After sitting on ice for most of the past year as banks worked through paperwork issues, foreclosure filings are slowly starting to simmer again. But rather than boil over across the country, the saw-toothed reemergence of filings is appearing in fits and starts that depend on when a given state—or a given lender—decides to push a batch of filings through.

In September, filings declined by 6% on a monthly basis, according to RealtyTrac data, after gaining in August on a surge of default notices that warned of pain to come. But despite filing declines in both July and September, foreclosure filings managed to inch up in the third quarter compared to the previous quarter, although only by a marginal gain of less than 1%.

However, a few states bucked the national trend with significant quarterly increases in REOs. Massachusetts and Oregon recorded quarter-over-quarter increases of 62% and 47%, respectively. Georgia also made a showing with a quarterly REO increase of 42%, and Illinois registered a 27% jump in REO activity.

Hot Spots In addition to the usual suspects for high foreclosure rates, states such as Massachusetts and Oregon had steep increases in activity as paperwork issues were resolved and courts pushed filings through.

The trend hints that the coming months will look something akin to a giant game of Whack-A-Mole, as different areas pop up on the charts at sporadic intervals as lenders, state courts, and paperwork issues align to push filings through.

When that alignment will happen for a given area is "really hard to predict," says Daren Blomquist, a spokesperson for RealtyTrac. "What is a sure thing is that this pattern will continue in terms of numbers ramping back up—probably never to the levels we saw in 2010, but these false lows we’ve been seeing … aren’t going to stay."

From March 2009 to October 2010, the nation registered more than 300,000 filings every month. Between November 2010 and September of this year, the average has been 233,000 filings per month. Going forward, Blomquist estimates that "we’re probably getting back to around the mid- to high-200,000s per month for the next six months."

That’s not to say the ramp up is necessarily going to happen quickly. According to RealtyTrac’s data, the average time it took both to process a foreclosure and to sell a foreclosure hit record highs in the third quarter, with processing averaging 336 days and completing a sale averaging 318 days.

When broken down by the type of foreclosure activity, default notices were down 10% in September after August’s surge. With 70,710 default notices filed during the month, the rate was down 31% from September 2010. On a quarterly basis, default notices were up 14%, although still down 27% from the third quarter of 2010.

Foreclosure auctions were down 6% on both a monthly and quarterly basis, and were down 45% from September of last year and 41% lower compared to the third quarter of 2010. In September, 79,098 foreclosure auctions were scheduled for the first time.

Lenders foreclosed on a total of 65,047 properties in September, an uptick of less than 1% from August but 36% lower than the previously year. On a quarterly basis, REOs were down 4% and stood 32% lower than they had during the same quarter of 2010.

"While foreclosure activity in September and the third quarter continued to register well below levels from a year ago, there is evidence that this temporary downward trend is about to change direction, with foreclosure activity slowly beginning to ramp back up," said RealtyTrac CEO James Saccacio in a release discussing the numbers today. "Lenders are cautiously throwing more wood into the foreclosure fireplace after months spent trying to clear the chimney of sloppily filed foreclosures."

Claire Easley is a senior editor at Builder.

Learn more about markets featured in this article: Greenville, SC.