Distressed properties accounted for more than half of the homes sold in Los Angeles County in March, down from 55 percent in February but up from 49 percent a year earlier, the California Association of Realtors reported Wednesday.

A distressed property is a home that is under a foreclosure order or is advertised for sale by its mortgagee.

L.A. County's 51 percent might seem high, but other regions posted percentages that were far higher.

The Inland Empire - which many consider to be ground zero for the housing meltdown - ranked among the worst.

In San Bernardino County, 71 percent of the region's March sales were distressed properties. That was down from 76 percent the previous month and 75 percent in March 2010, CAR reported.

Riverside County's rate of 67 percent for March was down from February's 71 percent and the year-ago rate of 73 percent.

"Consistent with the state as a whole, nearly all the counties for which we have data also experienced an improvement in distressed sales," CAR President Beth L. Peerce said in a statement. "However, distressed sales in most of the counties were higher than a year ago, as the market continues to work through large numbers of troubled mortgages."

Solano County had the highest percentage of distressed property sales for March (76 percent), while Kern County tied with San Bernardino County at 71 percent.

California's two lowest counties were Marin (28 percent) and San Diego County (32 percent).

"One thing we're seeing is that lenders are actually executing short sales in advance of the foreclosure process," said Steve Johnson, who heads the Riverside office of Metrostudy, a real estate consulting and information firm.

"When a homeowner works with the bank and lets them know they are in trouble and the home is upside down, many banks are moving those homes into the market with the short sale process."

Johnson said many of the distressed properties are being purchased by investors.

"A lot of investors are buying the homes, freshening them up and putting them back on the market to sell," he said.

The total share of all distressed property types sold statewide declined in March to 51 percent, down from 56 percent in February and unchanged from 51 percent in March 2010.