In 2010, 2.9 million properties received foreclosure filings -- an increase of 2 percent from 2009 and 23 percent from 2008, according to data from the website RealtryTrac.
The figures would have been worse, if not for a surprising decrease in foreclosures toward the end of 2010. December saw a 30-month low of foreclosures, with filings on 257,747 properties, a drop of 26 percent from the previous year. That was the biggest annual drop in foreclosure activity since RealtyTrac first published foreclosure data in January 2005.
"Total properties receiving foreclosure filings would have easily exceeded 3 million in 2010 had it not been for the fourth quarter drop in foreclosure activity," said James J. Saccacio, chief executive officer of RealtyTrac, in a statement. Some economists point to the year's high unemployment levels as a contributing factor to foreclosures.
Saccacio said the decrease in foreclosures in the fourth quarter was in part due to the controversy that started in the fall over foreclosure procedures. He said many major lenders temporarily halted some foreclosures.
Earlier this month, the highest court in Massachusetts ruled against U.S. Bancorp and Wells Fargo, invalidating two mortgage foreclosure sales because the banks did not prove they owned the mortgages at the time of foreclosure.
Rick Sharga, senior vice president of RealtyTrac, said it is possible that foreclosure figures could be even higher. RealtyTrac collected its data from over 2,200 counties, accounting for about 92 percent of the nation's population. The figures incorporate the most recent filing from all three phases of foreclosure: default, auction, and real estate owned properties that have been foreclosed on and repurchased by a bank.
"I think we're in for a rough year in 2011 in terms of the housing market," said Sharga. "It's likely that we're going to see a peak here in turns of foreclosure activity and bank repossessions. We think there will be about five percent price deprecation before the market bottoms out. And demand candidly will be a little weak this year."
Five states -- California, Florida, Arizona, Illinois and Michigan -- accounted for more than half of the 2.9 million total filings last year.
California had the most foreclosure filings: 546,669, or 4.08 percent of its total housing units.
The state of Nevada had the highest state foreclosure rate for the fourth year in a row with its 106,160 filings. One in 11 housing units in Nevada, or 9 percent, received a foreclosure filing last year.
Nevada's foreclosure activity increased in December by 18 percent from the previous month, and 14 percent from last year, despite efforts by legislators. Nevada's foreclosure mediation program, which started in 2009, requires lenders to meet in good faith with state authorities to make foreclosure decisions.
Arizona had the second highest foreclosure rate for the second year in a row with one in 17 housing units, or 5.73 percent, receiving at least one foreclosure filing. The state had a total of 155,878 foreclosures, a decrease of 4 percent from 2009.
Florida had the third highest foreclosure rate with one in 18 housing units, or 5.51 percent, receiving at least one foreclosure filing last year. Florida had 485,286 foreclosed properties in 2010, the second largest total after California.
The seven other states included in the country's 10 highest foreclosure rates by state were California (4.08 percent), Utah (3.44 percent), Georgia (3.25 percent) Michigan (3 percent), Idaho (2.98 percent), Illinois, (2.97 percent) and Colorado (2.51 percent).