Foreclosure activity in Inland Southern California declined from April to May, with fewer notices of default and bank repossessions than a year ago.
But real estate experts say the numbers reflect special circumstances apart from market trends and do not offer homeowners reason to hope their pain is ending.
Daren Blomquist, spokesman for RealtyTrac, which released its monthly foreclosure report late Wednesday, said the current decline in defaults and foreclosures should not "give people a false sense that the problem is solved before it actually is."
RealtyTrac said Riverside County recorded 4,694 notices of default in May, down from 6,019 in April and 5 percent fewer than in May 2008. Homes repossessed dropped from 1,519 in April to 1,296 in May, which was 44 percent fewer than a year earlier.
Chapman University economist Esmael Adibi said the root causes of foreclosure remain: the resetting of mortgages to monthly payments that borrowers can't afford and job losses in a weak economy.
"If you look at these two elements, I don't see how we will see a significant drop in either notices of default or foreclosure until at least the end of this year," Adibi said.
San Bernardino County saw notices of default fall to 3,521 in May from 4,661 in April and 13 percent from May 2008. The number of homes repossessed declined from 1,580 in April to 1,296 in May, 45 percent fewer than a year earlier.
Still, last month all combined foreclosure-related activity -- which includes the notices of default plus notices of trustee sales and bank repossessions -- increased by more than 16 percent in Riverside County and by more than 20 percent in San Bernardino County compared to the previous May.
Last month Riverside County ranked third and San Bernardino seventh among California counties in rate of foreclosure filings, with Riverside County having one filing for every 70 households and San Bernardino County one filing for every 81 households.
Month-to-month foreclosure activity has ebbed, Blomquist said, probably because of state legislation that delayed notices of default and foreclosure moratoriums that lenders adopted in anticipation of a mortgage modification program the Obama administration launched in March.
While foreclosure moratoriums officially expired after the winter holidays, some lenders continue to hold off foreclosures for borrowers who they determined may qualify for help under the new federal loan modification guidelines.