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As the real estate market continues to climb, San Diego County posted its lowest number of new foreclosure filings and foreclosure sales in at least a year last month, new data from ForeclosureRadar shows.

Far fewer properties that begin the foreclosure process are ending up back in the bank's hands, as lenders have become more aggressive in issuing loan modifications to keep borrowers in their homes. Banks are then rewarding themselves for this behavior using funds from massive settlements agreed to after improper lending practices in the early 2000's were unearthed.

A total of 379 properties in default went to the auction block last month, down from 504 in November 2011 and only a bit more than half the 693 that were sold a year ago.

That downward trend seems likely to continue, as only 996 homes saw new Notices of Default, which are filed when a homeowner is at least 90 days behind on payments. By comparison, such filings hovered between 1,300 and 1,600 per month during the first eight months of 2012. This is the first time in recent memory that fewer than 1,000 new defaults were recorded.

The number of bank-owned homes in the county stood at 3,385 at year’s end, down over 37% from the 5,392 held by lenders in December 2011. The sharp decline in bank-owned inventory available to consumers is widely believed to be behind the recent resurgence in property values, coupled with a move by investors to snap up distressed properties, remodel them, and resell for a profit.

“I remain relatively bullish on the housing market for 2013,” says ForeclosureRadar’s founder and CEO Sean O’Toole. “I believe housing will prove a safer investment then most other alternatives.”

The accuracy of this statement will likely hinge on interest rates, which have hovered near historical lows for over a year and allow consumers to purchase higher-priced homes without a significant increase in monthly payment.

Image: Trash piles up at a foreclosed property in the Mountain View neighborhood

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