Completed foreclosures in February reached the highest monthly total since the mortgage crisis began, soaring by more than 67% over January's figure, according to the latest U.S. Foreclosure Index released by ForeclosureS.com, a leading real-estate information provider.

In February, 121,756 new foreclosures were completed, up from 72,694 in January, which had seen a 26% drop from December's 97,841 foreclosures. February's total also topped the previous monthly high of 104,243 new foreclosures seen last September. In addition to foreclosures, the Index also found the number of pre-foreclosure filings (the original filings that can lead to a foreclosure) is on the rise, also hitting the highest monthly total since the crisis began, reaching 207,703 in February.

“Despite the efforts to stem foreclosures by government and many banks, the hopeful signs of the last quarter of 2008 and January didn't follow through in February,” says Alexis McGee, co-founder and president of ForeclosureS.com. “Many homeowners are in trouble, and rising unemployment continues to intensify the problem.”

According to the Index, foreclosures increased across all areas of the country (see regional percentages below), despite temporary halts by major banks and Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, in anticipation of the Obama administration's foreclosure mitigation effort.

  • Southwest — Up more that 63% from January but down nearly 1.5% from September 2008, the previous high point in this crisis.

  • Midwest — Up nearly 90% from January and nearly up 30% from September 2008.

  • Southeast — Up more than 46% from January and up 19.5% from September 2008.

  • Northeast — Up more than 138% from January and up 232% since September 2008.

  • Other States (Alaska and Hawaii) — Up nearly 68% from January and up 28.6% September 2008.

Looking at state-by-state figures, only Kentucky, Delaware, and Wyoming showed month-to-month improvements in foreclosure numbers (slight or unchanged). The top five states (California, Florida, Arizona, Michigan, and Texas) continued to dominate in numbers of foreclosures in February. As jobless losses continue to rise, Georgia, Ohio, Illinois, Tennessee, and North Carolina, along with other industrialized states, made the Top 10 state list of newly foreclosed homes.

Foreclosures and pre-foreclosures aside, there are a few bright spots in the housing market. Pending home sales rose in the West in January, even though they dropped in the Midwest, South, and Northeast, according to a recent release from the National Association of Realtors, Chicago. The California Association of Realtors (CAR), Los Angeles, also recently reported existing single-family home sales up more than 100% in January from a year ago to a seasonally adjusted rate of 624,940. It was the first time that number surpassed 600,000 since October 2005, according to CAR. January sales were up 14% from December sales.

“It looks like those same markets where the foreclosure mess began — including California, Florida, Arizona, and Nevada — are now seeing the market bottom and sales pick up again,” says McGee, noting that housing affordability is the highest it's been since 1970. “I see a housing rally ahead, because consumers simply can't afford to sit on the sidelines any longer.”