Foreclosure activity in California edged up in fourth-quarter 2005, according to DataQuick Information Systems, a real estate information service.

Lending institutions sent 14,999 default notices to California homeowners from October to December, up 19 percent from 12,606 for the third quarter, and up 15.6 percent from 12,978 for fourth-quarter 2004, DataQuick reported.

Foreclosure activity hit a low during the third quarter of 2004, when 12,145 default notices were recorded. Defaults peaked in first-quarter 1996 at 59,897. DataQuick’s default statistics date back to 1992.

“Because of the rise in home values, much of that financial distress has been covered by the increasing amount of equity that people have had in their homes. That equity is now being created at a slower pace, and default activity is inevitably on the rise,” said Marshall Prentice, DataQuick president.

The annual home appreciation rate in the state hit 22.8 percent during the second quarter of 2004, and dropped to 14.5 percent in fourth-quarter 2005. The appreciation rate is expected to fall below 10 percent sometime this summer.

DataQuick, a subsidiary of Vancouver-based MacDonald Dettwiler and Associates, monitors real estate activity nationwide and provides information to consumers, educational institutions, public agencies, lending institutions, title companies and industry analysts. The numbers count recorded notices of default, the first step of the formal foreclosure process.

The median amount owed when the default notice was recorded was $6,862 in fourth-quarter 2005, up from $6,130 for the same period a year ago.

Only about 5 percent of homeowners who find themselves in default actually lose their homes to foreclosure. Most are able to stop the foreclosure process by bringing their mortgage payments current, or by selling their home and paying the home loans off, DataQuick noted.

All regions of the state saw an increase in foreclosure activity, ranging from 10.5 percent in the Bay Area to 19.6 percent in Southern California.

The number of notices of default dropped 48.5 percent in Stanislaus County – from 309 notices in fourth-quarter 2004 to 159 notices in fourth-quarter 2005.

In Southern California, the number of notices jumped from 1,123 to 1,607 (43.1 percent) in Riverside County; from 872 to 1,173 (34.5 percent) in San Diego; from 684 to 918 (34.2 percent) in Orange County.

In Northern California, the number of notices increases from 636 to 849 (31.4 percent) in Sacramento County and from 73 to 106 (45.2 percent) in San Francisco.

On a loan-by-loan basis, mortgages are least likely to go into default in Marin County. The likelihood is highest in the Central Valley and Inland Empire.

“While foreclosure properties tugged property values down by almost 10 percent in some areas nine years ago, the effect on today’s market is negligible,” DataQuick reported.

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