Mortgage Comparison Shopping May Get Easier, thetruthaboutmortgage.com


The Federal Reserve has proposed a new rule that may make it easier for prospective homeowners and those looking to refinance shop around before making a commitment.

The proposal, which was part of a 930-page document published mid-month in the Federal Register, would allow consumers to cancel mortgage applications within three days and get refunded for certain costs.

Things like application fees and appraisal fees would be refundable, while credit report fees would not.

Mortgage shoppers would be entitled to refunds if they canceled an application within three business days of receiving key disclosures, including the Good Faith Estimate and Truth in Lending Act statement.

The Fed believes such a rule would help consumers shop for the best deal, instead of being locked in with one mortgage lender for fear of losing any up-front costs.

But many lenders believe the rule will have little effect, as most already wait several days before charging any fees.

Others are concerned it could delay an already backed-up process, as there will be a waiting period before anything is acted upon or ordered.

Although, it’s not uncommon for a loan to be “on hold” until it makes it through underwriting and receives a formal decision.

It’s unclear how the rule would affect mortgage brokers, those who work on behalf of banks directly with consumers.

A recent Bankrate.com study found that mortgage closing costs rose more than 36 percent this year, with loan origination fees rising nearly 25 percent and third-party fees jumping almost 50 percent.

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Them Be Fightin’ Words: The Fight Over Foreclosure Fees, by PAUL JACKSON, Stopforeclosurefraud.com


For the law firms that manage and process foreclosures on behalf of investors and banking institutions, what’s a fair legal fee? What’s a fair filing fee? Should fees to outsourcers be prohibited? And just how much money should it really cost to process a foreclosure?

As I write this, the answer to these and other questions are being fought out in the trenches, in an out-of-sight but increasingly heated battle involving Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the law firms that specialize in creditor’s rights, default industry service providers, and various private equity interests.

It’s a complex fight that many say will ultimately shape the way U.S. mortgages are serviced over the course of the next decade — and perhaps beyond. It’s also a debate that promises to spill over into how loans are originated and priced.

“No aspect of the U.S. mortgage business will go untouched by the outcome of this current debate,” said one attorney I spoke with, on condition of anonymity. “This is the single most important issue facing mortgage markets today, and will even determine how securities are structured in the future.”

How foreclosures are managed

Typically, a foreclosure involves legal and court filing fees — it is, after all, a legal process involving the forced transfer of a property from a non-paying borrower to secured lender. But the foreclosure process also typically involves a host of other associated fees, including necessary title searches, potential property insurance, homeowner’s association dues, property maintenance and repair, and much more.

Many of these fees are ultimately tacked onto the “past due” amounts tied to a delinquent borrower — and done so legally. Much like when a credit card becomes past due and the interest rate kicks into high oblivion, consumers looking to catch up on their delinquent mortgage payments must also make up the difference in additional fees in order to successfully do so.

Legal fees in the foreclosure business, however, aren’t what you might think. Instead of billing hourly for most work, as most attorneys in other fields would do, attorneys that specialize in processing foreclosures are paid on a flat-fee basis, using pre-determined fee schedules.

Thanks to the market-making power of the GSEs, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac — both of whom publish allowable fee schedules for every imaginable legal filing and process in the foreclosure repertoire — the entire foreclosure process has been reduced to a set of flat fees.

And not even negotiated fees, at that. For firms that operate in the field of foreclosure management, the GSE allowable fees amount to a take-it-or-leave-it menu of prices.

“For us, it doesn’t matter who the client is, even if it isn’t Fannie or Freddie,” said one attorney I spoke with, under condition of anonymity. “We know we’re only going to be able to claim whatever that flat fee schedule they set says we can claim, since other investors tend to employ whatever the GSE fee caps are.”

Fannie and Freddie as housing HMOs? In the foreclosure business, that’s pretty much what it amounts to.

But beyond determining the legal fee schedule for much of the multi-billion dollar default services market, the GSEs also largely determine who gets their own foreclosure work. Both Fannie and Freddie maintain networks of law firms called “designated counsel” or “approved counsel” in key states marked with significant foreclosure volume — and they either strongly suggest or require that any servicers managing a Fannie or Freddie loan in foreclosure refer any needed legal work to their approved legal counsel.

Each state will have numerous designated counsel — sometimes as many as five law firms — but in practice, attorneys say, two to three firms end up with the lion’s share of each state’s foreclosure work. In states hit hard by the housing downturn and foreclosure surge, like Florida, the amount of work can be substantial.

