Real Estate and Housing

August 15, 2013

Average House in Silicon Valley now over $1 Million

While it certainly isn’t news to the people who live in Silicon Valley, the price of housing has sky rocketed there, and my have reached a kind of “tipping point” with news that the average price there is now over a million dollars. For the last four months, the average price of a single-family home in Santa Clara Count yhas been more than $1 million, according to rdata from MLS Listings, a service for real estate agents.

Accordning to a report by NBC news, brokers are saying that tech growth is the main driver of demand in Silicon Valley and that most of it comes from executives at Apple, Google and other established companies. Another big factor, however, is growing demand from China. Realtors say wealthy Chinese buyers are pouring into Silicon Valley and buying up multimillion-dollar properties. They say the buyers are increasingly nervous about the Chinese government and economy and are looking for a safe haven.

Silicon Valley now leads the nation in the number of homes sold for $1 million or more, according to Realtytrac. Sales of $1 million-plus have more than doubled in many communities in Silicon Valley this year, toppling even luxury areas like Beverly Hills or Miami.

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August 23, 2008

New York Times covers Central Valley housing meltdown

The New York Times has published a long report covering the housing bust in Merced, California entitled: In the Central Valley, the Ruins of the Housing Bust. They noted that while their is plenty of blame to go around, the situation is pretty desperate:

….hardly anyone in Merced planned very far ahead. Not the city, which enthusiastically approved the creation of dozens of new neighborhoods without pausing to wonder if it could absorb the growth.

Certainly not the developers. They built 4,397 new homes in those neighborhoods, some costing half a million dollars, without asking who in a city of only 80,000 could afford to buy them all.

Obviously not the speculators turned landlords, who thought that they could get San Francisco rents in a working-class agricultural city ranked by the American Lung Association as having some of the worst air in the nation.

And, sadly, not the local folk who moved up and took on more debt than they could afford. They believed — because who was telling them differently? — that the good times would be endless.

“Owning a home is the American dream,” says Jamie Schrole, a Merced real estate agent. “Everybody was just trying to live out their dream.” The belief that this dream could be achieved with no risk, no worry and no money down was at the center of the American romance with real estate in the early years of this decade, and not just in Merced.

How long will the economy have to pay the price for that illusion? The experience of Merced, which rose higher and fell faster than nearly anywhere else, suggests that recovery from the national real estate debacle will be painful and protracted.

In the three years since housing peaked here, the median sales price has fallen by 50 percent. There are thousands of foreclosures on the market. The asking prices on those properties are so low that competitive bidding, a hallmark of the boom, is back.

But almost no homeowner can afford to sell. If you cannot go as low as “the foreclosure price” — the cost of a comparable bank-owned house — real estate agents say you might as well not even bother listing your home. And so most people do not: three out of four existing-home sales in Merced County are now foreclosures, the highest percentage in the state…

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January 23, 2008

California foreclosures skyrocket

More cheery news from the real estate sector. Housing foreclosures in California are up a stunning 400 percent from the same period a year ago. As reported in the San Francisco Chronicle:

Foreclosures and default notices skyrocketed to record peaks in California and the Bay Area in the fourth quarter of 2007, according to a report released Tuesday. The information was a fresh reminder that the slumping real estate market is continuing to have a serious impact on homeowners, particularly those with risky subprime mortgages.

Lenders repossessed 31,676 residences in California in the October-November-December period, according to DataQuick Information Systems, a La Jolla research firm. That was a dramatic 421.2 percent increase from 6,078 in the year-ago quarter. In the Bay Area, foreclosures rose an equally stunning 482.5 percent to 4,573 in the fourth quarter, compared with 785 a year ago. Contra Costa County, with 1,558 foreclosures, up 533.3 percent from a year ago, had the most, followed by Alameda County with 1,026 (a 514.4 percent increase) and Solano County with 704 (up 528.6 percent).

