Lenders sent California homeowners the highest number of mortgage default notices in more than a decade during the second quarter, the result of flat or falling prices, anemic sales and a market struggling with the excesses of the 2004-2005 home-buying frenzy, a real estate information service reported.

Lenders filed 53,943 notices of default (NoDs) during the April-through-June period, up 15.4 percent from 46,760 for the previous quarter, and up 158 percent from 20,909 for second-quarter 2006, according to DataQuick Information Systems of La Jolla.

Last quarter’s default level was the highest since 54,045 NoDs were recorded statewide in fourth-quarter 1996, DataQuick reported. By contrast, defaults peaked in first-quarter 1996 at 61,541 and reached a low of 12,417 in third-quarter 2004. An average of 34,172 NoDs have been filed quarterly since 1992, when DataQuick’s NoD statistics begin.

“A lot of the loans that went bad last quarter were made at or just beyond the cycle’s peak, between summer ’05 and summer ’06. Appreciation rates for most of that period were in the double digits and lenders let many households stretch their finances to the max, and beyond,” DataQuick President Marshall Prentice said in a statement. “It’s that pool of ‘beyond’ mortgages that the market is working its way through.”

Most of the loans that went into default last quarter had a median age of 16 months. While total loan originations peaked in August 2005, the use of adjustable-rate mortgages for primary purchase home loans peaked at 77.8 percent in May 2005 and has since fallen.

Because a residence may be financed with multiple loans, last quarter’s 53,943 default notices were recorded on 50,901 different residences.

On primary mortgages statewide, homeowners were a median five months behind on their payments when the lender started the default process. The borrowers owed a median $11,126 on a median $342,000 mortgage.

On lines of credit, homeowners were a median eight months behind on their payments, according to DataQuick. Borrowers owed a median $3,457 on a median $67,121 credit line. However the amount of the credit line that was actually in use cannot be determined from public records.

The default numbers reflect wide regional differences. The second-quarter numbers were a record in Riverside, Contra Costa, Sacramento and most Central Valley counties. In Los Angeles County it was still less than half the first-quarter 1996 peak, reflecting the depth of the recession in the mid-1990s, as well as the relative strength of today’s housing market.

On a loan-by-loan basis, mortgages were least likely to go into default in Marin, San Francisco and San Mateo counties. The likelihood was highest in San Joaquin, Merced and Riverside counties.

The median price paid for a California home purchased between July 2005 and August 2006 was $460,000. Of those homes, the median price paid for those that went into default last quarter was $445,500, mostly because of low default rates at the high end.

Roughly half, 54.6 percent, of the homeowners in default emerge from the foreclosure process by bringing their payments current, refinancing, or selling the home and paying off what they owe. A year ago it was 88 percent. The increased portion of homes lost to foreclosure reflects the slow real estate market, as well as the number of homes bought during the height of the market with multiple-loan financing. In selling a home, all loans must be paid off, which is not the case in the formal foreclosure process, where second mortgages and lines of credit are most often written off.

The number of trustee’s deeds recorded, or the actual loss of a home to foreclosure, hit a high of 17,408 during the second quarter, according to DataQuick’s statistics, which go back to 1988. Last quarter was up 57.8 percent from 11,032 for the previous quarter and up 799.2 percent from 1,936 for last year’s second quarter. The prior peak of foreclosure sales was 15,418 in third-quarter 1996, while the low was 637 in the second quarter of 2005.

While foreclosures tugged property values down by almost 10 percent in some areas 11 years ago, their effect in most markets today is still negligible. However, the continued rise in NoDs means that the number of homes lost to foreclosure will continue to increase in the second half of this year. Foreclosure levels are already high in certain Inland Empire and Central Valley markets, where the worst-hit neighborhoods might already be seeing property values eroded somewhat by foreclosures, DataQuick reported.

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