ALEX VEIGALOS ANGELES (AP) â¿¿ U.S. homes are entering the foreclosure process at a slower pace than a year ago, and fewer properties are being repossessed by lenders, new data show. Between January and October, 971,533 homes were placed on the path to foreclosure, down 8 percent from the same period last year, foreclosure listing firm RealtyTrac Inc. said Thursday. At the other end of the foreclosure process, banks repossessed 559,063 homes through the end of last month, a decline of nearly 19 percent from a year earlier. That puts lenders on pace to complete 650,000 foreclosures this year, down from 800,000 in 2011, the firm said. While many states continued to see heightened foreclosure activity last month, the decline at a national level reflects several factors working to stem, or in some cases, merely delay foreclosures. Home sales are running ahead of last year, lifting home prices in many parts of the country, which can make it easier for homeowners to lower their monthly payments by refinancing. "Those improving housing conditions are lifting all boats and lifting some people out of foreclosure," said Daren Blomquist, a vice president at RealtyTrac. However, Superstorm Sandy drove a large increase in foreclosures late in the month. RealtyTrac said foreclosures in New York and New Jersey more than doubled compared to a year ago, and in Connecticut, activity grew 41 percent. Those were the three largest increases in the U.S. Foreclosure activity rose 92 percent in the 34 counties in those states that were hardest-hit by the storm. Even with that increase, foreclosures in those areas were less than half the national average. Nationally, stronger job growth likely has helped some homeowners avoid foreclosure. Still, the country's unemployment rate remains just below 8 percent. The percentage of mortgage-holding homeowners who were at least two months behind on their payments sank in the third quarter to the lowest level in more than three years, according to credit reporting firm TransUnion.