“Foreclosure activity is closely tied to a decline in home values,” DataQuick President Marshall Prentice said in a statement. “With today’s depreciation, an increasing number of homeowners find themselves owing more on a property than its market value, setting the stage for default if there is mortgage payment shock, a job loss or the owner needs to move.” It was the most foreclosures since DataQuick began tracking them in 1988 and more than double the previous peak of 15,418 foreclosures in the third quarter of 1996. The fewest foreclosures recorded were in the second quarter of 2005, when 637 homes were repossessed.

Mortgage default notices, sent by lenders when homeowners are several months behind on payments, also hit record highs. Default notices are the first step of the foreclosure process. Statewide, lenders sent 81,550 default notices, up 114.6 percent from 37,994 in the fourth quarter of 2006. It was up 12.4 percent from 72,571 in the third quarter of 2007. It was the most defaults since DataQuick began tracking them in 1992.

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January 21, 2008

California home prices drop almost 15 percent

The bad news in the California real estate industry- at least for sellers, has been relentless. The latest report from DataQuick- a real estate research firm, shows that the medial home price in California is now $402,000 last month, down 14.8 percent from $472,000 in the year-ago period, and home sales in the state have plummeted more than 40 percent from a year ago. As reported by AP, “The state has seen sales decline year-over-year for 27 straight months as the once-booming housing market tanked and a credit crisis forced mortgage lenders to scale back so-called jumbo mortgages that exceed $417,000. That’s helped skew the median home price downward because fewer jumbo loans have translated into fewer high-end homes being sold. The percentage of homes purchased with jumbo loans last month fell nearly 70 percent from December 2006″.

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December 24, 2007

Did the National Associaton of Realtors cause the housing bubble?

Did the National Association of Realtors cause the housing bubble by engineering a “belief system” based on economic fallacies? The Irvine Housing Blog makes the case that NAR had an almost religious like belief system that help fuel public delusions about the economics of real estate. It provides on overview of the psychology of bubbles and is worth a read.

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November 16, 2007

Bay Area home sales at virtual standstill

The situation continues to look bleak in the housing industry throughout California, but the Bay Area, with its high home prices faces special challenges. As reported in the San Francisco Chronicle:

Bay Area home sales limped along at a decades-low pace in October, as buyers continued to find few mortgage options. A total of 5,486 new and existing houses and condos changed hands last month, down 35.7 percent from October 2006 and the lowest sales count since at least 1988 Sales of existing, single-family homes in the nine counties that touch the bay slid 41.3 percent, from 5,761 last year to 3,384 in October, the firm reported Thursday. Although it was the 33rd month in a row of year-to-year sales declines, the market has been slammed in recent months by a tightening in the mortgage market, which is making home loans harder to come by and more expensive.

Of particular concern in the high-priced Bay Area housing market is that the number of jumbo loans, or those over $417,000, has slowed to a trickle. This summer, after higher defaults in the subprime sector – where mortgages were given to people with iffy credit – investors stopped buying jumbo mortgages, leading buyers to walk away from deals or avoid the market altogether. “We don’t have liquidity in the marketplace, and that’s creating a drop in market value because people can’t close on a purchase,” said San Francisco mortgage broker Leon Huntting.

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October 23, 2007

Bay Area home sales crash to 20 -year low

The San Francisco Chronicle attributed this to lenders backing off from “jumbo loans” – those over $417,000, but there are several other factors:

The median price for resale homes was almost steady at $670,000, a scant 0.4 percent more than $667,500 last September. The median price declined in five counties – Alameda, Marin, Napa, Solano and Sonoma. The Bay Area median price has been propped up by a tilt in the mixture of sales – more high-end homes have changed hands, boosting the median. But with the credit crunch making it harder and more expensive to get a larger mortgage, the buoying effect of expensive-home sales was reduced in September. “When you combine the price difference (for jumbos) with the restrictions in underwriting guidelines, that was a double whammy,” said Rob Chrisman, director of capital markets at NL Inc., a mortgage bank in Walnut Creek. “To compound it, buyers were possibly thinking that prices were stagnant or coming down in other parts of the nation and California, so maybe prices in the Bay Area would come down, so let’s wait. So you had three strikes against the jumbo market.” … The rising rate of foreclosures and defaults also hurts sales. When a lender forecloses, it puts the property on the market, often at a slight discount. Before a bank forecloses, desperate homeowners who are behind in their payments often try to unload the property as a “short sale” for less than they owe on the mortgage. Both types of sales further depress prices…. Rising inventory levels are another factor that impact sales. The number of for-sale homes in September rose in seven Bay Area counties compared with a year ago, according to MLS data compiled by ZipRealty…. “This is a cyclical downturn fueled by a lot of really dumb loans made from 2004 to 2005, the so-called subprime loans,” (real estate broker Betsy) Karevoll said. “We’re not in a recession. We’ve got a fairly stable economy. It’s an entirely different correction than it was back in the mid ’90s, for example, when jobs were being lost, people were leaving California, people were making less money. This is somewhat uncharted territory.”

