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RISMEDIA, Jan. 23, 2007-(MCT)-One in every 51 households in Palm Beach County-almost 11,000 properties-entered some stage of foreclosure last year, nearly double the national rate.

In Palm Beach County, one of the most prosperous real estate markets in the nation during the boom, foreclosures rose by 29% last year, to a total of 10,915, up from 8,454 the previous year (one filing for every 66 households). The increases were higher in Martin County although the actual number of cases were far fewer, according to a report issued Thursday by RealtyTrac.

Because the 29% hike reflects all of 2006, it can be viewed as good news, relative to some monthly comparisons. Throughout the year, RealtyTrac releases reports comparing filings in a given month with the same month a year earlier, in some cases reflecting far greater increases than 29%. For instance, foreclosures in Palm Beach County in October 2006 rose 91% over the previous October.

But any way you look at it, 2006 was a banner year for foreclosures, as filings soared across the board as the housing market wilted.

In Martin County, properties entering foreclosure rose year-over-year by 40%, to 634, or one filing for every 103 households. That's up from 454 filings in 2005, or one in every 144 households, the report shows. In St. Lucie County, foreclosures jumped to 1,413 last year, or one in every 65 households. That's up 30% over 2005's 1,084 properties, or one filing for every 84 households, the report shows.

"The declining home sales have made it less attractive for investors, and made them less able to rapidly resell a unit," said economist Hank Fishkind, president of Fishkind & Associates in Port St. Lucie, Orlando and Naples.

Florida fared better overall, as one in every 58 households entered foreclosure last year, for a total of 124,821 properties. That's up just 2% over 2005, RealtyTrac said, when there were 121,843 filings, or one for every 59 households.

"It is true that Florida's overall foreclosure rate did not increase much from 2005 to 2006, but keep in mind that it was already high in 2005, the highest state foreclosure rate that year," said RealtyTrac spokesman Daren Blomquist. "And Florida still had the seventh-highest state foreclosure rate in 2006." Two forces combined to cause the downfall of homeowners who had managed to afford their pricey real estate during the boom by signing high-risk loans. When these adjustable-rate mortgages began to reset at higher interest rates the once-booming residential resale market began to collapse.

This prevented financially strapped homeowners from selling quickly to avoid foreclosure as wary buyers began to wait for prices to hit bottom. Many are still waiting.

"The combination of slower home sales and rising interest rates on adjustable mortgages continues to drive foreclosures at significantly higher numbers," said James Saccacio, chief executive officer of RealtyTrac.

Palm Beach County foreclosures in 2006 peaked in August with 2,241 properties entering some stage of foreclosure, the report shows, or one filing for every 248 households. The low mark came in November with 494 properties, or one in every 1,126 households.

In Martin County, 2006 foreclosures hit their zenith in April, with 87 properties in some stage of foreclosure, or one in every 752 households. Martin County properties in foreclosure dropped to a monthly low in November of just 27, a rate of one filing for every 2,425 households.

Fast-growing St. Lucie County saw 2006 foreclosures surge in November to a high of 313 properties and decline to a low of 45 in April, according to the report. That's a rate of one for every 292 households at the high mark and one for every 2,028 at the low mark.

Nationwide, foreclosure filings for 2006 rose 42% over the previous year, climbing to 1,261,110 filings, or a rate of one filing for every 92 households. The previous year, 885,845 properties entered some stage of foreclosure, the report shows, a rate of one filing for every 131 households.

Florida foreclosures climbed to a high of 16,533 properties in August, or one in every 442 households, and a low in December of 8,321 properties, or one in every 878 properties. Nevertheless, Florida's December filings were third-highest in the nation. Also in December, the number of U.S. properties in some stage of foreclosure rose above 100,000 for the fifth consecutive month, RealtyTrac said.

Irvine, California-based RealtyTrac documents properties in all three stages of foreclosure: default (notice of default and pending lawsuit); auction (notice of trustee sale and notice of foreclosure sale); and real-estate owned (REO properties that have been foreclosed on and repurchased by the lender).

Copyright © 2007, The Palm Beach Post, Fla.
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.