LOS ANGELES – The number of U.S. homes taken back by lenders dropped to the lowest level in 18 months in November, the result of foreclosure freezes enacted by several banks following allegations that evictions were handled improperly.

Home repossessions dropped 28 percent from October and 12 percent from November last year, the foreclosure listing firm RealtyTrac Inc. said Thursday.

Lenders took back 67,428 homes last month, the fewest since May 2009. But even with the decline, it was enough to push the total number of repossessions so far this year to more than 980,000 — the highest annual tally of properties lost to foreclosure on RealtyTrac’s records dating back to 2005.

“It’s almost impossible to imagine that we won’t break a million” for the year, said Rick Sharga, a senior vice president at RealtyTrac. “Unfortunately, it’s a record that we’ll probably break again next year.”

Banks had been on pace to take back up to 1.2 million homes this year before problems with foreclosure documents surfaced in late September.

Several lenders responded to heightened scrutiny over the foreclosure process by temporarily ceasing action against borrowers severely behind in payments while the lenders checked to see if their employees made errors in loan documents.

Some banks later announced plans to resume foreclosures, though at a more measured pace, in an attempt to ensure there aren’t any flaws in the process.

Lenders’ initial freeze and slow resumption in foreclosure activity likely caused the sharp decline in foreclosure-related notices sent to households last month. And it’s likely to cause another drop in December, Sharga said.

But activity will likely pick up in the new year.

“In the first quarter, we really anticipate seeing a pretty rapid acceleration of foreclosure proceedings as everybody catches up,” Sharga said.

Banks’ document problems aside, many of the factors that have contributed to the foreclosure crisis are likely to be present next year and should continue to drive foreclosures.

Among them: high unemployment, a weak housing market, flat-to-falling home values and tighter lending standards that make it tougher for buyers to qualify for financing.