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Foreclosures surge in first half of 2012

(MoneyWatch) Even with the U.S. housing market showing signs of stabilizing, foreclosures around the country are surging.

Foreclosure activity increased in the first six months of 2012 in 125 of the nation's 212 metropolitan areas with a population of 200,000 or more, according to the latest data from market researcher RealtyTrac. Despite the increases from the second half of 2011, 129 of the metro areas still posted year-over-year decreases in foreclosure activity.

"Increasing foreclosure starts in many local markets helped push total foreclosure activity higher in the first half of this year compared to the second half of 2011," RealtyTrac CEO Brandon Moore said in a statement.

He called the increase in foreclosure starts "welcome news for prospective buyers," citing a shortage of aggressively priced inventory as a contributing factor to the sluggish sales market.

Home sales fall despite record-low interest rates

Home prices should get even more affordable as more distressed property hits the market in the coming months. That's great news for buyers looking to take advantage of low interest rates, but a blow for sellers. Seven of the 10 metropolitan areas with the highest foreclosure rates were in California. Nine of the 10 cities with the most foreclosure activity saw an overall decrease in foreclosures in the first half of 2012.

Financially troubled Stockton, Calif., posted the nation's highest foreclosure rate at more than three times the national average. Roughly 2.6 percent of homes -- one in every 38 -- in the city saw a foreclosure filing in the first half of the year. Despite that high rate, foreclosure filings fell 13 percent from the previous six-month period and 16 percent from the first half of 2011.

Four other California cities ranked in the top five metropolitan areas for foreclosures, despite an overall drop in foreclosure activity. Modesto ranked No. 2, with 2.61 percent of homes receiving a foreclosure filing, while Riverside-San Bernadino-Ontario, Vallejo-Fairfield, and Merced rounding out the top five.

Atlanta was the only metropolitan area in the top 10 to register increasing foreclosure activity in the first half of 2012. It had the nation's sixth-highest foreclosure rate, with 2.14 percent of all homes -- one in every 47 -- receiving a foreclosure filing. Activity increased 3 percent from the previous six-month period and 5 percent from the first half of 2011.

Half of the nation's 20 largest metropolitan areas reported increased foreclosure activity from the previous six-month period. The cities that saw the biggest jumps in foreclosures were Tampa, with an increase of 46.93 percent; Philadelphia (29.54 percent); Chicago (28.03 percent); New York (26.01 percent); Baltimore (21.39 percent); Miami (12.97 percent; Minneapolis (11.10 percent); and St. Louis (10.08 percent).

Some industry experts predict as many as 5 million additional homes will fall into foreclosure over the next few years.

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