Lenders seized fewer U.S. homes in December, while the number of properties awaiting foreclosure also declined in a sign the housing market is working through one of its biggest challenges, data from CoreLogic showed on Friday.

There were 56,000 completed foreclosures in December, down from 58,000 the month before and 71,000 a year ago, CoreLogic said.

Before the housing market collapsed, monthly foreclosures averaged 21,000 between 2000 and 2006. Since the heart of the financial crisis in September 2008, there have been about 4.1 million completed foreclosures.

For the year, 767,000 foreclosures were done in 2012, down from 916,547 the year before.

About 1.2 million homes were in some stage of the foreclosure process, down from 1.5 million in December 2011. That amounts to 3 percent of all mortgaged homes.

"This big improvement indicates we are working toward resolving the backlog of the most distressed assets in the shadow inventory," Mark Fleming, chief economist for CoreLogic, said in a statement.

Just five states accounted for almost half of all foreclosures during 2012. California took the top spot with 100,000 foreclosures, followed by Florida, Michigan, Texas and Georgia.

Florida had the highest amount of properties sitting in the foreclosure process at 10.1 percent of homes.

(Reporting by Leah Schnurr; Editing by M.D. Golan)