U.S. foreclosures rose sharply in March as repossessions mounted

U.S. foreclosures rose sharply in March as repossessions mounted

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Foreclosure activity in the United States rose sharply last month, on an increase in bank repossessions, according to a report by industry firm RealtyTrac.

Foreclosures, which include foreclosure notices, scheduled auctions and bank repossession, were up 20 percent to a total of 122,060 last month, the group said on Thursday.

The increase pushed foreclosure activity up 4 percent from year-ago levels, the first annual rise since September 2010.

The report also included foreclosure activity for the first quarter, showing that foreclosures had dropped on a quarterly basis to their lowest in eight years.

A total of 313,487 properties were at some stage of the foreclosure process during the first three months of 2015, down 7 percent from the previous quarter. That was an 8 percent drop from the first quarter of 2014.

Bank repossessions surged 49 percent in March as lenders reclaimed 36,152 properties. Repossessions were up 25 percent from year-ago levels.

"The March increase is continued cleanup of distress still lingering from the previous housing crisis; not the beginning of a new crisis by any means," RealtyTrac Vice President Daren Blomquist said in a statement.

"Some of most stubborn foreclosure cases are finally being flushed out of the foreclosure pipeline, and we would expect to see more noise in the numbers over the next few months as national foreclosure activity makes its way back to more stable patterns by the end of this year," he said.

Lenders started the foreclosure process on 53,514 properties in March, up 11 percent from February. That was a 3.9 percent decline from the same period last year.

Scheduled foreclosure auctions also were up last month, rising 11 percent from February to a total of 50,760 properties.

Florida had the highest foreclosure rates last month, followed by Maryland, Nevada, Illinois and New Jersey, RealtyTrac said.

(Reporting by Elvina Nawaguna; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)