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Foreclosure activity in Sonoma County remains at levels last seen in the years before the housing bubble burst.

County homeowners lost 71 residential properties in the first quarter of 2014, according to real estate information service DataQuick. That was a decrease of 53.9 percent from a year earlier and represented the lowest number for the first quarter since 2006.

Notices of defaults, the first step in the official foreclosure process, did increase 12.4 percent in the first quarter from a year ago.

However, experts suggested that a similar statewide trend was due to an anomaly surrounding a new state law known as the Homeowner Bill of Rights. When the law took effect in January 2013, lenders and their servicing companies issued far fewer notices of defaults for the next few months.

“You had a fairly dramatic drop-off in the first couple of months of the year,” said Madeline Schnapp, director of Economic Research for PropertyRadar, a Truckee company that tracks foreclosure and property data.

With the exception of 2013, the new DataQuick figures on notices of default in the county are the lowest for the first quarter since 2006.

Current foreclosure activity may be less a measure of economic distress than of the workload capacity of foreclosure processors, DataQuick analyst John Karevoll said in a statement.

The processors still appear to be dealing with a large volume of toxic subprime mortgages from 2006 and “may well be just working their way through a backlog,” Karevoll said.

Foreclosures peaked in the county in 2008 amid a dramatic plunge in housing prices. That year, homeowners lost a record 2,820 houses and condominiums, compared to 449 last year.

Despite the drop in activity, the losses have been historic.

Since 2007, Sonoma County has recorded more than 11,000 foreclosures. That amounts to more than one in 10 homes with a mortgage.

— Robert Digitale

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