More than 900 Massachusetts homeowners lost their properties to foreclosure in August, the highest monthly total this year and another sign that lenders are revving up their efforts to take back properties from people who aren’t making mortgage payments.
The 937 foreclosure deeds recorded last month marked a 21.2 percent increase from July, but a drop of 22 percent from August 2010, according to data released yesterday by Warren Group, a Boston company that tracks local real estate data. It was the third consecutive month with more than 750 deeds, following a major slowdown last fall caused by nationwide concerns over allegations of fraud and sloppy paperwork among lenders.
“Lenders are beginning to work through the backlog and finalize the foreclosure process,’’ said Cory S. Hopkins, managing editor of the industry weekly Banker & Tradesman, published by Warren Group. “This could certainly mean a glut of foreclosed homes will be pushed through the pipeline in coming months and years.’’
Many major US lenders put the brakes on foreclosures last September after reports that some employees, now known as robosigners, were putting their names on thousands of legal documents a day without reviewing the paperwork. Soon after, lenders - including Bank of America Corp. , the nation’s largest - said they had determined the foreclosures they carried out were legally sound, but that they planned to fine-tune procedures for seizing properties.
Because of the slowdown, the number of completed foreclosures in Massachusetts, 5,465 in the first eight months of the year, represent nearly a 45 percent drop compared with the same period in 2010, Warren Group said. Petitions, the first step in the foreclosure process, dropped to 1,397 in August, a 3 percent decrease compared with July, but the second month in a row in which more than 1,000 were recorded. Year to date, 8,253 foreclosure petitions have been filed, a 56 percent drop compared with the same time last year.
Bank of America spokesman T.J. Crawford said lenders have been working to complete foreclosures that have long been in default. “Increases can be attributed to more normalized activity,’’ he said.
Virginia Pratt, a foreclosure prevention counselor in Jamaica Plain, said she is receiving more calls from troubled homeowners seeking help, many of whom have been unemployed for a long time.
“I do get some sense that [foreclosures are] picking up. I also get the sense that people are pretty stuck,’’ said Pratt, who works for the nonprofit Ecumenical Social Action Committee Inc.
Further fueling the problem, the local economy is weakening, said economist Alan Clayton-Matthews, a professor at Northeastern University. While the state’s unemployment rate has fallen to 7.4 percent, he said, it doesn’t take into account the tens of thousands of people who have dropped off the jobless rolls. “People have given up looking’’ for work, Clayton-Matthews said.
As foreclosures increase, a group of protestors plan to march to Bank of America’s downtown Boston headquarters today to urge it to help homeowners and their families stay put. Bank representatives said the effort is a misguided publicity stunt, and that it has been working hard to help struggling homeowners. They cited the hundreds of thousands of loan modifications that the bank has signed off on nationwide over the past three years.
But Brandon German, an activist with the Jamaica Plain social justice nonprofit City Life/Vida Urbana, said the lender should be doing more as an increasing number of families receive foreclosure notices. “The numbers are swelling,’’ he said. “Families are fed up.’’