Sonoma County home foreclosures drop to 6-year low

Sonoma County home foreclosures fell this spring to their lowest level in six years, a drop attributed partly to new state rules and to rising home prices.

County homeowners lost 128 homes to foreclosure in the second quarter, according to San Diego-based information service DataQuick. That was the lowest number since 94 foreclosures were recorded in the first quarter of 2007.

The number of homes entering the foreclosure process rose this spring, but it still amounted to the second-lowest total for any quarter in nearly seven years.

In the second quarter, county homeowners received 286 default notices, the first official step in the foreclosure process. That total compared with 194 in the first quarter and 680 a year ago.

For January through June, the county has recorded 480 default notices, the lowest total since 359 occurred in the first half of 2006.

Real estate agents suggested the big wave of foreclosures has finally subsided.

"It will probably just get smaller and smaller," said James Madison, an agent with Coldwell Banker in Santa Rosa who specializes in foreclosure resales.

Lenders, he said, are trying to do more loan modifications rather than use the foreclosure process. Rising home prices have encouraged that approach, as have new laws protecting those at risk of foreclosure.

Mortgage defaults plummeted statewide early this year when a package of new foreclosure laws known as the "Homeowner Bill of Rights" took effect in California. Analysts said foreclosure activity in different states similarly has dropped for brief periods while the lending industry took time to adjust to new rules.

But the drop in foreclosure activity also appears tied partly to rising sales prices. In Sonoma County, the median price for a single-family home reached $439,000 in June, an increase of 26.2 percent from a year earlier.

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