Foreclosure filings in Los Angeles County rose 47 percent in the first quarter, though that was at a slower pace than many inland areas of the state, according to data released Wednesday by RealtyTrac Inc.

One in 71 county homes, or a total 47,300 properties, was in foreclosure by the end of the quarter, according RealtyTrac, an Irvine online marketer of foreclosed properties. Among homeowners in foreclosure, 27,045 had received an initial notice of default, with another 7,807 properties already taken back by lenders.

The county had the twenty-fifth highest foreclosure rate among California's 58 counties. Merced County had the highest foreclosure rate and the second highest in the nation with one in 24 homes in foreclosure. Other hard-hit areas were San Joaquin, Riverside, Stanislaus and San Bernardino counties.

However, the number of homes in L.A. County receiving default notices was more than double that in the fourth quarter.

RealtyTrac spokesman Daran Blomquist ascribed the increase to a new state law that went into effect late last year and required lenders to give struggling homeowners more time before initiating foreclosure proceedings.

In addition, last year's first wave of foreclosures by lower-income homeowners with subprime mortgages is now being joined by higher-income homeowners who have lost their jobs and fallen behind in payments.

"We believed some of the pent up demand from the end of the year showed up in the first quarter, particularly in March," Bloomquist said. "While L.A. is not one of the worst areas in the state, it is above the national average.

A record 803,489 properties received a foreclosure notice nationwide in the first quarter, 24 percent more than a year ago, according to RealtyTrac. The greater Las Vegas area had the highest overall rate of filings, with 4.5 percent of households receiving a default or auction notice, or being seized by a lender.

Bloomquist noted that not only was the gambling Mecca the scene of much speculative buying and construction during the housing boom, but many of those properties are second homes for Southern Californians and others who would be more likely to let go of them before a primary residence.

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