“The GSEs can force a servicer to use their designated counsel, especially if timeline performance in foreclosure management is out of some set boundary,” said one servicing executive at a large bank, who asked to remain anonymous. “It’s usually easiest to simply use their counsel on their loans, even if we don’t see that firm as best-in-class.”

With the vast majority of the mortgage market now running through the GSEs, and much of what’s left of the private market following the guidelines Fannie and Freddie establish, it should come as no surprise to find that a few law firms in each state end up with the majority of the foreclosure work, sources say.

The rise of the ‘foreclosure mills’

Being designated as approved counsel by Fannie Mae and/or Freddie Mac does carry risk. Just ask Florida’s David Stern, who has seen his burgeoning operation pejoratively branded a ‘foreclosure mill’ by consumer groups, dragged through the press for both alleged and real consumer misdeeds, and facing numerous investor lawsuits surrounding the operation of DJSP Enterprises, Inc. (DJSP: 3.22 -1.23%) — the publicly-traded processing company tied to the law firm.

While Stern’s operation may win the award for ‘most susceptible to negative publicity,’ how the law firm operates is far from unique in the foreclosure industry.

When Buying A House In Portland Narrow Your Search + RMLS Email Updates, by Betty Jung, Re/Max Equity Group


Last weekend showing property it was brought home to me again how important it is to narrow your search.  I met with two separate buyers in different parts of town.  They knew exactly where they wanted to purchase and their search is contained within those areas.

Several years ago I had a buyer who was interested in purchasing in Portland.  He told me he wanted to look in Clackamas, Washington, and Multnomah counties – pretty much half the state, or thereabouts.  It was extremely difficult for him to narrow down where he wanted to live because his search parameter was way too large in scope. I kept encouraging him to narrow his choices.  As a result, he thought a house in one part of the State looked extremely appealing when in fact compared to other areas and factors, it wasn’t a good deal at all.  It was like comparing apples to oranges.

That’s not to say you shouldn’t look at several areas, but the sooner you zero in on the location you would rather live in, the easier it is on you, the buyer.

One thing I tell my buyers is that I would hate for them to look on one side of the road and never having looked on the other side. When you first start looking for a house, of course, your parameters may not be as narrow.  It’s actually good if you start with a larger area and then narrow it down if you don’t know where you want to live.  But, that’s not to say you should include half the state of Oregon.  The sooner you know where you want to live, the sooner you will find your “dream” home.

For email updates of property listings direct from our RMLS,™ please click on this link and fill out the form to start receiving them.

Betty Jung
http://www.bjung.equitygroup.com
http://www.twitter.com/bettyjung
http://bettyjung.wordpress.com
http://lakeoswegolivingphotoblog.wordpress.com
http://oregonsnapshots.wordpress.co

Another Home Buyer Tax Credit?, by Diana Olick, CNBC


Just when I thought the housing market was finally being left to correct on its own, I’m starting to hear talk regarding yet another home buyer tax credit. From HUD to the hedge funds, it sounds as if it is gaining steam yet again. This one could involve not just first time/move-up buyers, but a credit for buyers purchasing foreclosed properties or short sales (when the bank allows you to buy a home for less than the value of the outstanding mortgage).

HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan, appearing on CNN’s State of the Union this weekend, didn’t rule out another tax credit. He did say it’s “too early to say,” but then added that “we’re going to be focused like a laser on where the housing market is moving going forward, and we are going to go everywhere we can to make sure this market stabilizes and recovers.”

After that several Congressional candidates in Florida threw their voices behind the possibility, and Florida Gov. Charlie Crist then chimed in on the same show, saying that another tax credit, “would stimulate the economy. It would increase home sales in Florida.” He finished with: “I would absolutely encourage the president to support that because it would certainly help my fellow Floridians.”

So of course then I went the official route and followed up with a HUD spokesperson who responded:  “No news here…there are no discussions underway to revive the credit.”

Is it all political? And is another tax credit the answer?  “I don’t think it’s all political,” says housing consultant Howard Glaser. “I think they are panicked that the economy/housing got away from them.” Glaser doesn’t sound convinced the tax credit is really on the table.  “They can do a lot off budget with the GSE’s and FHA with no Congress.”

I know a lot of you out there would argue that a housing market correction, as painful as it is, is necessary for housing to truly find its footing again and recover for the long term. Another artificial stimulus could just prolong the agony and set us up for the same drop off in sales and prices that we’re seeing right now.  

But it could also move some inventory quickly. With inventories of new and existing homes dangerously high, and the shadow supply of foreclosures pushing that volume even higher, more stimulus could be a necessary evil. I liken it to what I’m doing with my lawn this week. All summer I fought the weeds, pulling them, using the organic sprays and repellents, spreading mulch to deprive them of any air.  And then I gave up.  I called the lawn service and told them to bring every chemical in their arsenal.  Shock the overgrown mess into submission once and for all, so that I can start fresh again and reseed this fall.

