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10 cities where foreclosures still haunt the housing market

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By Jason Notte/MainStreet

Foreclosures aren't as big a part of the housing market as they were just after the recession, but they're still a sizable portion of homes sold across the U.S.

Housing data site RealtyTrac found that sales of properties in foreclosure are down from a year ago to multi-year lows, while year-to-date U.S. home sales in 2015 are at an eight-year high. The sale of properties sold while in the foreclosure process (not including bank-owned properties) accounted for 6.4 percent of all single family and condo sales in July, down from 6.6 percent of all sales in June and down from 8.0 percent in July 2014.

Meanwhile, the National Association of Realtors found that distressed properties -- including both foreclosures and short sales -- declined to 7 percent of all homes in July from 8 percent in June and 9 percent a year ago. Some 5 percent of July sales were foreclosures, and 2 percent were short sales. Foreclosures sold for an average discount of 17 percent below market value in July (15 percent in June), while short sales were discounted 12 percent (18 percent in June). Comparatively speaking, that isn't such a bad thing.

"Five years ago, distressed sales represented 33 percent of the market in July," said Chris Polychron, president of the National Association of Realtors and executive broker with 1st Choice Realty in Hot Springs, Arkansas. "For many previously distressed homeowners throughout the country, rising home values in recent years have helped recover equity and the vast improvement in several local job markets means fewer are falling behind on their mortgage payments."

That doesn't necessarily mean everything is going extraordinarily well. The U.S. median existing home sales price in July was $235,500, up 5.8 percent from a year earlier. While there are fewer all-cash sales driving that rising price, there are still reasons to proceed with caution.

"While the stock market may be on a roller coaster as of late, the housing market is still on solid ground, with the eight-year low in cash sales combined with the eight-year high in overall sales volume in the first half of the year evidence that housing is successfully transitioning from an investor-driven recovery to one that is drawing in traditional buyers as a good foundation for sustainable growth going forward," said Daren Blomquist, vice president at RealtyTrac. "That's not to say there are no cracks in the foundation of this recovery, the top three of which are housing affordability -- or lack thereof in some high-flying markets -- along with over-dependence on capricious cash buyers -- both foreign and domestic -- in some markets, and the persistent overhang of underwater homeowners who continue to represent heightened default risk given any future economic shockwaves."

In 61 of the 172 markets RealtyTrac analyzed for in-foreclosure sales, the share of those sales increased from a year ago, counter to the national trend.

"The increase in overall foreclosure activity over the last five months has been driven primarily by rapidly rising bank repossessions, which in July reached the highest level since January 2013," said Blomquist. "Meanwhile foreclosure starts in July were at the lowest level since November 2005 -- a nearly ten-year low that demonstrates the recent rise in bank repossessions represents banks flushing out old distress rather than new distress being pushed into the pipeline."

That's good news for much of the U.S. but not for certain corners of it. With help from RealtyTrac, we found the locations where foreclosures still make up a significant portion of home sales, despite improvements in the overall economy. Each has its own story to tell.

Click ahead to see 10 cities where foreclosures still haunt the housing market.

​10. Virginia Beach, Virginia

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Foreclosures as percentage of homes sold: 11.4 percent

Scheduled foreclosure auctions are down 7 percent from a year ago but still above pre-crisis levels from 2005 and 2006. Meanwhile, in Virginia, foreclosure auctions have actually increased 21 percent since 2014.

Virginia Beach's unemployment rate still lingers above the national average and an already substantial stock of foreclosures isn't being helped by banks clearing out the pipes.

​9. Milwaukee

Henryk Sadura

Foreclosures as percentage of homes sold: 11.7 percent

Yes, foreclosure starts are down in much of the rest of the country, but not Wisconsin. In July, new foreclosures in that state were up 27 percent from a year ago.

Milwaukee's unemployment rate is about on par with Virginia Beach's, which is only slightly higher than the national average at 5.5 percent. However, with Green Bay's unemployment sitting at 4.5 percent and Madison's at 3.5 percent, Milwaukee bears the brunt of the state's bad housing news.

​8. Las Vegas

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Foreclosures as percentage of homes sold: 12.3 percent

While the city has seen a staggering improvement from the peak of the housing crisis, Las Vegas' glut of foreclosures is yet another sign of how long the crawl back from the bottom has been.

In July, the number of properties that received a foreclosure filing in Las Vegas was 17 percent higher than the previous month and 2 percent higher than the same time last year. Scheduled foreclosure auctions throughout Nevada, meanwhile, have increased 27 percent from a year ago. With real estate investors jumping on the cheap Las Vegas homes left in the wake of the housing crisis and turning the single-family home market into a packed field of rentals, buyers have shied away from the city just as banks have started clearing inventory. With unemployment in Las Vegas sitting at 7 percent, there isn't a whole lot of help coming from within, either.

