LA JOLLA, Calif. - Real estate loan volume continued to decline in California during the first quarter, a victim of last year's rising interest rates, a real estate information service reported.

Dollar volume for the January-to-March period totaled $24.7 billion, down 57.3% from the year-earlier period and 24.3% from the fourth quarter, Dataquick Information Systems reported.

"Lending activity a year ago was at record levels because of the refinance activity. Almost 70 percent of all loans were refinances, now they account for less than 20 percent," said Dataquick chief executive Donald L. Cohn.

"Other loan categories have seen a much smaller decline and two key lending categories, construction loans and equity loans, are on the rise," Mr. Cohn said.

The most active lending institution statewide is BankAmerica Corp. which has 6.4% of the market by dollar volume, followed by American Savings with 4.2% and Golden West Financial with 3.9%.

BankAmerica's share of the market is declining, while many of the big California thrifts are coming back. The San Francisco-based giant - No. 1 a year ago - fell to third place among the most active lenders to homebuyers, behind Golden West's World Savings unit and American Savings.

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