Citing ‘human error,’ Warren Group says more foreclosures were started in September, not fewer as it first reported

The Warren Group, a Boston company that tracks local real estate, said Friday that because of ”human error,” it mistakenly reported that fewer foreclosures were begun in September when the number actually rose significantly statewide.

In issuing a correction, Timothy M. Warren, chief executive of the Warren Group, said it’s the only data error the 140-year-old business has made in at least two decades.

According to the revised figures, foreclosure petitions—the first step in the property seizure process—increased to 1,420 in September, 22 percent more than during the same period last year.

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In late October, the Warren Group erroneously said foreclosure starts statewide dropped to 973 in September, a 16.4 percent decline from that month in 2011, and the first time this year that the monthly figure had fallen below 1,000. Those numbers were reported by the Globe and other media outlets.

At the time, Warren said the decline in foreclosure petitions was a “strong indicator of a housing market recovery” in Massachusetts.

Friday, Warren said the problem with the September report occurred when a staff member calculated the final foreclosure numbers for the month before all the data had been collected from Land Court in Boston.

Other September data, including the number of foreclosure deeds and auctions, is still correct, he said. In September, 510 homeowners lost their properties to foreclosure, a 32 percent drop compared with the same time last year, the Warren Group reported. There were 6,486 homes seized by lenders between January and September, a 3.5 percent increase compared with 2011.

Despite the year-over-year monthly revision for September petitions, Warren said he still is optimistic about the overall direction of the state’s housing market. He noted that that there were 22.5 percent fewer foreclosure petitions sent to homeowners in September than in August. Still, between January and September, lenders initiated foreclosure proceedings on 13,876 properties, 47.3 percent more than during the first nine months of 2011.

Warren said foreclosure activity for 2012 is up compared with last year because 2011 numbers were artificially low. Last year, lenders slowed their efforts to take back homes from delinquent borrowers in the face of allegations of fraud and sloppy paperwork across the US.

“My general feeling about the housing market is bullish,’’ Warren said.