The worst of the foreclosure mess appears over for the Northern San Joaquin Valley, but the region remains marred by widespread mortgage default.
Looking on the bright side, there were significantly fewer foreclosure filings this January, February and March compared with the same months last year.
Notices of default -- the first step of the foreclosure process -- dropped 46 percent in Merced County, 41.6 percent in Stanislaus County, and 43.4 percent in San Joaquin County.
The number of homes lost to foreclosure plunged 33 percent in Merced, 9.7 percent in Stanislaus and 7.3 percent in San Joaquin, according to statistics released Monday by MDA DataQuick.
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But don't start celebrating yet.
The three-county region continues to have the highest percentage of defaulted mortgages in California.
Since 2007 when the region's housing crisis began, nearly 52,500 Merced, Stanislaus and San Joaquin county homes have been lost to foreclosure. That includes about 15.5 percent of all houses and condows in Merced, 12.7 percent in Stanislaus and 13.9 percent in San Joaquin.
"We are seeing signs that the worst may be over in the hard-hit entry- level markets, while problems are slowly spreading to more expensive neighborhoods," said John Walsh, DataQuick's president.
In San Francisco, for example, foreclosures soared 91.1 percent in the first quarter this year compared with last year. But foreclosures remain rare in San Francisco: Only 193 homes were foreclosed during the quarter, or 1 in 579 of the city's homes.
In Stanislaus County, 1,234 homes were lost to foreclosure during the first quarter, or 1 in 113 of the county's homes.
Although the notices of default have declined dramatically in Stanislaus, many homeowners here simply have stopped paying their mortgages. Nearly 16.6 percent of Stanislaus homeowners with mortgages were 90 days or more delinquent on payments this winter, according to First American CoreLogic.
Lenders often wait about three months before serving delinquent homeowners with notices of default. DataQuick calculated it takes an average of 7½ months from that notice to the time a home is foreclosed.
That gives homeowners lots of time to take action to avoid foreclosure.
A free foreclosure prevention workshop will be offered Saturday in Ceres to help homeowners in trouble.
The Alliance for Stabilizing Our Communities "Home Rescue Fair" is scheduled from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Central Valley High School, 4033 Central Ave., Ceres.
Loan specialists, housing counselors, attorneys and translators will provide homeowners counseling, advice and options in multiple languages.
The fair is being organized by El Concilio, with funding from Bank of America. For more information, call El Concilio at 523-2860.
Modesto Bee staff writer J.N. Sbranti can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2196.