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Q1 California Foreclosure Starts Lowest Since Late 2005

The number of California homeowners entering the foreclosure process plunged to the lowest level in more than seven years last quarter. The unusually sharp drop in the number of mortgage default notices filed by lenders stems mainly from rising home values, a strengthening economy and government efforts to reduce foreclosures, a real estate information service reported.

During first-quarter 2013 lenders recorded 18,567 Notices of Default (NoDs) on California houses and condos. That was down 51.4 percent from 38,212 during the prior three months, and down 67.0 percent from 56,258 in first-quarter 2012, according to San Diego-based DataQuick.

Last quarter's number was the lowest since 15,337 NoDs were recorded in fourth-quarter 2005. NoDs peaked in first-quarter 2009 at 135,431. DataQuick's NoD statistics go back to 1992.

"Foreclosure starts were already trending much lower late last year because of rising home prices, a stronger labor market and the settlement agreement between the government and some lenders. But it appears last quarter's drop was especially sharp because of a package of new state foreclosure laws - the 'Homeowner Bill of Rights' - that took effect January 1. Default notices fell off a cliff in January, then edged up. In recent years we've seen temporary lulls in foreclosure activity after new laws kick in and lenders adjust. It's certainly possible foreclosure starts will pick up at some point this year if lenders need to play a lot of catch-up," said John Walsh, DataQuick president.

Lenders' shift toward short sales as a foreclosure alternative has helped lower foreclosure activity in recent years. Short sales - transactions where the sale price fell short of what was owed on the property - made up an estimated 20.2 percent of the state's resale market last quarter. That was down from an estimated 24.2 percent the prior quarter and 24.8 percent a year earlier. However, the estimated number (rather than percentage) of short sales last quarter dipped just 1.5 percent from first-quarter 2012.

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