US foreclosure numbers look positive on the surface, but not when looking a little deeper, market researchers said Thursday.
First-quarter foreclosures filings on U.S. properties declined to the lowest quarterly total since before the recession, said RealtyTrac, an online marketplace for foreclosed homes.
The firm said there were 572,928 foreclosure filings January through March or one for every 230 U.S. housing units.
The total is 2 percent lower than the fourth quarter of 2011 and 16 percent lower than the same quarter a year earlier. It is also the lowest total since the fourth quarter of 2007, when 527,740 properties were involved in foreclosure proceedings.
The number includes properties with default notices, scheduled for auctions or involved in bank repossessions.
The last recession, officially, began in December 2007 and ended in June 2009.
Foreclosure filings for March were also the lowest monthly total since July 2007. The 198,853 foreclosure filings in the month were 4 percent below February's total and 17 percent below March 2011, RealtyTrac said.
However, "there are cracks in the dam," said RealtyTrac Chief Executive Officer Brandon Moore in a statement.
"The low foreclosure numbers in the first quarter are not an indication that the massive reservoir of distressed properties built up over the past few years has somehow miraculously evaporated," he said.
Moore pointed out that states that use non-judicial processes for foreclosures saw a decrease of foreclosure activity of 8 percent quarter to quarter. However, the 26 states that require a judicial process in foreclosure processing saw an 8 percent increase compared with the previous quarter.
In some of the states that require foreclosures be processed in court, the year-over-year increases in the first quarter were significant. In Indiana, the increase in filings was 45 percent. In Connecticut, they rose 38 percent. In Massachusetts and Florida, they rose 26 percent.
Foreclosure starts, which includes only default notices or scheduled foreclosure auctions, rose dramatically some states and rose nationally for the third consecutive month.
In Nevada they rose 153 percent in March. In Utah, they rose 103 percent.
Foreclosure starts were up 73 percent in New Jersey, 53 percent in Maryland and 47 percent in North Carolina, RealtyTrac said.