Second-quarter California foreclosure activity rose at the fastest pace in at least 14 years, according to DataQuick Information Systems, a real estate research company.

Lenders sent 20,752 default notices to homeowners statewide during the April-through-June period. That was up 10.5 percent from 18,778 the previous quarter and up 67.2 percent from 12,408 in the second quarter of last year, DataQuick reported. Last quarter’s year-over-year increase was the highest for any quarter since DataQuick began tracking defaults in 1992.

Despite this “second-quarter surge,” defaults remained below historically normal levels, DataQuick noted. On average, lenders filed 32,762 notices of default in each quarter over the past 14 years. Last quarter’s 20,752 total was the highest since 25,511 were filed in first-quarter 2003.

Notices of default are formal documents filed with the county recorder’s office and mark the first step in the foreclosure process.

“This is an important trend to watch but doesn’t strike us as ominous,” said Marshall Prentice, DataQuick’s president, in a statement. “The increase was a statistical certainty because the number of defaults had fallen to such extreme lows. We would have to see defaults roughly double from today’s level before they would begin to impact home values much.”

He added, “We hear a lot of talk about rising payments on adjustable-rate loans triggering borrower distress. While there’s no doubt some of that is going on, as far as we can tell the spike in defaults is mainly the result of slowing price appreciation. It makes it harder for people behind on their mortgage to sell their homes and pay off the lender.”

The amount of equity owners have in their homes, the type of mortgage and how long the mortgage has been held can also contribute to higher default rates, according to the DataQuick announcement.

Foreclosure activity hit a low during third-quarter 2004, when lenders filed 12,145 default notices. That year California home prices rose at an annual rate exceeding 20 percent. This year annual price gains have slipped into single digits in many of the state’s large housing markets. Median home prices dipped about 1 percent compared to a year ago in San Diego and Sacramento counties, and second-quarter defaults increased about 99 percent in San Diego County and 109 percent in Sacramento County from last year.

Even so, statewide foreclosure activity now amounts to about one-third of the peak level in the first quarter of 1996, when the state was in a housing slump and 59,897 defaults were filed, DataQuick reported.

About 7 percent of homeowners who find themselves in default lose their homes to foreclosure, the company reported — most homeowners stop the process by bringing their mortgage payments current or by selling their home and paying off the home loans.

In Southern California the number of default notices grew from 7,212 in second-quarter 2005 to 12,222 in second-quarter 2006. In the Bay Area the number of default notices grew from 2,123 in second-quarter 2005 to 2,910 in second-quarter 2006, and in Sacramento the number of default notices grew from 2,533 in second-quarter 2005 to 4,689 in second-quarter 2006.

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