ANNAPOLIS - Foreclosures in Maryland fell nearly 60 percent in the fourth quarter of 2010 compared to the previous quarter, but state officials said Tuesday they expect a "significant" uptick in the first three months of 2011.

The decline is due largely to banks' decisions to stall foreclosures nationally, after it was discovered that many of them were improperly signing off on foreclosures, according to Maryland Housing Secretary Raymond Skinner.

"We expect to see an uptick [in foreclosures] — a significant uptick — as we go forward into the first quarter of 2011," Skinner told the House Environmental Matters Committee on Tuesday. The state saw nearly 6,000 foreclosures in the last three months of 2010, compared with more than 14,000 foreclosures in the third quarter.

Maryland now ranks 15th in the nation for its 2010 foreclosure rate, Skinner noted.