Sonoma County home foreclosures plunged 50 percent in the first half of 2014, falling to their lowest level in eight years, according to a report issued Thursday.

Property owners in Sonoma County lost 141 homes to foreclosure in the first six months of the year, according to real estate information service DataQuick. That included 71 homes in the first quarter and 70 in the second.

In the second quarter, the number of county homes entering the foreclosure process fell to its lowest level in nine years. DataQuick reported that lenders recorded 169 notices of default, the first formal step in foreclosure proceedings.

Mortgage defaults declined 40.9 percent from a year earlier and were the lowest for the same period since 132 default notices were filed in the second quarter of 2005. That was a time when home prices were approaching record-high levels.

“The overall trend is that homeowner distress continues to decline because of a stronger economy and rising home prices,” DataQuick analyst John Karevoll said in a statement.

For California, foreclosures fell 24.9 percent in the second quarter to 7,392 homes. Mortgage defaults declined 31.9 percent to 17,524.

Foreclosures peaked in Sonoma County in 2008 when more than 2,800 property owners had homes sold at auction or taken back by lenders. In the past seven years, more than 15,000 homeowners lost properties to foreclosures and short sales, the latter a transaction where the price is less than the amount owed on the mortgage.

Despite improvements in the housing market, 16 percent of state homeowners with a mortgage still owe more on their homes than their current values, said Madeline Schnapp, director of economic research for PropertyRadar, a Truckee company that tracks foreclosure and property data. Historically the level of “underwater” homeowners has hovered typically between 2 and 5 percent.

“That’s still an extraordinarily high number,” Schnapp said.

James Madison, a Santa Rosa real estate agent who specializes in foreclosures, said this year he has already sold 25 bank-owned foreclosures, a pace approaching the 60 such properties he sold in all of 2013.

Even so, Madison, an agent for Coldwell Banker, said by next year he may need to expand his business to include more than foreclosures.

“It’s just going to keep getting slower and slower,” he said.

You can reach Staff Writer Robert Digitale at 521-5285 or