Despite a monthly uptick in default filings against delinquent homeowners, foreclosure activity continued a long-term downward march in April, according to a report Tuesday.
Foreclosure sales were up slightly in some Bay Area counties but were well below where they were a year ago, according to ForeclosureRadar, which released the report on April foreclosure activity.
The number of homes held by banks or scheduled for sale also continued to decline, the company reported.
An improving economy and government foreclosure-avoidance programs are reducing the numbers of homes sold on courthouse steps, the company said.
"In general, the longer-term foreclosure trend is down," the company said. It takes nearly 300 days to complete a foreclosure in California.
Auctions of foreclosed homes once guaranteed a steady supply of Bay Area homes for sale, but canceled sales have cut into that flow.
Homes sold at auction or taken back by banks were down 29 percent in Contra Costa County from March, down 15 percent in Alameda County, up 11 percent in Santa Clara County and up 15 percent in San Mateo County.
In all four counties, the number of homes that were sold or taken back by banks at auction was down from a year ago -- a 58 percent drop in Alameda County, 61 percent in Contra Costa County, 47 percent in Santa Clara County and 41.5 percent in San Mateo County.
Even the rise in default notices -- the first step in the foreclosure process -- in several counties in April is just a return to normal levels following a deep dive in January, the company said.
That dip coincided with the California Homeowner Bill of Rights taking effect Jan. 1.
"Lenders were not sure about how to proceed so there was a plummet in notices, and it looks like it's coming back," said Madeline Schnapp, ForeclosureRadar's chief economist.
She said lenders "were just playing it safe, learning what's in the law and having their legal teams pour through it."
Banks canceled many more foreclosure sales than they held. Cancellations can be caused by a loan modification or short sale or a paperwork problem.
In Alameda County, for example, there were 306 cancellations and 91 sales in which a third party bought the home or it failed to sell and remained in the lender's hands.
Seventy homes were sold at auction or taken back by lenders in Santa Clara County, while 315 sales were canceled.
Contact Pete Carey at 408-920-5419. Follow him at Twitter.com/petecarey.