foreclosure markets If you live in one of the nation’s largest cities, you might be wondering why foreclosures are getting worse in your real estate market than they are nationwide despite the encouraging headlines reporting that foreclosures are finally on the decline.

The truth is that the national foreclosure picture today is a tale of two cities. In the majority of markets, even many of those in Florida and the West that were hit hard for years, foreclosures are down from last year. According to RealtyTrac, third-quarter foreclosure activity has fallen in 131 out of the nation’s 212 metropolitan areas with a population of 200,000 or more. In fact, foreclosure activity in September 2012 was below September 2007 levels—when the foreclosure crisis was just beginning—in 58 percent of metro markets RealtyTrac covers.

For example, foreclosures are down 35 percent in San Francisco, 29 percent in Los Angeles, 25 percent in San Diego, 27 percent in Phoenix, and 20 percent in Atlanta through the third quarter compared to last year. On the other hand, foreclosure activity soared in some of the nation’s biggest cities. New York’s foreclosure rate is up a whopping 69 percent, Tampa is up 43 percent, and both Chicago and Philadelphia are up 34 percent.

What’s hard to understand is why certain states are faring worse than others. Seven Florida cities ranked among the top 20 metro foreclosure rates in the third quarter. Six out of the seven Florida metros in the top 20 posted annual increases in foreclosure activity. Yet California, which, like Florida, suffered terribly from foreclosures for years, saw foreclosure activity decrease from a year ago in all seven out of its ten largest metros.

Why are foreclosure rates so dramatically different across the country?

Sadly, the answer lies less with local economies, though they still play a major role, and more with state foreclosure laws. In 23 states, called judicial states because foreclosures require a court order, the process takes longer. Moreover, during the Robogate scandal, lenders slowed foreclosure processing to a crawl, particularly in judicial states. The result was a multi-year back up of foreclosures in some states and not others.

Even though Robogate was settled last spring, processing times are still increasing. Processing time actually increased during the second quarter to a national average of 382 days to complete the foreclosure process, the highest average number of days to foreclose since the first quarter of 2007. Other states, like Nevada, have recently enacted laws extending the time that foreclosure victims can appeal, which can slow the process.

To speed things up, in the third quarter lenders began to move on backlogged defaults, and foreclosure activity increased in 14 judicial states, including Florida, Illinois, Ohio, New Jersey, and New York. The result was that some markets suddenly saw a higher level of foreclosure activity caused by new foreclosures whose former owners defaulted months, even years, ago.

However, no matter how long it as taken to get foreclosures to market, homeowners will still feel the negative affect of new foreclosures. Foreclosures today are discounted an average of 32 percent below the price of non-foreclosure homes, and this can lower home values for everyone in the neighborhood. Sometimes laws passed to protect consumers have the unintended consequence of extending the pain that foreclosures can inflict on everyone.

Steve Cook is Executive Vice President of Reecon Advisors and covers government and industry news for the Reecon Advisory Report.

During his 30 year career in public relations and journalism, Cook has been a print and broadcast news correspondent, served two Members of Congress as press secretary, was a senior executive in the world’s largest independent public relations firm in Washington and Chicago and was vice president of public affairs for the National Association of Realtors from 1999 to 2007.At NAR, Cook supervised external communications including news and editorial coverage, video production, speech writing and communications strategic planning. He helped to manage NAR’s multimillion dollar network advertising program.

Cook is a member of the National Press Club, the Public Relations Society of America and the National Association of Real Estate Editors, where he served as second vice president. Twice he has been named one of the 100 most influential people in real estate. He is a graduate of the University of Chicago, where he was editor of the student newspaper. In addition to serving as managing editor of the Report, Cook provides public relations consulting services to real estate and financial services companies, and trade associations, including some of the leading companies in online residential real estate.