California’s foreclosure rate fell in February compared to January but was up from the fourth-quarter 2007 average, research and data company ForeclosureRadar reported Wednesday.

Foreclosure sales at auction in the state fell 15 percent compared to January, with 16,931 sales at a combined loan value of $6.85 billion. Notices of default dropped 7.6 percent to 37,362, and notices of trustee sale (which set the auction date and time) fell 20 percent.

California’s foreclosure rate fell in February compared to January but was up from the fourth-quarter 2007 average, research and data company ForeclosureRadar reported Wednesday.

Foreclosure sales at auction in the state fell 15 percent compared to January, with 16,931 sales at a combined loan value of $6.85 billion. Notices of default dropped 7.6 percent to 37,362, and notices of trustee sale (which set the auction date and time) fell 20 percent.

The rate of defaults rose 26 percent, though, compared to the fourth-quarter 2007 average, and foreclosure sales were up 36 percent.

"February declines are a welcome break from the astonishing increases in December 2007 and January 2008," said Sean O’Toole, ForeclosureRadar founder, in a statement. "Unfortunately, those increases and the continued withdrawal of lending options point to more trouble ahead. Based on current activity levels, we still do not expect foreclosures to peak earlier than the third or fourth quarter of 2008."

National foreclosure data provider RealtyTrac earlier this month reported a 59.8 percent year-over-year rise in U.S. foreclosure filings activity in February. Foreclosure filings activity decreased 4 percent in February compared to the previous month, though the year-over-year rise in activity grew from January to February.

California had the second-highest rate of foreclosure filings in February, with one foreclosure filing for every 242 households. Nevada led the nation with a rate of one foreclosure filing for every 165 households. And California had the highest volume of foreclosure filings among states, with 53,629 total filings in February, RealtyTrac reported.

Lenders took back 98 percent of foreclosure properties at auction, "despite offering substantial discounts," ForeclosureRadar reported.

About 77 percent of foreclosure property sales at auction are discounted by an average amount of 19 percent, with 31 percent of those properties discounted 30 percent or more, the company reported. A year ago, only about 3 percent of properties at auction had an opening bid discount of 30 percent or more.

The company found that 98 percent of the foreclosed loans for which the company had determined loan position were first mortgages, and most of those properties had their second mortgages erased at sale. About 46 percent of foreclosed loans were originated in 2006, with 36 percent originated in 2005, 10 percent originated in 2007 and 5 percent originated in 2004.

Most California counties tracked by ForeclosureRadar had overall foreclosure declines, with some inland counties experiencing continued increases.

ForeclosurePoint, another company focused on real estate foreclosures, this week announced the launch of a new product, BrokerOffice, that allows real estate agents and brokers to integrate foreclosure property searches at their Web sites.

The product provides access to about 1.4 million foreclosure property listings, with addresses, filing dates, estimated opening bids and satellite images, according to the announcement. Agents and brokers can generate buyer leads by displaying the BrokerOffice foreclosure data at their sites.

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