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September 27, 2007

Californians expect economic slump

A majority of Californians expect the economy to worsen over the next year as housing sales plunge and more residents lose their homes to foreclosure, according to the results of a poll conducted by the Public Policy Institute of California. Fifty-nine percent of adults expect “bad times” financially over the next 12 months, a jump of 10 percentage points since June, according to the survey. “There has been a significant shift in attitude this year,” Mark Baldassare, the president of the institute, said in a statement. “For so many people, the feeling of overall financial well-being is tied to the value of their homes, something that seems increasingly threatened as they see sales slow, prices dip, and foreclosures rise.” Pessimism about the state’s economy cuts across all regions and income levels and is similar for those who own and rent homes, according to the poll.

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Housing Slump Acccelerating

That’s according to a report in the San Francisco Chronicle:

Bad news came in threes for the real estate industry Tuesday as two nationwide economic reports and one from California showed the housing slump is accelerating. California home sales plunged nearly 30 percent last month compared with August 2006 and median prices dropped by almost 14 percent in the High Desert area and part of Santa Barbara County, the California Association of Realtors said Tuesday.

In the Bay Area, sales of existing homes dropped 26.5 percent in the same time period, but, because of more sales at the higher end of the market, the median price of a single-family home actually rose 9.9 percent from August 2006, to $832,760. That was down about 1.1 percent from July’s median of $841,660. For the entire state, the median price edged up 2 percent to $588,970. But analysts at the trade group pointed out that prices were weak in nine geographic regions and at the lower end of the market. The median price of an entry-level home – anything less $500,000 in California – dropped 5.1 percent in August to $349,360.

In addition, the inventory of unsold homes was 11.8 months in August, compared with 5.9 months in August 2006. The figure represents the number of months it would take to sell all the homes currently on the market. “The credit crunch emerged as uncertainty about the extent of the subprime problem drove investors across the globe to turn off the tap of funds to lenders in mortgage and other credit market segments. With credit drying up, even qualified buyers were unable to receive funding for home purchases,” Leslie Appleton-Young, the trade group’s chief economist, said in a news release…

Some economists warned that even worse news could be ahead because of the financial market turbulence in August. “August’s sales do not reflect the full impact of the credit crunch, which hit financial markets in mid-month, since most sales were financed with loans approved weeks beforehand,” said Patrick Newport, an economist at Global Insight.

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September 14, 2007

Situation looking bleak for many adjustable rate mortgage holders

From today’s San Francisco Chronicle:

The number of homes entering the foreclosure process hit a record high in the second quarter, but things are going to get even worse over the next 12 months, when millions of borrowers see the interest rate on their adjustable-rate mortgages reset for the first time. ARMs are tied to short-term interest rates but are typically fixed for a few years before they begin adjusting. Because short-term rates have increased dramatically, many homeowners will face payment shock when their rates adjust. In a meeting with mortgage servicers Wednesday, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson said, “We’ve been experiencing market turbulence, and as I’ve said for a while, this will take some time to work its way out.” …

About $1.1 trillion of adjustable-rate mortgages were scheduled to reset for the first time in 2007 and 2008, according to First American LoanPerformance. These represent about 10 percent of all mortgages outstanding. Virtually all these ARMs will reset at higher rates – in many cases much higher – resulting in bigger payments for homeowners. Reset activity is likely to peak in the fourth quarter of this year and the first quarter of next year… Well over half of the resetting loans were made to subprime borrowers with low credit scores. “The subprime resets will create more difficulty for households and the economy because many subprimes qualified based on a low teaser rate,” not on the post-adjustment rate, says Steve Cochrane, senior managing director of With tighter lending standards and no investor appetite for risky mortgages, refinancing “might not be possible,” Cochrane says. And with home prices lower in most areas, borrowers who put little or nothing down now owe more than their homes are worth, so selling the home to pay off the loan is no longer an option. The brunt of the reset problem has yet to hit.

