likely to exceed last year’s levels, but isn’t expected to return to 2010 peaks.

Data collected by RealtyTrac showed scheduled foreclosure auctions were up 4 percent from the third quarter to the fourth quarter, and bank repossessions increased 10 percent from November to December.

All told, 205,024 properties were subjected to some type of foreclosure-related filing last month, down 9 percent from November and 20 percent from a year ago, to levels not seen since November 2007, RealtyTrac said.

Default notices were down 19 percent from November to December and 23 percent from a year ago — an indication that fewer homes were entering the foreclosure pipeline. Scheduled auctions were also down 12 percent from November to December, and 24 percent from a year ago.

The 10 states with the highest foreclosure rates were Nevada (6 percent), Arizona (4.14 percent), California (3.19 percent), Georgia (2.71 percent), Michigan (2.21 percent), Florida (2.06 percent), Illinois (1.95 percent), Colorado (1.78 percent), and Idaho (1.77 percent).

Half of the 20 metro areas with the highest foreclosure rates were in California, but Las Vegas claimed the top foreclosure rate among metropolitan statistical areas with populations of 200,000 or more.

Top 20 metro foreclosure rates, 2011

Metro area

Foreclosure rate

1. Las Vegas

7.38 percent

2. Stockton, Calif.

5.43 percent

3. Modesto, Calif.

5.29 percent

4. Vallejo-Fairfield, Calif.

5.20 percent

5. Riverside-San Bernardino, Calif.

5.16 percent

6. Phoenix

5.10 percent

7. Merced, Calif.

4.40 percent

8. Reno, Nev.

4.37 percent

9. Bakersfield, Calif.

4.31 percent

10. Sacramento, Calif.

4.17 percent

11. Fresno, Calif.

3.82 percent

12. Atlanta

3.69 percent

13. Visalia, Calif.

3.67 percent

14. Prescott, Ariz.

3.50 percent

15. Cape Coral-Fort Myers, Fla.

3.29 percent

16. Ventura, Calif.

3.27 percent

17. Greeley, Colo.

2.97 percent

18. Detroit

2.94 percent

19. Boise, Idaho

2.85 percent

20. Salt Lake City

2.81 percent

Source: RealtyTrac 

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