Foreclosure activity nationally drops to June levels

The number of American homeowners dragged into the housing crisis fell last month to the lowest level since June as new state laws lengthened the foreclosure process, RealtyTrac reported last Thursday.

"We're going to have a pretty significant spike in January,'' said Rick Sharga, RealtyTrac's vice president for marketing. Plus, as job losses mount, "increases in foreclosure activity follow that pretty directly,'' he added.

Nationwide, more than 259,000 homes received at least one foreclosure-related notice in November, down 7 percent from October, but 28 percent higher than a year ago, RealtyTrac said.

The report comes as Democrats, including President-elect Barack Obama, insist that the government must use some of the bailout funds to halt rising foreclosures.

Last week, the Mortgage Bankers Association reported that a record one in 10 American homeowners with a mortgage was either at least one month behind on their payments or in foreclosure at the end of September.

RealtyTrac monitors default notices, auction sale notices and bank repossessions. More than 78,000 properties were repossessed by lenders last month, said the Irvine, California-based company.

The worst recession in decades, falling home values and stricter lending standards have ensnared millions of U.S. households. The Federal Reserve predicts that new foreclosures this year will reach about 2.25 million, more than double pre-crisis levels.

In RealtyTrac's report, Nevada, Florida and Arizona had the nation's top foreclosure rates.