By Elvina Nawaguna
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Foreclosure activity in the United States dropped last month to the lowest level since July 2006, before the housing bubble burst, and likely will continue to drop through the first half of next year, an industry group said on Thursday.
RealtyTrac, which tracks housing market trends, said that 107,194 properties across the country were at some stage of the foreclosure process in June. That marked a 2 percent decline from May and left foreclosure activity, which includes foreclosure notices, scheduled auctions and bank repossessions, 16 percent below the year-ago level.
"Over the next six to nine months, nationwide foreclosure numbers should start to flatline at consistently historically normal levels," RealtyTrac vice president Daren Blomquist said in a statement.
June was the 45th consecutive month foreclosure activity was down on an annual basis.
Declining foreclosures have reduced the supply of properties on the market, pushing home prices up. That, combined with higher mortgage rates, has slowed the recovery of the U.S. housing market.
Lenders reclaimed a total of 26,889 properties in June, down 5 percent from May and the lowest level since June 2007. Repossessions were down 24 percent from a year ago.
Nationwide, 46,743 properties were set for foreclosure auctions, a 13 percent decrease from the last year, bringing scheduled foreclosure auctions to the lowest level since July 2006.
Lenders started the foreclosure process on 47,243 properties in June, down 18 percent from a year ago, and the lowest level since November 2005.
Florida continued to have the nation's highest foreclosure rate, followed by Illinois, New Jersey and Nevada.
The RealtyTrac report also included data for the first half of the year, which showed foreclosure activity decreased in 79 percent of the 212 metropolitan areas during the first half of 2014.
Foreclosure activity for the first six months of the year was down 23 percent from the same period in 2013.
"While it's important that any remaining foreclosure infection is addressed promptly to keep it from festering, foreclosures are no longer a widespread contagion threatening to derail the housing market's return to full health," Blomquist said.
(Reporting by Elvina Nawaguna; Editing by Leslie Adler)