Wells Fargo Top Mortgage Lender for the Fourth Consecutive Quarter, Thetruthaboutmortgage.com


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Wells Fargo was the top residential mortgage lender for the fourth consecutive quarter, according to MortgageStats.com.

The San Francisco-based bank and mortgage lender grabbed nearly a quarter (23.13 percent) of total market share with $102.8 billion in loan origination volume during the third quarter.

The company bested its year-ago total of $97.9 billion and crushed the $83 billion originated in the second quarter, thanks in part to the record low mortgage rates on offer, which sparkedrefinance demand.

Bank of America came in a distant second with $74 billion and 16.66 percent market share – Chase originated about half of that, with $42.7 billion and 9.60 percent market share.

Their volume was nearly identical to the volume seen a quarter earlier, but 25 percent lower than that seen a year ago.

Rounding out the top five were CitiMortgage and Ally Bank/Residential Capital (GMAC) with $20.3 billion and $20.2 billion, respectively.

The pair saw market share of just over nine percent combined.

So the five largest mortgage lenders accounted for nearly 60 percent of all loan origination volume.

Quicken Loans was the biggest gainer in the top 10, with an 88 percent increase seen from the third quarter of 2009.

SunTrust Bank was the biggest loser year-over-year, chalking a 34 percent decline.

Take a look at the top 10 mortgage lenders in the third quarter of 2010:

 

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GMAC Foreclosures Included Treehouses, Forts, Crystalair.com


HORSHAM, Penn. (CAP) – Internal memos and other documents covertly obtained by CAP News show that mortgage company GMAC‘s questionable foreclosure practices included not only the so-called “robo-signing” of tens of thousands of foreclosures on single family dwellings, but also children’s treehouses, public outhouses and in one case, an 8-year-old German Shepherd‘s dog house.

“We’ve only audited less than one percent of GMAC’s September filings and already we’ve found so much fraudulent activity it would make Bernie Madoff roll over in his grave,” said Penn. State Attorney General Tom Corbett. “You know, if he were dead.”

Corbett said his office uncovered one situation where a Philadelphia girl was told by her mother to go clean up her Barbies before dinner but upon arriving in the living room found the front door to her Barbie Pink World 3-Story Dream Townhouse locked and all the furniture strewn across the living room floor. “And to make matters worse, her Ken had run off with her best friend’s Barbie,” added Corbett.

Other scenarios played out similarly. A Scranton man who asked not to be identified said his son came running into the house crying one Saturday because he tried to climb into his treehouse only to find that another boy he didn’t know was playing Matchbox cars there. Numerous attempts to bribe the boy with candy failed to get him to emerge from the treehouse.

“And now my kid’s inside just sitting on the couch watching TV,” said the father. “If he becomes lazy and obese because of this, I’m gonna sue.”

GMAC isn’t alone. Both Citigroup and Bank Of America have also come under fire for signing documents without fully reviewing them, which somehow extended beyond foreclosures to include other loan approvals, faked autographs on sports memorabilia, and a permission slip for one office worker’s child’s school field trip to Fred’s Museum Of Science.

“Totally fraudulent – that science museum has been closed for months,” said Mass. Attorney General Martha Coakley. “And I’m pursuing a case against Super Duper Foreclosures, Inc. too. Something’s just not right about that.”

Other state attorneys general are joining the fight with Corbett and vowing to put an end to the unscrupulous foreclosures, “if it’s the last thing we do” – which for many of the Democratic incumbents seeking re-election this fall, it may be.

“What we need is a hard-target foreclosure check of every gas station, residence, warehouse, farmhouse, henhouse, outhouse and doghouse in the area,” said Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller. “Every duplicitous foreclosure means one less vote for me. Go get ’em!”

Pundits note that President Obama has been noticeably absent from any of the foreclosure brouhaha, but administration sources say he’s still dealing with the long-term fallout from when the White House was foreclosed on President Bush in 2007. He also has reportedly stationed secret service agents inside the fort on Sasha and Malia’s play structure to ensure the first family “doesn’t fall victim to a middle-class problem.”

“Who knew when we bailed out those people who couldn’t afford their mortgages a year and a half ago that they’d all end up in foreclosure now,” said Obama. “Not me, that’s for sure. Funny how it worked out like that.”

Timothy Geithner forecloses on the moratorium debate, Dean Baker, Guardian


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Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner is good at telling fairy tales. Geithner first became known to the general public in September of 2008. Back then, he was head of the New York Federal Reserve Board. He was part of the triumvirate, along with Federal Reserve Board chairman Ben Bernanke and then Treasury secretary Henry Paulson, who told congress that it had to pass the Tarp or the economy would collapse.