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September 13, 2007

California could drag U.S. into a recession

The first nationwide decline in jobs in four years raised new fears that the housing market and credit squeeze, particularly in hard-hit states like California, could drag the economy into a recession, according to a report in the Sacramento Bee:

“I think we’re very near recession, and California is on the leading edge of the downturn,” said chief economist Mark Zandi of Moody’s “The housing market is the economy’s most significant problem, and California’s housing market is among the worst in the country.”

The U.S. Labor Department said nationwide payrolls shrank by 4,000 in August, the first monthly decline since August 2003. Although the unemployment rate was unchanged at 4.6 percent, the payroll loss jolted Wall Street, which had expected jobs to grow. The Dow Jones average fell 249.97 points, to 13,113.38. Economists said the job loss was evidence the housing market’s problems are seeping into the overall economy. They believe the Federal Reserve, in an effort to boost the economy, will almost surely lower interest rates at its next meeting Sept. 18…

Yet the national slowdown in jobs mirrors what’s been occurring lately in California, where payrolls are in decline and unemployment is inching up. The state lost 8,600 jobs in July as unemployment rose to 5.3 percent. Sacramento-area unemployment is up to 5.4 percent, as the region lost 5,200 jobs in July. State and local job numbers for August will be released Sept. 21.

“We are leading in terms of this whole correction, or whatever you want to call it, in the housing sector,” said Howard Roth, chief economist at the California Department of Finance. “Where it ends, I’m not sure.” On the national level, 22,000 construction jobs disappeared in August, as did 46,000 factory jobs and 6,000 in the lending industry.

In addition, the government revised downward its estimates of job creation in June and July, from a combined 218,000 jobs to 137,000. Analysts believe some of the losses in manufacturing are tied to housing as anxious consumers, no longer tapping their home equity for cash, cut back on spending. Auto industry officials, for instance, say most of the downturn in U.S. auto sales is in California and Florida, where the housing market is the weakest. Car sales in California fell 7.7 percent in the first half of the year. “The problems in housing and mortgage markets are now affecting confidence, and thus activity, in other parts of the economy,” said Zandi of Moody’s

And, of course, industries directly tied to housing are continuing to shed workers. A host of mortgage lenders suspended operations in recent weeks, eliminating jobs in the Sacramento area. The construction industry is still weakening. Christopherson Homes of Santa Rosa has laid off 22 of its 30 employees in south Placer in the past year, while Folsom-based Elliott Homes cut 15 jobs in the past two weeks. “We laid some people off,” said Elliott Vice President Russ Davis. “I think every company in the region has laid people off.”

Chris Thornberg, head of Beacon Economics consulting in Los Angeles, said California will feel the effects of a recession worse than most states because it was such a hotbed of subprime mortgage lending. “We will bear the brunt of this primarily because of the mortgage issue,” Thornberg said.

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July 26, 2007

Foreclosures soar in California

The Los Angeles Times Reports:

A sagging real estate market and tighter lending standards are exacting a growing toll on Californians, forcing them from their homes in record numbers, figures released Tuesday show. Foreclosures soared to 17,408 for the three months ended June 30, an increase of 799 percent from the same period last year. The current rate handily exceeds the previous foreclosure peak set in 1996, when the state was in the final throes of six-year slump. Separately, Countrywide Financial Corp. — the nation’s largest mortgage lender — reported a sharp rise in delinquencies, even among customers with good credit. That sent shivers down Wall Street, helping to trigger a 226-point plunge in the Dow Jones industrial average. Although a relatively small fraction of homeowners face eviction, the concern is that a flood of foreclosures will further weaken housing prices — and make people less willing to spend money.

