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Foreclosure activity in Sonoma County has fallen to pre-housing crash levels, as a rebound in home prices and government actions sharply lowered the number of residents losing their homes.

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.

“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.

The number of homes entering foreclosure also is back to levels of 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.

Foreclosures peaked in the county five years ago.

In the third quarter of 2008, 933 homes were lost at auctions or taken back by banks. The year ended with 2,800 foreclosures.

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

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

In California, experts attribute this year’s slowdown partly to such government interventions as a new state law that took Jan. 1 — the Homeowner Bill of Rights.

They also point to settlements between the nation’s largest banks and state officials aimed at decreasing foreclosures. More than 2,000 county homeowners received reductions in their loan balances or were allowed to walk away from their mortgages in short sales under a 2012 mortgage settlement that wiped out $272 million in housing debt.

“Lots of legal, regulatory and political hurdles popped up, slowing the foreclosure rate,” said John Walsh, DataQuick president. “Then the economy stabilized and home prices started rising.”

Lenders statewide filed 20,314 notices of default in the third quarter, a decrease of 58.6 percent from a year earlier, according to DataQuick.

Trustees deeds, the final loss of a home to foreclosure, totaled 8,030 statewide last quarter. That was the lowest amount for any quarter since the fourth quarter of 2006.

– Robert Digitale

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