NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- While foreclosure rates are easing in some of the hardest-hit cities, the crisis is beginning to expand into new metro areas.
On Wednesday, RealtyTrac released its list of cities with the biggest foreclosure problems during the third quarter. As expected, towns in California, Florida and Nevada dominated the top 10, with Las Vegas taking the top spot with a rate of 1 in 20 homes. That's a 53% increase over the third quarter 2008.
But there was a bright spot: Half of the cities in the top 10 showed year-over-year declines in their foreclosure rates, and 60% showed improvement compared with the second quarter.
For example, second place Merced, Calif., saw foreclosures fall by 11% from last year and 13% from last quarter, to 1 out of every 27 homes. And Stockton, Calif., slipped to No. 4 from No. 2 last quarter. The city, which is 80 miles east of San Francisco, had ranked highest for all of 2008.
"We're not sure if that will be a one-time thing or a true continued trend, but it's one of the first positive signs we've seen," said Rick Sharga, a senior vice president at RealtyTrac.
New hotspots. But if Las Vegas was the big loser, its neighbor, Reno, Nev., was hot on its heels. The No. 9 city posted an 80% gain in foreclosures -- 1 in 37 homes -- compared to the third quarter of last year. And it's just one of several smaller metro areas that are creeping their way up RealtyTrac's foreclosure list.
"Foreclosure activity is spreading from primary cities into secondary areas," said Sharga. "These aren't your LAs and Phoenixes -- it's moving into outlying regions."
Boise, Idaho, cracked the top 20 for the first time as foreclosures jumped 141% -- the largest increase from 2008. Similarly, Provo, Utah, rose 120%.
The pair of cities "are the first two cases where areas with very high unemployment are breaking into the top spots," Sharga said. "That will continue over the next few months."
Outlook. "The fact is, we're still seeing record levels of foreclosure activity," said Sharga, who doesn't expect rates will peak until 2010 because many option-ARMs will reset over the next several months.
Still, the housing market seems to be adjusting, because home prices are stabilizing -- albeit at a lower level, Sharga said.
A record number of properties "are coming down the foreclosure pipeline" as well, Sharga said, and they will be trickling into the housing market over the next four years.