This was an effective fairytale, since congress quickly handed over $700bn to lend to the banks with few questions asked. Of course, the economy was not about to collapse, just the major Wall Street banks. To prevent the collapse of the banks, congress could have given the money – but with the sort of conditions that would ensure the financial sector would never be the same. Alternatively, it could have allowed the collapse, and then rushed in with the liquidity to bring the financial system back to life.

But the Geithner fairytale did the trick. Terrified members of congress tripped over each other to make sure that they got the money to the banks as quickly as possible.

Now, Geithner has a new fairytale. This time, it is that if the government imposes a foreclosure moratorium, it will lead to chaos in the housing market and jeopardise the health of the recovery.

For the gullible, which includes most of the Washington policy elite, this assertion is probably sufficient to quash any interest in a foreclosure moratorium. But those capable of thinking for themselves may ask how Geithner could have reached this conclusion.

The point of a foreclosure moratorium would be to ensure that proper procedures are being followed. We know that this is not the case at present. There have been several outstanding stories in the media about law firms that specialise in filing documents for short-order foreclosures. They hire anyone they can find to sign legal documents assuring that the papers have been properly reviewed and are in order.

In some cases, this has led to the wrong house being foreclosed. People who are current on their mortgage – or who, in one case, did not even have a mortgage – have been foreclosed by this process. The more common problem would be the assignment of improper fees and penalties to mortgage holders. Or, in many cases, foreclosures have probably occurred where the servicer did not actually possess the necessary legal documents.

A moratorium would give regulators the time needed to review servicers’ processes and ensure that they have a system in place that follows the law and will not be subject to abuse. This is the same logic as the Obama administration used when it imposed a moratorium on deepsea drilling following the BP oil spill.

No one can seriously dispute that there is a real problem. Three of the largest servicers, Bank of America, JP Morgan and Ally Financial have already imposed their own moratorium to get their procedures in order. This is just a question of whether we should have regulators oversee the process or “trust the banks”.

If the argument for a moratorium is straightforward, it is difficult to see any basis for Geithner’s disaster fairytale. If there were a moratorium in place for two to four months, then banks would stop adding to their inventory of foreclosed properties.

But most banks already have a huge inventory of unsold properties. Presumably, they would just sell homes out of this inventory. This “shadow inventory” of foreclosed homes that were being held off the market has been widely talked about by real estate analysts for at least two years. It is difficult to see the harm if it stops growing for a period of time.

Of course, it actually was Obama administration policy to try to slow the process of foreclosure. This has repeatedly been given as a main purpose of its Hamp programme, the idea being that this would give the housing market more time to settle down. Now, we have Geithner issuing warnings of Armageddon if a foreclosure moratorium slows down the foreclosure process.

It doesn’t make sense to both push a policy intended to slow the foreclosure process and then oppose a policy precisely because it would slow the process. While this is clearly inconsistent, there has been a consistent pattern to Geithner’s positions throughout this crisis.

Support for the Tarp, support for Hamp and opposition to a foreclosure moratorium are all positions that benefit the Wall Street banks. I’m just saying.

 

 

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/cifamerica/2010/oct/18/mortgage-arrears-banking

Boiler Rooms, Foreclosure Mills: The Story of America’s Mortgage Industry, by Blacklistednews.com


The news about the nation’s foreclosure scandal has been coming fast and furious, driven by tales of backdated documentsfalse affidavits and “rocket dockets” that push families into the street. A former employee with one of the nation’s largest lenderstestifies that he signed off on 400 foreclosure documents a day without reading them or verifying the information in them was correct.

Ex-employees of a law firm that serves as a “foreclosure mill” for major lenders describe a workplace where speed — not accuracy or justice — trumps all. “Somebody would get a 76-day foreclosure,” one recalled, “and then someone else would say, ‘Oh, I can beat that!’”

Shocking stuff. But surprising? Not for anyone who’s been tracking the recent history of the mortgage machine. Just about every corner of the America’s mortgage industry has been blemished by significant levels of fraud over the past decade.

On the front end of the process, for example, many mortgage pros used “boiler room” salesmanship to peddle loans to borrowers who didn’t understand what they were getting and couldn’t afford their loans in the long run. To make these deals go through, some workers forged borrowers’ signatures on key documents, pressured real estate appraisers to inflate home values, and created fake W-2 tax forms that exaggerated loan applicants’ earnings.

