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August foreclosures fall to a low for ’12 so far

The number of Massachusetts homeowners­ who lost their properties to foreclosure in August fell to 566, about 40 percent fewer compared with the same month last year and the lowest monthly total for 2012, figures released Tuesday showed.

It marked the third consecutive month of declining foreclosures, compared with the same period in 2011, according to Warren Group, a Boston company that tracks local real estate. But despite the August decline, higher foreclosure numbers earlier in the year resulted in a year-over-year increase of 8.4 percent for the January-through-August period. In the first eight months of 2012, the firm said, 5,975 homes were lost to foreclosure in Massachusetts.

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Petitions, the first step in the seizure process, increased slightly in August­ to 1,456, a 4.2 percent rise, compared with the same month last year. Between January and August, the number of petitions delivered to homeowners increased by 46 percent, to 12,079.

Cory S. Hopkins, editor of Banker & Tradesman, which is published by Warren Group, said the year-to-date increase in completed foreclosures is deceptive. He said last year’s figures were artificially low because lenders delayed proceedings following national scrutiny into how they were processing paperwork.

“We are comparing to a slow year when banks nearly halted their foreclosure proceedings,’’ Hopkins said. “I don’t think this is cause for much alarm.”

There were 1,084 foreclosure-auction announcements in August, 18 percent fewer compared with the same time last year. The number of auctions for the year fell to 10,384, a 9.2 percent drop, Warren Group said.

Barry Bluestone, director of the Kitty and Michael Dukakis Center for Urban and Regional Policy at Northeastern University, agreed the statistics are skewed because they are compared to 2011. Overall, he said, the state’s foreclosure crisis is easing because of the stabilizing economy, a strengthening housing market, and federal programs to help struggling borrowers.

“It’s good to see these numbers come out suggesting that we are slowly but surely working our way out of the housing crisis,” Bluestone said.

Jenifer B. McKim can be reached at jmckim@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter
@jbmckim.
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