The number of homes in some stage of the foreclosure process has doubled in King, Snohomish and Kitsap counties since 2006, according to RealtyTrac, a national foreclosure-information firm based in Southern California.

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Home foreclosures continue to soar across the country and are picking up speed in the Puget Sound region, despite record-low interest rates, loan-payment assistance programs and other attempts to stem a rising tide of cash-strapped homeowners unable to pay their mortgages.

The number of homes in some stage of the foreclosure process has doubled in King, Snohomish and Kitsap counties since 2006, according to RealtyTrac, a national foreclosure-information firm based in Southern California.

That number nearly tripled in Pierce County, where last month one of every 457 homes was in the foreclosure process.

Washington State University real-estate researcher Glenn Crellin, put it this way: “I am going to presume [the foreclosure rate] is among the worst that we’ve seen.”

Statewide, the number of homes in some stage of the foreclosure process has more than doubled since 2006.

Crellin, director of the Washington Center for Real Estate Research, forecasts more to come, as adjustable-rate mortgages on homes bought at the market’s peak reset to interest rates that might as well be in the stratosphere — as high as 30 percent in some cases, he says.

“That tells me some of those loans are going to move from being current to being delinquent to moving toward foreclosure throughout 2009,” said Crellin.

That said, Washington ranks in the middle of the pack. Nationwide, lenders repossessed more than 860,000 properties in 2008, more than double the 2007 level.

More than 2.3 million homeowners faced foreclosure proceedings last year, up 81 percent from the previous year. Nevada, Florida, Arizona and California led the country.

The number of homes lost to foreclosure likely will rise 18 percent higher this year before tapering off slightly through 2011, according to Moody’s Economy.com, a research firm.

More foreclosures could delay a rebound in home prices, real-estate analysts say, since repossessed homes typically sell at below-market rates.

“It certainly has a ripple effect on the entire real-estate market,” said Daren Blomquist, a spokesman with RealtyTrac. “People who may have to sell are going to be affected. They’re going to be competing against the banks who are selling those foreclosures at pretty deep discounts.”

Locally, the Seattle office of the Federal Housing Administration has seen a record number of customers, nearly half of its clients, refinancing their mortgages to lower their payments, said spokesman Lee Jones.

Just a few years ago, the federally insured mortgages seemed a quaint afterthought compared with the creative credit available.

“Subprimes come out, and everyone decides nothing down, nothing forever is a promise they can believe in,” Jones said.

Through 2008, the FHA insured almost 31,000 mortgages statewide, up from 8,290 in 2005. Last year was its best year ever in Tacoma, Bellingham and Bremerton since the 1930s.

“We have seen of late the financial equivalent of the Titanic going down,” Jones said. “As the mortgage market is going down, a lot of people have been looking for safe boats in the water. One of the safe and strong boats people can swim to is FHA.”

Karen Gaudette: 206-515-5618 or kgaudette@seattletimes.com Material from The Associated Press was included in this report.