By Jared Council
Foreclosure activity slowed last year in Virginia, recent statistics show, in line with a national trend of foreclosure filing declines.
According to real estate tracking firm RealtyTrac, 1.4 million properties experienced a foreclosure filing of some type in 2013, down 26 percent from 2012 and 53 percent from the peak of 2.9 million properties in 2010.
Foreclosure filings include default notices, scheduled auctions and bank repossessions.
Only 10 states saw an increase of foreclosure filings in 2013.
In Virginia, 20,923 properties had foreclosure filings in 2013, down 23 percent from 2012 and a 60 percent drop from a 2009 peak of 52,127.
December didn't bear much positive foreclosure news for Virginia.
Bank repossession activity was up 37 percent over the previous month and foreclosure starts were up 9 percent.
Overall, foreclosure filings jumped 15 percent in December from November, but filings in December were still down 23 percent from the year-ago period.
"The trend has been positive looking over the past year or two," said Greg Grootendorst, an economist with the Hampton Roads Planning District Commission. "Month to month, you can see the number of foreclosures pop up or jump down. But what we're most interested in is the trend where things are going."
Virginia's foreclosure rate - the percentage of housing units at any stage of the foreclosure process - was below the national average last year, RealtyTrac statistics show.
About 1.04 percent of housing units had a foreclosure filing across the U.S. in last year, compared to 0.63 percent in Virginia.
That's 1 in every 96 U.S. housing units and 1 in every 160 Virginia housing units.
The foreclosure rates in Hampton Roads, starting with cities with the highest frequency, were:
* Portsmouth - 2.01 percent
* Chesapeake - 1.2 percent
* Virginia Beach - 1.18 percent
* Norfolk - 1.17 percent
* Hampton - 1.17 percent
* Newport News - 1.16 percent
* Suffolk - 1.08 percent
Foreclosures can be indicative of the health of a housing market, Grootendorst said, as widespread foreclosures can put downward pressure on prices for non-distressed homes.
In November, according to RealtyTrac, the median sales price of a distressed home was $164,000 in Virginia, about 35 percent lower than the non-distressed home median sale price of $252,000.
"If housing prices are in decline," Grootendorst said, "families have less wealth. And if they have less wealth, decisions and expenditures adjust accordingly, which has implications for the entire economy."