Obama Plans Refinancing Aid, Loans for Jobless Homeowners, HUD Chief Says, by Holly Rosenkrantz, Bloomberg


The Obama administration plans to set up an emergency loan program for the unemployed and a government mortgage refinancing effort in the next few weeks to help homeowners after home sales dropped in July, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan said.

“The July numbers were worse than we expected, worse than the general market expected, and we are concerned,” Donovan said on CNN’s “State of the Union” program yesterday. “That’s why we are taking additional steps to move forward.”

The administration will begin a Federal Housing Authority refinancing effort to help borrowers who are struggling to pay their mortgages, and will start an emergency homeowners’ loan program for unemployed borrowers so they can stay in their homes, Donovan said.

“We’re going to continue to make sure folks have access to home ownership,” he said.

Sales of U.S. new homes unexpectedly dropped in July to the lowest level on record, signaling that even with cheaper prices and reduced borrowing costs the housing market is retreating. Purchases fell 12 percent from June to an annual pace of 276,000, the weakest since the data began in 1963.

Sales of existing houses plunged by a record 27 percent in July as the effects of a government tax credit waned, showing a lack of jobs threatens to undermine the U.S. economic recovery.

House Sales Plummet

Purchases plummeted to a 3.83 million annual pace, the lowest in a decade of record keeping and worse than the most pessimistic forecast of economists surveyed by Bloomberg News, figures from the National Association of Realtors showed last week. Demand for single-family houses dropped to a 15-year low and the number of homes on the market swelled.

U.S. home prices fell 1.6 percent in the second quarter from a year earlier as record foreclosures added to the inventory of properties for sale. The annual drop followed a 3.2 percent decline in the first quarter, the Federal Housing Finance Agency said last week in a report.

Donovan said on CNN yesterday that it is too soon to say whether the administration’s $8,000 first-time homebuyer credit tax credit, which expired April 30, will be revived.

“All I can tell you is that we are watching very carefully,” Donovan said. “We’re going to be focused like a laser on where the housing market is moving going forward, and we are going to go everywhere we can to make sure this market stabilizes and recovers.”

Reviving the tax credit would “help enormously” in the effort to fight foreclosures and revive the economy, Florida Governor Charlie Crist said on the same CNN program. Florida has the third-highest home foreclosure rate in the country, with one in every 171 housing units receiving a foreclosure filing this year.

To contact the reporter on this story: Holly Rosenkrantz in Washington athrosenkrantz@bloomberg.net.

Flipper Cash Propping Up Housing Market, Brett Neely, NPR


It was a bleak week for anyone looking for signs that the housing market is recovering. New home sales in July were at the weakest levels since the government began keeping records 47 years ago. Existing home sales weren’t much better.

But in all that news, there’s a number that jumps out: Almost one-third of the home sales were in all-cash deals. Before the housing bust, less than 10 percent of sales were in all cash, according to the National Association of Realtors.

Who buys houses with a big stack of cash? Often, people like Craig Fuhr. He’s been investing in real estate around Maryland for the past seven years. The license plate on his SUV defines his style of investing. It reads: “flippin.”

At a time when the housing market is so anemic that it threatens to send the economy back into a recession, Fuhr is a reminder that there are still people who make money investing in real estate.

And they tend to be very serious about it.

Turning $63,000 Into $250,000

Fuhr paid $63,000 in cash for a boarded-up, four-bedroom house on Diller Avenue in the Beverly Hills neighborhood of Baltimore. It’s a pretty neighborhood with lots of big trees and houses from the 1920s, but it’s no Southern California.

Inside, there’s debris everywhere from where Fuhr’s contractors have ripped out drywall. Once the place is fixed up, Fuhr thinks he and his investors may be able to get $250,000 for it.

Potential rewards like these are drawing investors into the real estate market right now, says Kenneth Wenhold of the real estate research firm Metrostudy.

“When you’re putting all cash into a particular transaction, it’s an indication that you believe that this is a good price for this home,” Wenhold says, “and [that] you don’t think it’s going to depreciate more, and you’re willing to bet a considerable amount of money that it’s going to start to appreciate again.”

In cities across the country, there are investors like Fuhr taking advantage of depressed housing prices to snap up dozens of properties on the cheap. When they’re not flipping those houses, they’re turning them into rentals.

Cash Is King When There’s No Credit

Cash sales have become a big part of the market because banks are issuing fewer mortgages. House flippers like Fuhr could once rely on bank loans to finance their deals. But no longer, Fuhr says. Now he has a group of investors who bankroll him.

