WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The number of U.S. properties in foreclosure upon rose 5 percent in January, driven by a jump in bank repossessions, real estate data firm RealtyTrac said on Thursday.
A total of 37,292 homes were repossessed in January, a 15-month high. Overall, 119,888 properties were at some stage of the foreclosure process, still down 4 percent from a year earlier.
The unwinding of distressed housing assets, a multiyear legal process in many states, was gathering pace, RealtyTrac said.
A nationwide increase in scheduled foreclosure auctions in 21 states in January reflected that they were "coming off somewhat artificially low levels last year," RealtyTrac Vice President Daren Blomquist said in a statement.
He said foreclosure filings would rise over the next several months as lenders ramp up "spring cleaning" in many states.
A total of 51,782 homes were set for foreclosure auctions last month, up 8 percent from December but down 7 percent from a year earlier.
Lenders began the foreclosure process on 48,838 homes, down 18 percent from a 17-month high in December and a drop of 15 percent year on year. That figures also includes scheduled foreclosure auctions in some states.
Despite a 21 percent decline from a year earlier, Florida still had the nation's highest foreclosure rate in January, followed by Nevada, Maryland, Illinois and New Jersey.
Reporting by Lindsay Dunsmuir; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn