San Diego County had the lowest percentage of distressed house sales in California for December 2013 — 5 percent of its total sales. That's down from 13 percent in December 2012 and equals the rate of distressed sales recorded in November 2013, according to the California Association of Realtors.

Distressed sales, including foreclosed properties and short sales in which the amount owed is greater than the market value of the house, are generally higher in December because lenders prefer to get the properties off their books by year-end, the Realtors association said in a recent report.

Statewide, distressed property sales increased to 15.7 percent of the total in December, up from 13.6 percent in November but down from 35.4 percent in December 2012.

In another housing report on home sales and prices, San Diego real estate research firm Dataquick said that after months of gradual price increases in most areas of the nation, prices have leveled in off in most areas and even declined in four of 42 counties surveyed.

The growth of home sales declined in December in all but 11 of the 42 counties, Dataquick said.

However, declining sales and prices aren’t necessarily bad, Dataquick analyst Gordon Crawford said.

The rapid run-up in prices wasn’t sustainable given the fairly weak underlying economic drivers, Crawford said.

“This month, home price growth decreased substantially, which is encouraging as it shows that home prices are starting to respond to fundamentals rather than proceed along a speculative bubble-like track,” he said.