New California foreclosure filings tumbled during the third quarter, as a stronger economy continued to heal the housing market.
Notices of default fell 21.1% from the second quarter and 58.6% from the same period last year, research firm DataQuick said Tuesday. Completed foreclosures dropped sharply as well, reaching the lowest level since the fourth quarter of 2006.
Lenders filed 20,314 default notices from July to September, the lowest amount since the first quarter of this year when a new series of state laws — known as the Homeowner Bill of Rights — went into effect. The laws restrict how banks conduct foreclosures within the state.
Foreclosure starts peaked during the first three months of 2009 at 135,431. The crisis — which wreaked havoc on families, neighborhoods and the economy — has now greatly subsided.
Sharply rising home values this year lifted many Californians from their negative equity positions — meaning they no longer owe more on their mortgages than their homes are worth. That has helped reduce the number of homeowners vulnerable to foreclosure, DataQuick said, allowing them to more easily sell their homes or refinance if they get into financial trouble.
The state's median home price rose to $360,000 in the third quarter, up 26.3% from a year earlier.
"Cleanup of the foreclosure mess is ongoing, but it's difficult to imagine a huge new wave," DataQuick President John Walsh said in a statement, noting higher housing prices, an improved job market and the government efforts to stem foreclosures.
DataQuick said foreclosure activity plummeted temporarily after stricter laws went into effect. Indeed, after plunging in the first quarter this year, notices of default jumped 39% a quarter later.
But foreclosure starts started to decline again in the third quarter. Excluding the first quarter, notices of default in the third quarter were the lowest since the first three months of 2006.
Default notices remain more prevalent in the state's least expensive neighborhoods, where subprime lending was prevalent. ZIP codes with a median price below $200,000 recorded an average of 3.4 default notices for every 1,000 homes. For ZIP codes with medians of $200,000 to $800,000, an average of 2.2 foreclosure starts were filed. The ratio fell to 0.9 for ZIP codes priced above $800,000.
Loans were more likely to enter default in Riverside, San Bernardino, San Joaquin, Kings and Yuba counties. Loans were least likely to default in San Francisco, Santa Clara, San Mateo, Marin and San Luis Obispo counties.
In Los Angeles County, new foreclosure filings dropped 20.5% from the second quarter, while completed foreclosures fell 21.5%.
Homeowners getting into financial trouble now are mostly those who purchased a house during last decade's boom, when lending standards were much weaker. Most loans entering default were taken out from 2005 to 2007, with the median origination quarter for those loans being the fourth quarter of 2006.