SAN FRANCISCO (CBS/AP) – The number of California homes entering the foreclosure process has plunged to a more-than-seven-year low as the state housing market continues to improve.

Real estate research firm DataQuick says Tuesday that 18,567 notices of default were recorded by lenders from January to March—down more than 50 percent from the previous three months and 67 percent from the first quarter of 2012.

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DataQuick President John Walsh said rising home prices, improving economy and new government laws to protect homeowners are having an impact but he said default notices could edge up later in the year.

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DataQuick said the median sales price for a California home last quarter was $297,000, up 22.7 percent from a year ago.

Get a county-by-county foreclosure breakdown in the full DataQuick report.

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