The number of home loans that paid off in Colorado rose 49.1% year-over-year in the fourth quarter of 2012, according to a report by the Colorado Division of Housing.

Colorado public trustees released a total of 86,816 deeds of trust in 2012's fourth quarter, marking the highest quarterly total recorded since the third quarter of 2009, when 87,400 deeds were released.

A deed of trust is released when a real estate loan is paid off via refinance, sale of a property or because the owner has paid off the loan in its entirety. Typically, rising release totals reflect an increased demand for home loans and real estate.

"The 30-year mortgage rate was at a record low average of 3.36% during 2012, and that has really helped push up refinance and purchase activity in Colorado," said Ryan McMaken, an economist with the Colorado Division of Housing.

Of the 21 counties surveyed for the study, 20 reported an increase in release activity from 2011 to 2012. Douglas and Denver counties showed the largest growth, increasing 38.2% and 42.5%, respectively. The only county to show a decline was Morgan County, where releases dropped 9.6%. Morgan County is located in the high plains of northeastern Colorado.

"In many cases, the counties with the most release activity are places with lower unemployment and higher incomes," McMaken said. "It’s easier to refinance in places like that, but release activity increased almost across the board in 2012, in even the lower-income counties."

The number of releases of deeds of trust are collected quarterly by the Colorado Division of Housing.