Mortgage lenders started spring cleaning early this year, as they repossessed 23% more properties last month than they had in January 2014. From December 2014 to January 2015, repossessions jumped 55%, contributing to a 5% month-to-month increase in overall foreclosure activity, according to the January RealtyTrac U.S. Foreclosure Market Report.
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More than half the states reported increases in bank repossessions, and Vermont led the way with a 280% year-over-year increase (of course, in Vermont, where there are fewer people than in the District of Columbia, it only took an increase of 12 repossessions to get that 280% jump).
Looking at the number of properties with foreclosure filings as a whole, foreclosure activity declined 4% from January 2014. Foreclosure filings — default notices, scheduled auctions or bank repossessions — were reported on 119,888 U.S. properties last month.
The spike in repossessions is only part of the so-called spring cleaning process. Scheduled auctions increased 8% from December (though they fell 7% from last January), indicating there’s more opportunity for buyers looking to get a deal on a foreclosed property. In some states, bank-owned properties and homes up for auction are making up more of the housing market as winter comes to a close.
10. Montana Increase in repossessions since January 2014: 65.22%
Montana actually had one of the lowest foreclosure rates in the country in January — the second lowest, to be exact — but its small foreclosure market means any shift in activity translates into large percentage changes. With a land area of more than 147,000 square miles, the fourth-largest state by area, it’s pretty remarkable that only 38 properties were repossessed last month.
9. Washington Increase in repossessions since January 2014: 74.6%
It’s as if lenders in Washington made a New Year’s resolution to repossess a ton of homes in foreclosure, because repossessions increased 247.8% from December 2014 to January 2015. Washington has the 10th-highest foreclosure rate in the nation, with one in every 888 properties with a foreclosure filing.
8. Alabama Increase in repossessions since January 2014: 77.64%
Completed foreclosures (aka bank repossessions) jumped in Alabama, but foreclosure starts decreased in the state, which could be a good thing for the market there. One in every 1,945 properties in the state is in some state of foreclosure (No. 28 on the list), and if things are slowing down, perhaps that rate will continue to fall.
7. Nebraska Increase in repossessions since January 2014: 88.24%
More Nebraska properties entered the foreclosure pipeline in January than exited it (134 properties received notices of default while only 32 were repossessed), but it still has one of the lowest foreclosure rates in the country. In Nebraska, one in every 3,589 had a foreclosure filing last month.
6. Maryland Increase in repossessions since January 2014: 99.8%
Foreclosure activity continues to be a constant presence in Maryland, where the foreclosure rate is the third-highest in the country at one in every 611 properties. The good news is overall foreclosure activity declined nearly 11% from last year.
5. New Jersey Increase in repossessions since January 2014: 116.39%
New Jersey has been all over the top 10 lists in the foreclosure space in the last several months, at one point taking the No. 1 spot with its high foreclosure rate. In January, it was No. 5 (one in every 773 properties with a foreclosure filing), and even though repossessions were up month to month and year over year, the number of foreclosure starts (when a property first receives notice of default) fell from December to January. It declined from January 2014, too.
4. Idaho Increase in repossessions since January 2014: 159.78%
Repossessions are up significantly in Idaho, but it had the second-largest increase in foreclosure starts from December to January. Starts jumped 313.51%, bested only by starts in Utah, which were up more than 500%.
3. Ohio Increase in repossessions since January 2014: 197.48%
It may not be No. 1 on the list, but Ohio’s increase in repossessed properties may be most significant. It’s one of the more populous states on the top of this list, and it has the eighth-highest foreclosure rate in the nation. Idaho has the 11th-highest foreclosure rate in the U.S.
2. Mississippi Increase in repossessions since January 2014: 203.64%
Despite all the financial issues Mississippi residents seem to have (for example, the state perpetually has the worst average credit score), foreclosure isn’t really one of them. It has the fifth-lowest foreclosure rate, with one in 4,483 properties with a foreclosure filing last month. Still, repossessions were up significantly from 2014 to 2015.
1. Vermont Increase in repossessions since January 2014: 280%
According to 2013 Census Bureau figures, there are 112,832 households with a mortgage. That’s not much, when you consider the more than 3 million mortgages in Texas, but still, only 19 of the relatively few mortgaged homes in Vermont were repossessed in January. Vermont has the third-lowest foreclosure rate in the U.S., at 11,533 in foreclosure.
As a homeowner, one of your top priorities is paying your mortgage, but even if you fall behind on payments, you’re not doomed to go through foreclosure. You might be able to restructure your mortgage to make payments more affordable or sell your house in order to avoid having a foreclosure on your credit report. Even if you do lose your home, it’s possible to rebuild your credit after it suffers serious damage, and the best thing you can do is focus on what you can control in the meantime: Make as many of your loan payments on time as possible, keep your debt levels as low as you can and review your credit scores often to track your progress. You can get two of your credit scores for free every month on Credit.com.
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Christine DiGangi covers personal finance for Credit.com. Previously, she managed communications for the Society of Professional Journalists, served as a copy editor of The New York Times News Service and worked as a reporter for the Oregonian and the News & Record. More by Christine DiGangi