LOS ANGELES -- (AP) -- The number of homes facing foreclosure jumped 57 percent in January compared to a year ago, with Florida's Cape Coral-Fort Myers area posting the highest rate in the nation, a mortgage research firm said Monday.
The increase in Florida was much greater than in the nation as a whole. The Florida rate climbed 158 percent over last year.
Lenders are increasingly being forced to take possession of homes they couldn't unload at auctions.
Nationwide, some 233,001 homes received at least one notice from lenders last month related to overdue payments, compared with 148,425 a year earlier, according to Irvine, Calif.-based RealtyTrac Inc. Nearly half of the total involved first-time default notices.
The worsening situation came despite ongoing efforts by lenders to help borrowers manage their payments by modifying loan terms, working out long-term repayment plans and other actions
''You have more people going into default and a higher percentage of the properties going back to the banks,'' said Rick Sharga, RealtyTrac's vice president of marketing.
The U.S. foreclosure rate last month was one filing for every 534 homes.
The Cape Coral-Fort Myers had the highest foreclosure rate of any metro area in the nation, with one of every 86 homes in some stage of foreclosure, said RealtyTrac Inc.
Stockton, Calif., was ranked second, with one of every 97 homes involved in a foreclosure filing, while the Riverside-San Bernardino metro area in Southern California had the third-highest foreclosure rate with filings for one of every 101 properties.
January's tally represented an 8 percent hike from December.
RealtyTrac follows default notices, auction sale notices and bank repossessions. Lenders typically consider borrowers delinquent after they fall three months behind on mortgage payments.
Attempts to help struggling home owners have fallen short.
''The loan workout modification programs aren't having a significant material effect on keeping properties from going back to the banks,'' Sharga said.
One dramatic trend last month was a 90 percent spike in the number of properties that were repossessed by banks, compared to January 2007.
''It suggests that there's little or no equity in a lot of these homes, because they're not even being sold to investors at auctions, and it suggests a continuing weakness in a lot of markets in terms of real estate sales,'' Sharga said.
Falling home values and tighter lending standards have extended the housing slump, making it tougher for homeowners unable to sell their homes or refinance when they face mortgage payments they can't afford.
A wave of adjustable rate mortgage resets expected in May and June threatens to push many other homeowners into default.
During the past year, 30 states saw an increase in the number of homes that had received at least one filing.
Nevada led the nation, with 6,087 properties receiving at least one filing, up 95 percent from a year earlier but down 45 percent from December, the firm said.
That translates to a rate of about one foreclosure for every 167 households.
The top 10 states with the highest foreclosure rates were California, Florida, Arizona, Colorado, Massachusetts, Georgia, Connecticut, Ohio and Michigan.
California had 57,158 properties reporting at least one filing, the most of any state. The total increased 120 percent from a year ago and 7 percent from December.
Florida had 30,178 homes on the foreclosure track, up about 158 percent from a year earlier -- though down 3 percent versus December, RealtyTrac said.