Foreclosures in California dropped to the lowest level in more than 13 years in 2004, thanks to robust home sales and strong appreciation rates, according to DataQuick, a real estate information service.

Lending institutions sent default notices to 56,125 California homeowners last year. That was down 32.9 percent from 83,600 in 2003, DataQuick reported.

Last year’s default count was the lowest DataQuick has in its statistics, which go back to 1992. Default activity was the strongest in 1996, when 217,410 homeowners suffered foreclosure.

“There’s always a going to certain level of financial distress out there. People lose jobs, get divorced or have costly medical emergencies even in the best of times. Right now, though, because of increasing home values, virtually everyone can sell or refinance if they’re really in trouble,” said Marshall Prentice, DataQuick president.

“We expect foreclosures to go up this year. It’s likely that appreciation rates will come down somewhat. And also, a lot of last year’s mortgages were higher-risk loans where default rates will be higher,” Prentice said.

While all counties in California saw a decrease in foreclosure activity, the decline was strongest in Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties, according to DataQuick.

DataQuick is a subsidiary of Vancouver-based MacDonald Dettwiler and Associates.

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