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The Boston Globe

Business

More Mass. homes faced foreclosure in Jan.

Lenders work through backlog, but overall picture improving

Home foreclosure activity in Massachusetts, including completed seizures and notices of intent to foreclose, jumped in January compared with the same period in 2011 as lenders sped up efforts to deal with delinquent borrowers following a national slowdown last year.

In January, 1,333 homeowners received notice from lenders that they were going into foreclosure, 68 percent more than during last January, according to the Warren Group, a Boston company that tracks local real estate.

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At the same time, 662 homeowners lost their properties to foreclosure, a 25 percent increased compared with January 2011.

Foreclosures dropped dramatically during the early part of last year in response to concerns about alleged fraud and sloppy paperwork in the mortgage industry. But by June 2011, many US lenders had already started to accelerate their efforts, claiming they found no legal problems.

“We are seeing the backlog of foreclosures work through the system,’’ said Timothy M. Warren Jr., chief executive of the Warren Group. “The increase doesn’t necessarily indicate a declining economy.’’

Deborah Sousa, executive director of the Massachusetts Mortgage Bankers Association, said lenders are moving ahead with long-delayed foreclosures after determining they have proper procedures in place.

“We are going to go full steam ahead,’’ Sousa said.

The rise in foreclosures comes despite a drop in the number of delinquent mortgages and a slowly improving economy. In Massachusetts, the December seasonally unadjusted unemployment rate was 6.5 percent, down from 8 percent in December 2010, according to the latest state data.

About 10.2 percent of mortgage loans in the state were in default in December, a 3.5 percent decline compared with the same time the year before, according to Lending Processing Services Inc., a Florida company that tracks national real estate data.

Kevin Kiley, executive vice president of the Massachusetts Bankers Association, said many of the current foreclosures involve homeowners who have been behind on their mortgages for many months. He said despite the January increase, foreclosures are down significantly from 2009 and 2010.

“We think things are slowly starting to improve,’’ Kiley said, adding lenders “are being very deliberative in trying to work with people as much as humanly possible.’’

Many housing advocates, however, say banks are still reluctant to give struggling homeowners loan modifications, concerned that borrowers will simply re-default or that such moves will prompt others to stop paying their mortgages. Lenders also are unwilling to cut the principal for a home that is “underwater,’’ or worth less than the mortgage balance, they said.

“There’s still no real remedy for the fact that a lot of people have lost income and don’t have the means to keep up,’’ said Virginia Pratt, a foreclosure prevention counselor in Jamaica Plain. “It seems like to me, anyway, that the lenders really don’t want to help.’’

Jenifer B. McKim can be reached at jmckim@globe.com.
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