Foreclosures statewide increased sharply in the first quarter of 2012, a trend especially apparent -- but not yet worrisome, according to local real estate experts -- in Beaufort County.
The number of lender-owned real estate properties rose nearly 40 percent statewide in the first quarter of 2012 over the final three months of 2011, according to California-based real estate research firm RealtyTrac.
Edward Dukes, broker-in-charge of Lowcountry Real Estate in Beaufort, agreed with some analysts who attributed the spike in part to the lingering robo-signing scandal.
Beginning in late 2010, banks had to halt thousands of foreclosure proceedings nationwide when it became known that related filings were being signed without being adequately reviewed, creating a backlog from which Dukes thinks the county has yet to fully emerge.
His business partner, John Trask, speculated that some banks delayed disclosing foreclosures.
"They may have delayed some of these foreclosures so as not to pile it up on one year," he said. "Or maybe they were just in the Christmas spirit," he joked.
Trask cautioned against reading too much into the statistics, given the relatively brief period of time from which they were obtained and the scope of the economic recession that devastated the real estate business.
"There's a lot of inventory still to shake out, and it's a process that's going to take time," he said. "There will be peaks and valleys, and I'm guessing that's what this is."
Beaufort County wasn't the only part of the Palmetto State affected by the trend.
Myrtle Beach's foreclosures increased 95 percent from a year ago, Greenville's rose 15 percent and Charleston's climbed 8.5 percent.
Nationally, results were mixed.
Foreclosures rose in more than half of the nation's 212 major metropolitan areas from the previous quarter. But most of the areas showed an improvement from a year ago.
But John Robinson, president of the Hilton Head Realtors Association, said despite the rising rate of foreclosures, the local real estate market is much healthier than at this time a year ago.
"We've made huge strides," he said. "At the end of 2010, there were about 20 months of inventory backed up locally. Now there are only about 13. We're definitely moving in the right direction."
Roddie Burris of the (Columbia) State contributed to this report.