“The big hurdle that everyone has these days is just finding the money to purchase and rehab. You know, not everybody has $150,000 sitting around, and the problem is … that no banks right now are lending,” he says.

Fuhr got into the real estate business at a time when banks lent to anyone with a pulse.

“You could do every single thing wrong and still make money. You could purchase the house for way too much. You could take way too long to rehab it. You could rehab it poorly and still sell it on the back end and make money,” he says.

A lot of house flippers got burned by the bubble — but Fuhr’s still flipping.

“You know, if you’ve been doing this as long as we have, you know that you make your money when you purchase the house — not when you sell it,” he says.

With banks still unloading their huge portfolios of foreclosed properties, houses remain very cheap these days.

Fuhr says he may spend close to $100,000 renovating the home he bought for $63,000. Even if the house doesn’t fetch the $250,000 he thinks it will, Fuhr isn’t worried.

“The market could literally correct itself $50- or $60,000, and we would still break even.”

Which means even if housing prices stay weak, investors like Fuhr could have plenty of chances to keep making money.

Lenders won’t have to run a second full credit check before closing on mortgage, by Kenneth R. Harney, Washington Post


Despite earlier reports to the contrary, it turns out that your mortgage lender will not have to pull a second full credit report on you hours before closing on your home purchase or refinancing.

In a clarification of a policy announced earlier this year, mortgage giant Fannie Mae now says that applicants will need to come clean about any debts they have incurred since they submitted their mortgage application — or debts they never disclosed on the application. But a formal pre-closing credit report will not be mandatory to confirm creditworthiness.

Instead, loan officers can use other techniques to verify that you haven’t financed a new car, taken out a personal loan or even applied for new credit in any amount that might make it more difficult for you to afford your monthly mortgage payments.

Among the techniques Fannie expects lenders to use on all applicants: commercial or in-house fraud-detection systems are capable of tracking applicants’ credit files from the day their loan request is approved to closing.

Although Fannie made no reference to specific services in its recent clarification letter to lenders, some commercially available programs claim to be able to monitor mortgage borrowers’ credit activities on a 24/7 basis, flagging such things as inquiries, new credit accounts and previous accounts that did not show up on the credit report that was pulled at the time of initial application.

One of those services is marketed by national credit bureau Equifax and dubbed “Undisclosed Debt Monitoring.” Aimed at what Equifax calls “the quiet period” between application and closing — often one month to three months — the system is “always on,” the company says in marketing pitches to mortgage lenders.

Home loan applicants failed to mention — or loan officers failed to detect — “up to $142 million in auto loan payments” during mortgage underwriting in first mortgage files reviewed by Equifax last year alone, according to the credit bureau. Those loan accounts had average balances of $361 per month — more than enough to disqualify many borrowers on maximum debt-to-income ratio standards required by Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and major lenders.

Why the sudden concern about new debts incurred after mortgage applications? It’s mainly because Fannie and others have picked up on a key type of consumer behavior that has helped trigger big losses for the mortgage industry in recent years: Some buyers and refinancers hold off on creating new credit accounts until they have cleared strict underwriting tests on the debt-to-income ratios and have been approved for a loan. Then they splurge.

Additional debt loads can run into the tens of thousands of dollars, executives in the credit industry say. Had those new accounts been in their credit files during the application process, borrowers might have been turned down for the mortgage, required to make a larger down payment or charged a higher interest rate.

Fannie’s new policy puts the burden of detecting these debts squarely on lenders or loan officers. Whether they pull additional credit reports — still an option allowed under the revised policy — or use some form of monitoring service, lenders must guarantee that the debt loads stated in any mortgage package submitted for purchase by Fannie Mae are scrupulously accurate as of the moment of closing. If not, the lender probably will be forced to endure the most painful form of punishment in the financial industry: a forced “buyback” of the entire mortgage from Fannie Mae.

Billions of dollars in buybacks have been demanded by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac this year alone — a fact that is likely to make lenders even more eager to conduct some type of refresher credit check or continuous monitoring of all new loan applicants.

What does this mean if you’re planning to finance a home purchase or refinance your existing mortgage into a new loan with a lower interest rate? Tops on the list: Be aware that sophisticated credit surveillance systems are now being used in the mortgage industry.

Next, try not to inquire about, shop for or take on new credit obligations during the period between your application and the scheduled closing. If you seriously want that new loan, keep your credit picture simple — no significant changes, no additions — until you settle on the mortgage.

During the heady days of the housing boom, nobody was looking for debt add-ons before closings. Now they are scanning for them all the time.