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Massachusetts foreclosures declined in 2012

Downward trend adds to positive outlook

Far fewer residents in Massachusetts lost their homes to foreclosure last year, another sign that the economy and the housing market have stabilized.

In December, lenders seized 265 homes, 65 percent less than a year earlier. And for all of 2012, completed foreclosures in Massachusetts dropped by nearly 13 percent from the prior year, to 7,424, according to Warren Group, a Boston firm that tracks real estate activity.

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The number of new foreclosures initiated by lenders is also declining, indicating that the trend is firm enough to continue into 2013. There were 17 percent fewer filings of foreclosure actions in Massachusetts courts in December, compared to a year earlier, down to 835 properties.

“Foreclosures have been trending down for several years now,” said Warren Group chief executive Timothy M. Warren Jr. “A robust real estate market will ensure that this trend continues in 2013.”

While conditions in the general economy and in the housing market did improve in 2012, some real estate specialists cautioned that comparing the numbers of foreclosures over time can be tricky. Figures for 2011 are particularly deceptive, they said, because foreclosure activity during the period slowed to a crawl after government agencies, courts, and housing advocates alleged that lenders were sloppy, rushed, and had incomplete paperwork for many attempted home seizures.

Many banks and mortgage firms imposed moratoriums on foreclosures during much of 2011, a period best remembered in the industry for the practice of “robosigning,” where employees of lending firms would sign off on great numbers of foreclosures without making sure the proper paperwork was in place for each.

The foreclosure crisis in Massachusetts, while serious, never reached the critical levels it did instates such as California, Florida, and Nevada. Overall, specialists say, the problem has eased significantly in recent months and home prices have been increasing at a modest pace.

“Foreclosure activity nationwide is declining, and Massachusetts is following the same path,” Warren said. “Deeds were down for the year, petitions declined for the past two months, and I think that will continue.”

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