The number of Sonoma County homeowners entering the formal foreclosure process has dropped to its lowest level in nearly five years.
DataQuick, A San Diego-based real estate information service, reports that 698 county homeowners received notices of default in the first quarter of the year. That is down 19 percent from a year earlier and amounts to the lowest total for any quarter since 462 notices were filed in the second quarter of 2007.
The number of homeowners who actually lost their homes to foreclosure in the quarter fell to 397, down nearly 24 percent from a year earlier.
The 12-month period ending March 31 had a total of 1,776 foreclosures. That is the lowest for any similar period since the first quarter of 2008, when 1,200 foreclosures occurred.
Real estate agents both in the county and around the state have questioned whether the falling numbers signal an improvement in housing or simply a delay by banks in taking back delinquent properties.
DataQuick analysts attributed the decline to an improving economy and real estate market, as well as to bank and government policies that increasingly favor short sales over foreclosures. Short sales are transactions where the price is less than the amount owed on the mortgage.
“There’s no doubt that housing, especially negative equity, is one of the biggest drags on a struggling economy, but it’s not necessarily playing out the way some pundits thought,” said DataQuick President John Walsh.
For example, he said, the so-called shadow inventory of homes on track for distressed sales “has yet to result in a second huge wave of foreclosures.”
For California, the number of homes receiving notices of default also fell to its lowest level in almost five years. The first-quarter total of 56,258 notices was down nearly 18 percent from a year earlier.
Trustees Deeds, which record the actual loss of a home to foreclosure, totaled 30,261, down nearly 30 percent from a year earlier.
— Robert Digitale.