Georgia posted the highest foreclosure rate in the nation last month, according to online real estate service site RealtyTrac.
And Hall County ranks the ninth highest county in the state for foreclosures.
According the site, 1 in every 218 housing units in Hall County, or 315 properties, received foreclosure filings in May.
Georgia jumped ahead of Arizona, Florida, California and Nevada to take the highest foreclosure rate. The last time Georgia had the worst foreclosure rate was February 2006.
Nationwide, May was the first month since January 2010 that the number of homes starting on the foreclosure path rose on an annual basis. But the trend has been visible in the monthly numbers, with four out of the first five months of this year recording increases over the preceding month.
The data reflects how banks and mortgage servicers have been stepping up efforts this year to address unpaid mortgages.
Foreclosure activity, as measured by the number of homes receiving foreclosure-related notices, slowed sharply last year as banks grappled with allegations that they had been processing foreclosures without verifying documents.
A $25 billion settlement reached in February between the nation’s biggest mortgage lenders and state officials since has cleared the way for banks to move against homeowners who have fallen behind on their mortgage payments.
“Lenders are starting to catch up with the delayed foreclosures of the past year and a half,” said Daren Blomquist, a vice president at RealtyTrac.
While the spike is alarming, not everyone is panicking.
“I think it’s a blip in the radar,” said Frank Norton Jr., president of the Norton Agency real estate firm based in Gainesville. “I don’t think it is a trend.”
Foreclosures have been steadily declining in Hall County of late, Norton said. People are buying more houses, too.
“We have lots of people out there buying foreclosure housing and taking advantage of the opportunity,” he said. “In many cases, we’re having multiple people bidding on a foreclosed house.”
That increased activity is leading some higher home prices, which had been falling.
While Norton admits he’s not sure how to explain the May numbers — he said it takes a few months to pick up on some trends — Hall County is in a third wave of foreclosure.
In broad strokes, Norton said, the first wave of foreclosures was from defaulting builders and developers. The second was due to unemployment, people without jobs struggling to pay their mortgages.
The third wave, Norton calls “job reduction,” or decreased household income.
“Now what we’re seeing is fewer people are laid off, but the overtime has disappeared. Wages have laid flat. There may be furlough days,” he said.
All those trends are making it harder for a segment of the population to keep up with housing costs.
According to numbers the Norton Agency has collected, about 30 percent of foreclosures are from “multicultural families,” primarily Hispanic.
Norton suspects that Georgia may be seeing a spike in new foreclosures over other states because of laws that allow a quicker foreclosure process.
Looking in the future, though, he is optimistic.
“I think our market is firming up,” he said. “Our sales are strong. There is more demand out there. While everyone is looking for foreclosures there’s not a lot out there to buy.”
The Associated Press contributed to this story