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State sees 63 percent fall in foreclosure activity

January number is lowest since 2006

Massachusetts foreclosure activity slowed significantly in January, another positive indicator for the state’s housing market, according to data released Tuesday.

During the month, 292 homeowners lost their properties to foreclosure, a 63 percent decrease compared with January 2012 and the lowest number since 2006, according to Warren Group, a Boston company that tracks local real estate.

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Foreclosure petitions, the first step in the property-seizure process, fell to 940 in January, almost 30 percent less than during the same month in 2012, Warren Group reported.

The decline comes amid other signs of strength in the Massachusetts housing market, including increased sales and increasing home values.

“The housing market has greatly improved,” said Timothy M. Warren Jr., chief executive of Warren Group.

January’s better numbers follow mixed data from last year, skewed because of a national slowdown in foreclosures prompted by scrutiny over so-called robo-signing and other issues involving lenders’ loan practices.

The number of completed foreclosures declined almost 13 percent in 2012, compared with 2011, but the number of foreclosures started increased by more than 35 percent year-to-year, Warren Group said.

Paul Willen, senior economist for the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, said that he expects foreclosure numbers to continue to go down throughout the year, but not at a rapid rate.

While that’s news, he said, the number of foreclosures is still historically high.

“This is still a pretty elevated number,’’ Willen said.

The Massachusetts data coincide with national statistics that show the country’s foreclosure epidemic is waning.

Across the United States, there were 61,000 foreclosures in January, 17.8 percent fewer than during the same month in 2012, according to the most recent data from CoreLogic, a California company.

“The backlog of distressed assets continues to fade as the foreclosure inventory has fallen to a level not seen since mid-2009,” said CoreLogic’s chief economist, Mark Fleming.

“The improvement is widespread.”

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