Because to the bad news from the housing sector there seems to be a growing consensus that the economy is headed for a recession, or at the very best a slow down.

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July 23, 2007

State’s job growth stagnates

Dragged down by the real estate slump, California’s employment engine ground to a near standstill in June with a net gain of only 400 positions, according to a report in the Los Angeles Times. As expected, financial activities and construction were the biggest losers among six sectors that posted employment declines in June, according to the state Employment Development Department report.

Reflecting layoffs by troubled sub-prime mortgage lenders and the big chill in home building, the financial activities sector lost 5,700 jobs, while construction shrank by 5,300. By comparison, the four other declining sectors lost a total of 5,900 jobs. “Slowing state job growth has been primarily caused by the slowdown in residential building and resale activity,” said Stephen Levy, senior economist for the Center for the Continuing Study of the California Economy. “A continuation of the slowing will cause problems for this year’s and next year’s state budget.”

Unemployment ticked up by 0.2% in the Inland Empire and by 0.4% in San Diego, where home construction has slowed, said Steve Cochrane, an economist with West Chester, Pa.-based Moody’s, a consulting and forecasting firm. The Central Valley may be the next major area to be hit by problems tied to sub-prime mortgage delinquencies, Cochrane added.

Overall, California’s unemployment rate held steady at 5.2%. By comparison, the state jobless rate was 4.9% in June 2006, and the U.S. rate was 4.5% last month, unchanged from May. A steady unemployment rate means the number of jobs is growing at about the same pace as the number of people seeking them. The state has matched the national job growth rate for the last year, Levy said, although unemployment has risen here but not in the nation because the state labor force has grown by nearly 300,000.

Since June 2006, the state’s employers have added 204,700 jobs, an increase of 1.4%, for a total last month of 15.3 million. Sectors gaining jobs last month were led again by the educational and health services category at 8,600. Government employers added 4,600 jobs, while the leisure and hospitality sector hired 3,300 workers. Other services added 600 jobs, and professional and business services added 200.

Some of the slack in the housing market is being taken up by continued construction activity in the commercial real estate market and by motion picture and film production, said Jack Kyser, chief economist for the Los Angeles Economic Development Corp. Movie studios “are rushing to get productions done” ahead of possible labor-related disruptions related to contract negotiations with screen writers, actors and directors late this year and early next, he said.

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Southern California homes sales at 14-year low

According to a report in Reuters, June home sales in southern California fell to their lowest in 14 years and the slump hit the region’s most affordable markets east of Los Angeles hardest, according to a report released on Tuesday. The report by DataQuick Information Systems said a total of 20,166 new and resale homes were sold in June in Los Angeles, Orange, San Diego, Riverside, San Bernardino and Ventura counties last month, marking a rise of 1.5 percent from the prior month and a decline of 36.2 percent from a year earlier. The region’s home sales have been declining from year-earlier levels since October 2005, raising concerns that the downward trend could cause the broad California economy to suffer.

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May 23, 2007

Fremont sells real-estate unit for $1.9 billion

Fremont General Corp., whose loans to risky borrowers helped trigger the subprime mortgage crisis, will sell its commercial real-estate unit for $1.9 billion and bring in new managers led by billionaire banker Gerald J. Ford, according to a report in Bloomberg. IStar Financial Inc., a real-estate lending and leasing company, will buy the commercial loan operation. Fremont also will get $80 million by selling a minority stake in the remaining enterprise to investors headed by Ford, who once ran Golden State Bancorp Inc. Shares of Santa Monica, California-based Fremont surged 41 percent. The cash infusion lets Fremont stay in business as a retail bank with 22 branches in California. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. told Fremont in March to stop making home loans to unqualified borrowers and said executives didn’t effectively manage risks for mortgages and the commercial loans. Ford’s team helped build Golden State into the second-biggest U.S. thrift with 352 branches until it was sold in 2002 to Citigroup Inc.

