Florida led the nation in home foreclosure activity in February, and the Manatee-Sarasota region was ranked 13th highest in the nation.
The news, which was not surprising to economists, garnered mixed reactions from those in the real estate community, which has seen the available housing stock shrink as sales have increased in recent months.
RealtyTrac, which tracks foreclosures and other real estate data, shows February foreclosure filings -- default notices, scheduled auctions and bank repossessions -- on 154,281 properties across the nation. U.S. foreclosure starts increased 10 percent from the previous month after three consecutive monthly decreases, but were still down 25 percent from February 2012.
But the story was different in Florida which posted the nation's highest foreclosure rate for the sixth consecutive month, reporting one in every 282 housing units with a foreclosure filing, more than three times the national average.
Florida cities accounted
for seven of the nation's 10 highest metro foreclosure rates in February, with Miami, Orlando, Ocala, Tampa and Palm Bay metro areas in the top five spots.
A total of 31,726 Florida properties -- 20.5 percent of all properties across the nation -- had a foreclosure filing during the month, up 6 percent from the previous month and up 20 percent from February 2012 to a 16-month high.
While the Manatee-Sarasota market "is not getting hit as hard as some other Florida markets with rebounding foreclosure activity, it's still in a position where the foreclosure problem is likely to get worse before it gets better because of a backlog of delayed foreclosures as well as a high percentage of homeowners who are underwater and owe more than their properties are worth," said Daren Blomquist, RealtyTrac's vice president.
In a statement released Wednesday, the Sarasota Association of Realtors maintained that there is a silver lining in all of this. Sarasota saw February sales leap by 24 percent over last year, which followed a 22 percent year over year increase in January.
"If the rest of the year continues to reflect 20 percent monthly sales increases, 2013 could be one for the record books," Roger Piro, the association's president said in a statement. Piro also noted that "available inventory remained near the lowest level in a decade."
Realtor Debbie Roth of Bradenton's RE/MAX Alliance agreed, noting more houses will become available to the market.
"I don't think it will hurt us because we have such a shortage of property on the market right now," Roth said. "Buyers are tired of everything they're calling on already being gone."
Roth said that it's not a surprise that Florida is being hit so hard by foreclosures given the run-up in real estate prices in 2005, leaving so many people underwater when the the real estate bubble burst.
"Many areas across the country didn't have home prices double like we did in 2005," Roth said.
She also said after foreclosure activity in December was so quiet, she expected to see activity rise again this year. In February, the Manatee-Sarasota MSA had one out of 376 homes in foreclosure, representing a 4 percent increase from January and almost a 30 percent spike from a year ago.
As individual counties, Manatee had a 17.2 percent monthly foreclosure increase over January, and a 27.4 percent increase over a year ago, while Sarasota reported a 7 percent monthly decrease, but a 31.7 spike in foreclosures since February 2012.
In all, a total of 1,062 area homes were in foreclosure last month, of which 543 were in Manatee, representing one out of 317 homes. In Sarasota, 519 houses, or one of every 439, were in foreclosure.
The national average is one out of 849.
Sean Snaith, an economics professor with the University of Cental Florida, said that the RealtyTrac report "reflects the length of time it takes for foreclosures to get through the judicial system here," pointing to other states like California that have instituted speedier resolution processes and are now showing relatively fewer active foreclosure proceedings as a result.
"At a high level, the U.S. foreclosure inferno has been effectively contained and should be reduced to a slow burn in the next two years," Blomquist said. "But dangerous foreclosure flare-ups are still popping up in states where foreclosures have been delayed by a lengthy court process or by new legislation making it more difficult to foreclose outside of the court system. Foreclosure starts have been steadily building in those states over the last several months and likely will end up as bank repossessions or short sales later this year."
The backlog of delayed foreclosures as well as a high percentage of homeowners who are underwater and owe more than their properties are worth is concerning, Blomquist said.
In Sarasota County, RealtyTrac data shows 36 percent of all homeowners with a mortgage are seriously underwater, owing at least 25 percent more than their properties are worth, and in Manatee County 42 percent of homeowners are underwater on their mortgages.
-- Business editor Toni Whitt contributed to this report.