​7. Tampa, Florida

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Foreclosures as percentage of homes sold: 12.7 percent

Not only was Florida pounded by the housing crisis, but a judicial foreclosure system has also been processing foreclosures at a sluggish pace. The good news is that it's slowly improving.

"South Florida continues to see the market improve on all fronts -- non-distressed sales are up 10 percent in median sales price over last year," said Mike Pappas, CEO and president of the Keyes Company covering the South Florida market. "We continue to see a decline in inventory in homes under $300,000 but above that price point we are beginning to see inventory rise. We have finally moved into a real market with real buyers and real sellers."

The bad news is that nobody told Tampa about it. Tampa had the second-highest foreclosure rate in the country in July, with one in every 375 housing units under foreclosure. Meanwhile, foreclosure starts in Florida are up 16 percent from a year ago in July following ten consecutive months of year-over-year decreases, giving the state the highest foreclosure rate in the country. One in every 408 Florida housing units had a foreclosure filing in July -- more than 2.5 times the national average.

​6. Chicago

Scott Olson/Getty Images

Foreclosures as percentage of homes sold: 14.7 percent

It is one mixed, ugly bag of real estate in Illinois. Foreclosure starts are down 18 percent from a year ago, but foreclosure auctions are up 19 percent. Overall, Illinois foreclosure activity increased 2 percent from a year ago, and the state posted the nation's fifth highest state foreclosure rate -- one in every 730 housing units with a foreclosure filing.

Meanwhile, in Chicago, foreclosure activity is down 2 percent from 2014, but one in every 586 housing units is in foreclosure -- giving it the third-worst foreclosure rate in the country behind Tampa and Baltimore. The city's 6 percent unemployment rate isn't helping, but with home sales at their highest point in eight years, neither is the disparity between where homes are selling and where they aren't.

​5. Toledo, Ohio

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Foreclosures as percentage of homes sold: 15.2 percent

Toledo has plenty of reason to be unhappy with its Ohio neighbors right now. Granted, the state's foreclosure rate still ranks ninth in the country (one in every 932 housing units) and bank repossessions are up 69 percent, but it seems as if just about everywhere else is improving. Ohio foreclosure starts are down 22 percent year-over-year and much of the rest of the state is avoiding new foreclosures.

"Many of the Ohio markets have been fortunate with continued growth in sales volumes, increased employment numbers, and moderately increasing prices that are contributing factors to an overall reduction in foreclosure numbers across Ohio," said Michael Mahon, president at HER Realtors, covering the Cincinnati, Dayton and Columbus markets. "As days on market have remained fairly low across the state, we are seeing many lending servicers acting quickly to establish communications with delinquent homeowners, and assist them in avoiding the foreclosure process."

Toledo's 5.1 percent unemployment rate is below the national average, but its housing market dug itself a deep hole during the crisis. Let's see if it can follow its neighbors out.

​4. Baltimore

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Foreclosures as percentage of homes sold: 16.1 percent

Want the good news first? Maryland foreclosure starts are down 15 percent from last year.

The rest isn't nearly as pleasant. Maryland's overall foreclosure activity increased 8 percent from a year ago in July and gave it the nation's second highest foreclosure rate. One in every 513 Maryland housing units had a foreclosure filing during July. That only gets worse in Baltimore, where one in every 495 houses went into foreclosure, a rate second only to Tampa's.

​Morehead City, North Carolina

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Foreclosures as percentage of homes sold: 16.3 percent

North Carolina has the No. 10 foreclosure rate in the country with 1 in every 970 homes entering the process, but Morehead City finds itself in a unique position.

With an economy based largely on fishing, retirement and the ports, there are a lot of moving parts to its real estate market that can all come crashing down during a housing crisis or recession. In many ways, Morehead City finds itself in a position similar to that of many other small coastal towns during the economic crisis: Trying to stay afloat even when its properties are figuratively underwater.

​Rockford, Illinois

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Foreclosures as percentage of homes sold: 17.1 percent

Remember everything we said about Chicago? Well, take away the major-city appeal and amenities and you get a foreclosure glut like Rockford's. Again, the good news is that foreclosure starts are down. The bad news is that there's a whole lot of foreclosed inventory between Rockford and normal, and we don't mean Normal, Illinois.

​Salisbury, North Carolina

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Foreclosures as percentage of homes sold: 23.6 percent

Tons of historic buildings, beautiful Victorian homes, three colleges, the headquarters of a large regional supermarket chain and Cheerwine? How could Salisbury fall on such hard times?

Well, it hasn't any more so than some of the cities further down this list. Unemployment sits at a familiar 5.5 percent, but keep in mind that this is a city of roughly 34,000 where there isn't a whole lot of property changing hands on a regular basis. If foreclosures and bank-owned property hits the market in any decent volume, it's going to have an impact. Salisbury's key issue is that aging residents in its dense core have passed on and left their homes to people living outside Salisbury. There are gorgeous homes in this city -- they just need folks who aren't going to take them for granted.