Sales of foreclosed homes in Minnesota fell to the lowest level since 2006, a sign that the economic recovery and efforts to help homeowners are slowing repossessions.

“We continue to see improvement in the housing market,” said Julie Gugin, executive director of the Minnesota Homeownership Center. “And we know that our foreclosure prevention efforts in Minnesota, combined with improvements in how banks and lenders deal with struggling homeowners are having a positive impact on the number of foreclosures.”

Year-end data from the Minnesota Homeownership Center show that 17,895 Minnesota homeowners lost their homes last year. That’s down 16 percent from the previous year and the lowest rate in several years, but still triple the number of houses that were lost to a sheriff’s sale in 2005. The group uses research provided by HousingLink to analyze sheriff’s sale data throughout the state.

The declines are a sign that attempts to reduce foreclosures in Minnesota are working, mostly in parts of the state where the economy is recovering. Wide swaths of the state have failed to show much improvement.

For example, the biggest reduction in the number of foreclosures was in the metro area, where sheriff’s sales were down 19 percent. In greater Minnesota, repossessions fell 11 percent.

Ed Nelson, communications director for the MHOC, said the organization has refined and expanded its efforts to reach distressed homeowners, but he credited bankers and loan servicers as doing a better job of coping with the diverse needs of troubled homeowners.

“When working with consumers on loss mitigation efforts or loan workouts, the terms of those agreements are much better today than they were a few years ago,” he said. “It’s a win-win for both parties.”

Across the state the foreclosure rate has fallen to slightly less than 1 percent, but was highest in several outlying counties, including Isanti County, where the foreclosure rate was more than 2 percent.

Though the data is compiled by the Minnesota Homeownership Center, it gets support from the Greater Minnesota Housing Fund, Minnesota Housing and the Family Housing Fund. The center operates a network of more than 50 nonprofit organizations throughout the state to provide assistance to homeowners who are in financial trouble.

The announcement follows an earlier report from the group that shows that pre-foreclosure notices across the state are falling, suggesting that barring economic troubles, the number of foreclosure auctions will continue to fall.

Nelson said that given the current level of delinquencies, foreclosure rates will remain above historic norms at least through 2015 or 2016.

“The overall economic picture has improved,” he said. “Those homeowners who a few years ago were either unemployed or lost hours are better off today.”