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If You Think the Real Estate Market Is Good, You Have a Short Memory

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Mortgage foreclosures are at a six-year low, according to data from Back Night (formerly Lending Processing Services), and that is helping boost the vast majority of local housing markets to their best showing since 2010.

Separate data from Irvine, Calif.-based RealtyTrac says 96% of 410 U.S. counties are "better off than they were four years ago," when foreclosures were at historic highs. (The 410 counties in the survey represent about 63% of the U.S. population.)

There is still a downside, and a fairly substantial one: RealtyTrac reports that just 8% of county markets are "better off" than in 2006, just before the housing sector went bust in a big way.

Apparently, the housing market is in the second year of an upward trend after six years of downside price activity. RealtyTrac says the real estate market hit bottom in 2012 in terms of median residential home prices, and 80% of homeowners are better off than they were in 2012, the firm says.

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To calculate its figures, RealtyTrac examined four key criteria: home pricing appreciation, home affordability, the number of bank-owned home sales and the jobless rate.

"The housing recovery has taken root in hundreds of counties across the country and almost all local housing markets are better off than they were four years ago when foreclosure activity peaked in 2010, with more than 1 million homes lost to foreclosure in that year alone," says Daren Blomquist, vice president at RealtyTrac. "We saw less than half that number of bank repossessions nationwide in 2013. Even in hard-hit markets like Stockton, Las Vegas and Lansing, Mich., where [real estate-owned] sales represented more than half of all sales in 2010, the percentage of REO sales has been cut at least in half."

For instance, foreclosures have pretty much dried up in areas such as Lake Tahoe, Reno and Denver -- all of which were significantly affected by high foreclosure rates in 2006-12. Real estate professionals in those markets expect a big pickup in buying activity over the next 90 days.

"The foreclosure-REO business has dramatically decreased since the peak of the crisis in 2010 and is pretty much non-existent in the Lake Tahoe and Reno markets," says Craig King, chief operating officer of Chase International, a real estate firm covers the area. "Housing inventory is nowhere near the levels of inventory we saw in 2006 before the foreclosure crisis began, because there just isn't very much listing inventory for buyers in the market right now, but I think we can expect a much stronger spring market."

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