Sonoma County has entered the fifth year of the nation’s foreclosure debacle, and each week  about 40 borrowers here continue to lose their homes.
Lenders foreclosed on 519 county homes in the year’s first quarter, according to San Diego-based DataQuick. That represented an increase of 17 percent from the previous quarter and 5 percent from a year ago.
John Duran, president of the North Bay Association of Realtor’s Santa Rosa Chapter, said foreclosure experts declared at a recent statewide conference that the crisis won’t get worse, but “they feel like we’re banging along in the trough.”
With so many homeowners still at risk of losing their homes, “it’s going to be a two- to five-year process to bleed all these properties into the market,” said Duran, a broker with Frank Howard Allen.
The county’s real estate market saw foreclosures soar in 2007. That year borrowers lost 756 homes, compared to about 50 annually during the previous seven years.
The worst year was 2008, when a record 2,820 homes were lost at foreclosure auctions. For the last three years, the quarterly number has never dipped below 420.
In the year’s first quarter, the county also recorded 864 default notices, the first step in the foreclosure process. That was down 2 percent from the previous quarter and down 8 percent from a year earlier.
Across California, foreclosures for the first quarter totaled 43,052, up nearly 22 percent from the prior quarter and essentially unchanged from a year ago. The record was 79,511 set in third quarter of 2008.
Default notices totaled 68,239, down 2 percent from the last quarter and down almost 16 percent from a year earlier. It was the lowest number of default notices in almost four years.
“Lenders and servicers have put various temporary holds on foreclosure filings while they work on procedural issues and respond to regulatory and legal challenges,” said John Walsh, DataQuick president. “It’s unclear how much of last quarter’s decline can be attributed to market factors and strategic decisions, and how much can be attributed to the formalities of the foreclosure process.”
By the time the default notice was filed, the typical homeowner already was six months behind on payments and owed almost $16,000 on a loan of more than $320,000.
After filing that notice, lenders on average took 9.1 months to complete the process with the foreclosure auction. That time period compared with 7.5 months a year ago.
“I think the regulatory process is slowing things down,” said Terriann McGowan, broker/owner of Admiral Asset Management in Rohnert Park.
The delays relate both to new laws requiring lenders to give homeowners adequate notice and opportunities to save their homes, as well as state and federal inquiries into allegations that banks failed to adhere to existing rules for processing the foreclosures.
— Robert Digitale