The number of mortgage default notices filed against California homeowners jumped last quarter to the highest level in more than eight years, a real estate information service reported late Wednesday. Lending institutions sent homeowners 37,273 default notices during the October-to-December period. That was up by 36.9 percent from 27,218 the previous quarter, and up 145.3 percent from 15,196 for fourth-quarter 2005, according to DataQuick Information Systems. Last quarter's foreclosure activity was the highest since 38,053 default notices were recorded statewide in third-quarter 1998. Defaults peaked in first quarter 1996 at 61,541. An average of 33,615 notices of default, or NODs, have been filed quarterly since 1992, when DataQuick's NOD statistics begin. Most of the loans that went into default last quarter were originated between January 2005 and February 2006; the median age was 15 months. On primary mortgages, homeowners were a median five months behind on their payments when the lender started the default process. The borrowers owed a median $10,555 on a median $324,000 mortgage. On lines of credit, homeowners were a median six months behind on their payments. Borrowers owed a median $3,582 on a median $60,000 credit line. However the amount of the credit line that was actually in use cannot be determined from public records. On a loan-by-loan basis, mortgages were least likely to go into default in Marin, San Francisco and Santa Clara counties. The likelihood was highest in Merced, Riverside and Tulare counties. Most homeowners emerge from the foreclosure process by bringing their payments current, refinancing, or selling the home and paying off what they owe. Still, about 32 percent of homeowners who found themselves in default earlier in the year actually lost their homes to foreclosure in the fourth quarter. A year ago it was eight percent. Trustees deeds, or actual foreclosure sales, recorded on homes totaled 6,078 during the fourth quarter, up 76.9 percent from 3,435 for the previous quarter, and up 595.4 percent from 874 for last year's fourth quarter. Foreclosure sales peaked at 15,418 in third-quarter 1996, and hit a low of 637 in the second quarter of 2005. While foreclosure properties tugged property values down by almost 10 percent in some areas nine years ago, the effect on today's market has thus far been negligible, DataQuick reported.