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Default notices up 203 percent

The number of default notices filed against homeowners in California jumped last quarter to its highest level in more than 15 years, a real estate tracking service said Tuesday.

Lenders sent 81,550 default notices during the October-to-December period, up 114.6% from the same period a year ago, according to DataQuick Information Systems.

Merced County reported a 203% increase in filings. Tulare County reported a 91.3% increase, while Kings County had a 139.3% hike. In Fresno County, the number of default notices reached 2,103 -- up 98.6%.

Last quarter's number of defaults was the highest in DataQuick's statistics, which go back to 1992. Default notices serve as an early indicator of possible foreclosures.

"Foreclosure activity is closely tied to a decline in home values. With today's depreciation, an increasing number of homeowners find themselves owing more on a property than its market value, setting the stage for a default. ...," said Marshall Prentice, president of DataQuick.

Most of the loans that went into default were issued between August 2005 and October 2006 and had a median age of 22 months.That indicates the pool of at-risk loans is expanding.

Statewide, a total of 31,676 homes ended up in foreclosure during the quarter ended Dec. 31, marking the highest figure since DataQuick Information Systems began keeping such numbers in 1988.

The total represents a 30.8% increase from the previous quarter and a 421.2% jump from 6,078 foreclosures in the same quarter of 2006, DataQuick said.

The median home price in California peaked at $484,000 last March but had slipped to $402,000 by the end of 2007 as the housing boom went bust. The median amount of the primary home loans in default was $340,000; the median amount homeowners fell behind was $11,121, DataQuick said.

Borrowers who took out home equity loans owed a median of $3,379.

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