Foreclosures in county drop to seven-year low

Foreclosure activity in Sonoma County has fallen to pre-housing-crash levels, as government actions and a rebound in prices have sharply lowered the number of homes taken back by banks or sold at auctions.

The county recorded 82 homes lost to foreclosure in the third quarter, according to San Diego-based information service DataQuick. That was the lowest number since 49 foreclosures occurred in the fourth quarter of 2006 — months before the county's median home sales price began a decline of 50 percent.

The number of homes entering foreclosure also is back to levels from seven years ago.

In the third quarter, the county recorded 199 notices of default, the first step in the foreclosure process. Excluding this year's first quarter, that figure was lower than for any other period going back to early 2006.

"What I've seen is the foreclosure market in our area has completely dropped off," said Terriann McGowan, the broker/owner of Admiral Real Estate in Rohnert Park and a specialist in distressed properties.

Foreclosures in the county peaked five years ago during the midst of an unprecedented housing market crash. In the third quarter of 2008, 933 county homes were lost at foreclosure auctions or taken back by banks. The year ended with a total of 2,800 foreclosures.

In contrast, for the first nine months of this year, the county has recorded 364 foreclosures.

Since 2007, a total of 11,000 county homeowners have lost houses and condominiums in foreclosures — roughly 1 in every 10 homes with a mortgage.

An additional 4,000 homes were lost through short sales, which occur when the bank allows the sale for less than the amount owed on the mortgage.

Experts attribute this year's slowdown partly to such government interventions as a state law that took Jan. 1 — the Homeowner Bill of Rights.

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