The number of U.S. homes purchased via short sale hit a three year-high in the first quarter of 2012, up 25% from a year earlier, according to a report on foreclosure-related sales.
Owners unloaded 109,521 homes during the first three months of the year for less than what they owed on the mortgage, according to Irvine-based data tracker RealtyTrac. Such transactions help homeowners avoid having their properties repossessed by lenders, which must approve the sales.
Short sales made up 12% of all residential sales during the quarter, commanding an average price of $175,461, a record low.
"Financial institutions are agressively seeking to move through their inventories of homes in default or scheduled for auction," said Stuart A. Gabriel, director of the Ziman Center for Real Estate at UCLA. "This is a positive sign in the sense that clearing out this shadow inventory is a precondition for the full healing of the housing sector."
The number of bank-owned homes sold slipped 15% from the year-earlier period to 123,778 units. Those properties sold for $147,995 on average.
Out of all U.S. homes sold during the first quarter, 26% -- or 233,299 properties -- were in some stage of foreclosure, according to RealtyTrac. That's slightly more than the 25% of sales in the same situation a year earlier.
California has the second-highest percentage of foreclosure sales in the country, with 47% of home sales falling into the category. Nevada is the highest with 56%; Georgia is third with 46%.
Compared with the fourth quarter, sales of homes in default, set for auction or owned by banks were up 8% nationally but flat from a year ago.
At an average $161,214, such properties sold at a 27% discount compared with an average non-foreclosure home.
Santa Ana research firm CoreLogic reported recently that the number of homes struggling through foreclosure held steady in March from February and fell from the year-earlier period.
"The worst in foreclosures is over," Gabriel said. "This is consistent with a variety of housing indicators, including sales, starts, inventories and permits that suggest that the housing sector is slowly beginning to emerge from the worst downturn of the post-Great Depression era."
This week, mixed data from the National Assn. of Realtors found that pending home sales -- the measure of how many Americans signed contracts to buy previously owned homes --suffered its steepest slump in more than a year in April from March. Compared with the year-earlier period, however, April's index was up 14.4%.