Washington's rank in 2007 improved from 2006 despite a 28% jump in foreclosure filings.

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Washington was close to the middle of the pack in foreclosure activity last year, with 0.57 percent of all owners in some stage of losing their home, a national foreclosure data firm reported today.

The state ranked 21st in the nation in foreclosure filings, just ahead of neighboring Oregon. That’s an improvement over Washington’s 18th position in 2006, according to RealtyTrac, of Irvine, Calif.

Washington had a total of 23,705 filings last year on 15,184 properties. That was a 28 percent increase over 2006 but not as large as in other states, which is why Washington’s ranking improved.

In the Puget Sound area, King County reported the most foreclosure filings and Snohomish County the fewest.

Pierce County had the largest rise in activity, with 43 percent more foreclosure actions last year than in 2006.

Foreclosure can generate multiple legal actions on a property. Because homeowners are given months to make good on delinquent mortgage payments, many foreclosure actions are canceled.

RealtyTrac does not report cancellations, so it’s unknown how many owners were able to save their homes.

Still, the level of foreclosure action is viewed as a barometer of the housing market’s general health.

Nationally, foreclosure activity was up 75 percent in 2007, compared with a year earlier. That represents more than 2 million foreclosure filings on 1,285,873 properties.

The states with the highest foreclosure rates generally are the ones that saw a fast run-up in home values, such as Nevada and Florida, where many speculators walked away from properties when housing sales stalled.

Those two states ranked first and second for foreclosure action.

Also ranking high were states, such as third-ranked Michigan, that had sluggish economies and job losses.

The subprime-mortgage crisis also was a factor, although how many foreclosures were a direct result of that issue is unknown.

Before lenders stopped offering them, subprime loans generally went to less financially stable borrowers and included interest-rate resets that all but guaranteed mortgage payments would rise.

Other states rounding out the top five in 2007 were California and Colorado.

South Dakota, Vermont, Maine, West Virginia and North Dakota had the fewest foreclosure filings.

Foreclosure action increased as 2007 ended, which may be an indication of worse to come, according to James Saccacio, RealtyTrac’s chief executive.

“The year ended with a monthly increase of 7 percent in December, making it the fifth straight month with more than 200,000 foreclosure filings reported and giving the fourth quarter the highest quarterly total we’ve seen since we began issuing our report in January 2005,” Saccacio said in a statement.

He also noted that “some properties may have just entered the initial stage of foreclosure in 2007 and could be going through the rest of the foreclosure process in 2008 — unless lender and government intervention efforts begin to gain more traction.”

Last month, Washington recorded 2,016 foreclosure filings, which was down 18 percent from November but up 60 percent compared with the previous December.

Elizabeth Rhodes: erhodes@seattletimes.com