Long Island foreclosure figures are attributed in part to stricter...

Long Island foreclosure figures are attributed in part to stricter state rules and lingering effects from Sandy. Above, a home in foreclosure on West 11th Street in Huntington Station. Credit: Ed Betz

Long Island's share of homes in foreclosure fell last month.

Of all local homes with mortgages, 6.3 percent were in foreclosure in December, down 0.5 percentage points from a year before, according to a report released Wednesday by Core-Logic, a real estate data firm in Irvine, Calif.

But while Long Island homeowners' distress has eased a bit, the foreclosure crisis remains more severe here than it is nationwide. Across the country, 2.1 percent of homes with mortgages were in foreclosure last month, a year-over-year decline of 0.8 percentage points.

The region's recovery lags the nation's because of New York's strict rules on foreclosures, said Michael Kenduck, co-owner of Century 21 American Homes in Syosset. The court rules "were a good deed gone bad," protecting homeowners from improper foreclosures, but also slowing the process and creating a huge backlog, he said.

In areas without those protections, he said, "the Band-Aid got ripped off."

Looking at 2013 as a whole, the number of Long Island homes sold at auction or taken back by banks -- 663 -- declined by 18 percent compared to the previous year, CoreLogic reported.

Nationally, 620,111 homes were auctioned off or repossessed in 2013, down 24 percent from the previous year.

Kenduck said he saw more repossessed homes entering the market late last year, and lenders approved more short sales, in which a home is sold for less than the outstanding mortgage. "Banks are streamlining the process much more than they have in years past," he said.

That, plus rising home prices, should help clear out the backlog, Kenduck said. The Island's median home price, excluding the East End, was $360,000 in the fourth quarter of 2013, up 2.9 percent from a year before, according to a report last week by the appraisal firm Miller Samuel and the brokerage Douglas Elliman.

By one measure -- the number of attendees at foreclosure legal clinics -- the crisis does not appear to be easing, said Gale Berg, director of pro bono attorney activities at the Nassau County Bar Association. The group's twice-monthly clinics typically attracted 50 to 60 homeowners, unchanged throughout 2013, Berg said. The next clinic will take place Feb. 10.

The volunteer attorneys see growing numbers of Sandy victims, she said. Homeowners hit by the Oct. 29, 2012, storm "used their money for rebuilding," or for temporary housing, Berg said.

"Sandy is continuing to take its toll on residents," she said.

Last month on Long Island, 9.9 percent of outstanding mortgage loans were rated by lenders as "seriously delinquent," or at least 90 days past due, according to CoreLogic. That's down 0.9 percentage points from a year before.

By contrast, 5 percent of loans nationwide were seriously delinquent last month, a year-over-year decline of 1.4 percentage points.

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