Foreclosure activity in the first half of 2012 increased from the previous six months in more than half of the nation’s 212 metropolitan areas with a population of 200,000 or more, RealtyTrac reported.

California accounted for seven of the 10 highest metro foreclosure rates and 10 of the top 20 metro foreclosure rates during the first half of the year. Florida accounted for four of the top 20 metro foreclosure rates, and Illinois had two of the top 20. Georgia, Arizona, Nevada and Colorado each had one city in the top 20.

RealtyTrac CEO Brandon Moore called the rise in foreclosure starts “welcome news” for buyers and brokers because it will lead to more short sales and sales by bank-owned properties. Housing experts say that the faster those properties get sold, the faster the housing market will return to normal.

Nationwide, filings ticked up during the first half of 2012, rising 2% compared with the previous six months, but were 11% lower than the first half of 2011, RealtyTrac reported July 12.

The slight rise in initial filings is less a matter of newly delinquent loans than simply banks working through backlog and legal issues, said Daren Blomquist, vice president at RealtyTrac.

“More properties are starting the process, but at the same time not as many are making it to the end, largely because of short sales stepping in and siphoning off many of those troubled properties,” Blomquist said. He anticipates that trend will continue at least through the end of the year.