Colorado earned a distinction in March it would rather avoid - the highest ratio of foreclosures in the country.
One out of every 339 homes in the state was in some stage of foreclosure during March, according to RealtyTrac, an online provider of foreclosure listings.
Nationally, only one out of every 1,138 households was in foreclosure during the month.
"We look at foreclosures as a lagging indicator. It usually says something else bad has happened," said Rick Sharga, a vice president at RealtyTrac in Irvine, Calif.
Some of those bad things are evident in Colorado - large job losses, home construction that has outstripped demand and the heavy use of mortgages where payments move higher as interest rates rise.
Colorado suffered heavy job losses in 2002 and 2003, and although job growth has returned, many households still may be struggling to stay current.
Home construction has outrun population growth in some counties, keeping a cap on price gains.
Borrowers here also lead the nation in their reliance on adjustable-rate and interest-only mortgages. Payments on those loans have risen as interest rates have ticked higher.
"We made it easy for people to buy houses and difficult for them to hold onto them," said Tom Clark, an executive vice president with the Metro Denver Economic Development Corp.
Colorado has consistently ranked in the top 10 among states for foreclosures since RealtyTrac launched its market report in January 2005, Sharga said.
A sharp 31 percent rise in foreclosures in March over February pushed the state to the top of the list. In March, there were 101,597 homes in foreclosure nationally - 5,392 in Colorado, according to RealtyTrac.
The national foreclosure number was down in March, as homebuyers came out with the warmer weather and soaked up home inventories.
The weakness in Colorado appears to be concentrated in some of its more populated counties.
One out of 128 homes in Adams County is in foreclosure, nearly nine times the national ratio.
In Arapahoe County, one out of every 161 homes is in foreclosure, seven times the national ratio.
Other counties with heavy foreclosures are Denver, Weld, Larimer, Elbert and El Paso.
Foreclosures, like a funnel cloud, tend to create their own downward spiral once they get started, said Lori Strange, director of planning and resource development at the Adams County Housing Authority in Commerce City.
Lenders who suffer a large number of foreclosures try to recover whatever they can, often underpricing the market, she said.
That further depresses resale prices, making it harder for sellers needing to get out to pay off their mortgages.
That triggers more foreclosures, more pressure on lenders to dump properties and more downward pressure on prices.
Peter Cross, housing administrator with the Arapahoe County Housing Authority, points a finger at mortgage brokers, who are unlicensed in Colorado.
"People are not getting the best information and the best deal for their families," he said.
Cross said he recently counseled a couple who refinanced out of a reasonable fixed-rate traditional mortgage and into a one-year adjustable rate mortgage that they couldn't keep up with.
Borrowers who bet on interest rates staying low on the advice of their mortgage brokers are paying the price for that decision, Cross said.
Sharga said markets with high foreclosures eventually reach a point where buyers find it worth stepping in, especially if the underlying economy is creating jobs.
He recently attended a real estate investment seminar in Los Angeles where the talk wasn't about buying in overvalued California cities but in more distressed markets such as Colorado.