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Fewer in Mass. lost their homes in February

Only 240 Massachusetts homeowners lost their properties to foreclosure in February, a nearly 69 percent drop compared with the same time last year and the lowest number of lender take-backs recorded in a month since May 2006, data released Tuesday show.

The number of foreclosure proceedings started in February also dropped dramatically — by 38 percent, to 856 compared to February 2012 — according to the Warren Group, a Boston company that tracks local real estate.

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The declining numbers show the Massachusetts housing market is continuing to improve, and are in line with a national trend toward fewer foreclosures. Nationwide, there were 54,000 completed home seizures in February, 19 percent fewer than during that month in 2012 and the lowest number since September 2007, according to CoreLogic, a private California data tracking company.

“We’ve definitely turned a corner,’’ said Tim H. Davis, a research consultant who analyzes foreclosure data for the Massachusetts Housing Partnership, a public nonprofit. “It’s good news.”

The steep drop-off in Massachusetts foreclosure numbers comes as home prices are beginning to go up. Statewide, the median price for a single-family home rose to $275,000 in February, an increase of more than 12 percent compared with the same month last year, the Warren Group said.

Paul S. Willen, a senior economist with the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, said he was surprised that February foreclosure numbers were down so much. He believes property seizures may rise slightly in the short term before they fall again. But any temporary uptick won’t have a major impact on the housing market’s momentum, he said.

“The foreclosure crisis is over,’’ Willen said. “The housing market is improving around the country — a lot — and quite rapidly.”

In fact, in many local communities — including Andover, Arlington, and Dover — there weren’t any home foreclosures recorded in February. But in some cities with high populations of lower-income residents, people are still losing their homes. For instance, there were 14 foreclosures in Worcester, 11 in Boston, 10 in Springfield and 7 in Fitchburg, according to the Warren Group.

Grace Ross, coordinator for the nonprofit Massachusetts Alliance Against Predatory Lending, said local foreclosure numbers have fallen because lenders must comply with a new state law requiring them to prove they have the right paperwork before completing a foreclosure. The law also requires lenders to weigh in each case whether it makes more sense to take back a home or to modify a loan by reducing the interest rate or amount owed.

Ross said lenders are still working to figure out how to comply with the law. “Our concern is that once they figure out how to do that, we will see a significant increase’’ in foreclosure activity, she said. “The economy for the vast majority of folks has not improved.”

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