Foreclosures Plunge 21% in November

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Foreclosure activity declined dramatically last month, as the effects of delays at major servicers announced in October began to have an impact.

In November, 262,339 homes received foreclosure filings, a 21% drop from the previous month and 14% drop from November 2009, according to RealtyTrac, which tracks foreclosure data across the country.

The decline reflects the impact of the "robosigning" scandal, in which major servicers acknowledged improper documentation practices. Several big banks announced that they'd be refilling hundreds of thousands of affidavits in states that require legal approval for foreclosure proceedings.

"Fallout from the foreclosure robo-signing controversy forced lenders and servicers to hit the pause button on many foreclosures," said RealtyTrac CEO James J. Saccacio, "while they scrambled to revamp their internal procedures and revise or resubmit questionable paperwork."

Though servicers like Bank of America ( BAC) and JPMorgan Chase ( JPM) have restarted proceedings in certain states - and others, like Wells Fargo ( WFC), never announced outright moratoriums - the decline may continue this month.

The affidavit brouhaha is far from over, with nationwide investigations by all 50 state attorneys general and federal regulators not over. Additionally, Fannie Mae ( FNMA.OB) and Freddie Mac ( FMCC.OB), which stand behind the vast majority of U.S. mortgages, have said they won't push forward on foreclosures during the holiday season.

Still, the decline represented a particularly sharp reversal from the rest of 2010, as the industry worked to push bad loans through the pipeline. RealtyTrac said it was the largest drop in foreclosure activity since it began publishing its monthly nationwide report in January 2005.

The 262,339 figure includes default notices, scheduled auctions and bank repossessions; lenders foreclosed on 67,428 U.S. properties in November, down 28% on a monthly basis and 12% year-over-year.

The hardest-hit states were the usual suspects in the western U.S., with Nevada, Utah and California posting the highest foreclosure rates. One in every 99 homes across Nevada, one in every 221 in Utah and one in every 233 in California received a notice last month, vs. one in every 492 in the U.S.; 10 states account for 70% of the national total.

-- Written by Lauren Tara LaCapra in New York.

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