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Sonoma County foreclosures in 2013 dropped to their lowest level in seven years.

County homeowners lost 449 properties at foreclosure auctions last year, according to real estate information service DataQuick. The figure declined 63 percent from 1,228 foreclosures in 2012.

DataQuick reported significant declines in the fourth quarter for homes lost at auction and for notices of default, the first step in the foreclosure process.

“Some of this decline in foreclosure starts stems from the use of various foreclosure prevention efforts — short sales, loan modifications and the ability of some underwater homeowners to refinance,” said DataQuick President John Walsh. “But most of the drop is because of the improving economy and the increase in home values.”

“Fewer people are behind on their mortgage payments,” Walsh said. “And of those who do get into trouble, many, if not most, can sell and pay off what they owe.”

Foreclosures peaked in the county in 2008. Homeowners lost a record 2,820 houses and condominiums that year.

Since 2007, the county has recorded more than 11,000 foreclosures — greater than one in every 10 homes here with a mortgage.

For the fourth quarter, the county recorded 85 trustees deeds, which document the loss of a home to foreclosure. That was a decrease of 68.4 percent from a year earlier.

Lenders filed 181 notices of default in the county, a decrease of 60 percent.

For the state, fourth quarter foreclosures declined 61.2 percent from a year earlier to 8,205. Notices of default fell 52.6 percent to 18,120.

Walsh maintained that homeowners now are less willing to surrender their homes to foreclosure because housing prices have risen significantly in the past year.

“There’s a strong incentive to hang on,” he said.

— Robert Digitale

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