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May 16, 2007

Allstate pulling out of California

“Allstate Corp., the state’s third-biggest home insurer, will stop selling new residential policies in California. The Northbrook, Ill., company announced the July 1 cutoff Thursday afternoon, saying it needs to better manage the risk of potential losses from wildfires and earthquakes that might strike the Golden State. ‘Allstate is taking responsible action now so that the company will continue to be in a strong position to help protect customers in California and across the country,’ said Robert Barge, the insurer’s field vice president for California… Advocates for policyholders say they want California Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner to take a tough stance on Allstate if the company insists on limiting its California exposure. They want the commissioner to prohibit the company from returning to the market for at least 10 years. ‘It would be completely unfair to California customers if Allstate tries to treat the California market like an accordion, coming in when business is good and then walking out,’ said Douglas Heller, president of the Foundation for Taxpayer & Consumer Rights in Santa Monica.”

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LendingTree lays off 440

“LendingTree has laid off 20 percent of its work force nationwide, with some of the cuts coming from its office in Irvine. The online lending and realty-services exchange, which has 2,200 employees, cites the slump in the mortgage industry. The layoffs occurred Friday. In addition to Irvine, the cuts also came from the company’s offices in Charlotte, N.C., and Jacksonville, Fla. ”The mortgage market has changed dramatically over the last quarter,” says company spokeswoman Rebecca Anderson. “This decision was a proactive move to adapt to the current market.”

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May 10, 2007

Orange County has 8 months-plus of homes for resale

“Spring may come and go without the usual annual home-buying rush, says the math of Steve Thomas at Re/Max Real Estate Services in Aliso Viejo. He calculates “market time” or a benchmark of how many months it theoretically takes to sell all the inventory in the local MLS for-sale listings at the current pace of pending deals being made. By this Thomas logic, it would take 8.33 months for buyers to gobble up all homes listed for sale at the current pace of deals vs. 7.75 months two weeks earlier and vs. 4.43 months a year ago. And Thomas notes: Believe it or not, the Spring market is almost over. This month we can anticipate more of the same, buyers sitting on the sidelines digesting and slowly moving past the fading spotlight of the subprime debacle. However, with the growing inventory, dropping sales, increased foreclosures (nothing compared to the Inland Empire and Central Valley), we can anticipate additional media attention which could continue to dampen demand.

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April 26, 2007

California real estate market still slumping

“The California real estate market continued its slump in March, with the volume of existing-home sales tumbling 20.8 percent compared with a year ago, while median prices were up 3.2 percent, according to a report released Tuesday by the California Association of Realtors. ‘March is typically the kickoff month for the peak (selling) season, but while there was (a rise) in sales (in some individual markets), at the statewide level our seasonally adjusted numbers fell by 8 percent month to month,’ said Robert Kleinhenz, deputy chief economist of the industry trade group. March’s sales of 427,110 existing single-family detached homes was lower than the 450,000 monthly home sales the state has averaged for the past eight months. The median price for an existing single-family home rose to $580,090, up from $562,130 a year ago. While that 3.2 percent increase slightly outpaced the rate of inflation, Kleinhenz and others said that the increase is misleading, as prices fell in many geographic areas. Christopher Thornberg, a principal with Beacon Economics in San Francisco, put it bluntly. ‘The median price is a bunch of hogwash,” he said. “You can have prices looking like they’re up when they’re down, because it is incredibly subject to where slowdowns are occurring. If there is more slowdown in a (lower-priced market), then you could show the median price going up just because there is a shift in the type of product being sold’.”

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April 17, 2007

Mortgage defaults in California near decade high

“The number of mortgage default notices sent to California homeowners last quarter rose to its highest in nearly 10 years as home prices stagnated and rates on adjustable loans pushed higher, a report released on Monday said. Mortgage lenders filed 46,760 notices of default from January through March, marking an increase of 23.1 percent from the previous quarter and 148 percent from the year-earlier period, according to a report by DataQuick Information Systems, a real estate information service. The first quarter’s default level was the highest for the most populous U.S. state since the second quarter of 1997. It came amid a sharp rise in defaults on mortgages held by subprime borrowers, or borrowers with blemished credit, across the United States… Most mortgages in California that went into default in the first quarter were originated between April 2005 and May 2006 and their median age was 15 months.”

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