At Ameriquest Mortgage, one of the companies I focus on in my new book about the subprime mortgage debacle, The Monster, this sort of cut-and-paste document production was so common employees joked that the work was being done in “The Lab” or the “Art Department.”

Here’s a snippet from the book, from a passage about Stephen Kuhn, a young Ameriquest salesman who eventually became distraught about the things he had to do to earn his living:

The pressure to produce began to get to Kuhn. After he became a branch manager, he saw a bigger picture of how Ameriquest was treating its customers. Many nights, he had to drink a twelve-pack of beer to get to sleep. He asked for a demotion. He wanted to go back to being a salesman.

Even that didn’t work for him. He felt trapped. To hang on to his job, he had to put borrowers in deals that sank them deeper into ruin. One of his customers was a veterinarian who was having tax problems. The IRS was threatening to close down his business. Kuhn arranged a loan for the veterinarian that “had no benefit whatsoever. It was a terrible loan.” Another customer was a small businessman, the owner of a Chinese restaurant. Kuhn put the man into a stated-income loan that raised his payments by $200 a month, even though he was struggling to keep up on his existing mortgage. “He was desperate,” Kuhn said. “So I was told to take advantage of him.” Kuhn said a supervisor ordered him to cut and paste documents to make the loan go through, telling him, “It’s a three-hundred-thousand-dollar loan. Get it done.” The borrower was facing foreclosure on his existing mortgage, so Kuhn forged his mortgage history so it looked like he’d never been late on his mortgage.

By the summer of 2003 Kuhn couldn’t take it anymore. He told his manager he was having trouble dealing with things, because he thought Ameriquest’s rates, fees, and business ethics were terrible. Soon after, on a day when Kuhn was out sick, his manager left him a cell phone message telling him it would be in everyone’s best interest if Kuhn and Ameriquest parted ways. Kuhn called back and asked why he was being fired. The only answer the manager would give him, Kuhn said, was, “I think you know.”

Stephen Kuhn was far from alone, at Ameriquest and other lenders around the country.

As the Center for Public Integrity documented in its 2009 report, Economic Meltdown: The Subprime 25, many of the largest financial institutions in America were key players in the subprime market — and many of them had to make payments to settle claims of widespread lending abuses.

Little was done to stop the bad practices when they were happening. Former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan would later explain to CBS’ 60 Minutes: “While I was aware a lot of these practices were going on, I had no notion of how significant they had become until very late. I didn’t really get it until very late in 2005 and 2006.” The Fed took no action even when it became aware of the problems, he said, because “it’s very difficult for banking regulators to deal with that.”

With federal officials pushing a soft approach to policing the mortgage market, it was left to the states to do what they could to try and rein in the worst practices. A coalition of state authorities dug into Ameriquest’s tactics, eventually forcing the company to agree to a $325 million loan-fraud settlement.

Now that a fresh scandal has emerged in the mortgage industry, the states are once again taking the lead in confronting the problem. At least seven states are investigating questionable foreclosures.

On Wednesday, Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray sued Ally Financial Inc. and its GMAC Mortgage division, claiming that workers at the company had signed and filed false court documents in an effort to “increase its profits at the expense Ohio consumers and Ohio’s system of justice.” Cordray called the alleged misconduct the “tip of an iceberg of industrywide abuse of the foreclosure process.”

Now the question becomes: Will federal officials intervene — and, if so, how forcefully? Key members of Congress are pushing U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and current Fed Chair Ben Bernanke to investigate.

A spokesman for House Republican Leader John Boehner of Ohio says “it is imperative that we get all of the facts about this situation, and quickly.”

Congress and other powers in Washington failed to get the facts and act the first time around — when lenders were engaged in a frenzy of predatory lending. The foreclosure scandal is a second chance for lawmakers and bureaucrats to prove that they can ferret out the truth and take action.

 

After Foreclosure, a Focus on Title Insurance, Ron Lieber, Nytimes.com


When home buyers and people refinancing their mortgages first see the itemized estimate for all the closing costs and fees, the largest number is often for title insurance.

This moment is often profoundly irritating, mysterious and rushed — just like so much of the home-buying process. Lenders require buyers to have title insurance, but buyers are often not sure who picked the insurance company. And the buyers are so exhausted by the gauntlet they’ve already run that they’re not interested in spending any time learning more about the policies and shopping around for a better one.

Besides, does anyone actually know people who have had to collect on title insurance? It ultimately feels like a tax — an extortionate one at that — and not a protective measure.

But all of the sudden, the importance of title insurance is becoming crystal-clear. In recent weeks, big lenders likeGMAC Mortgage, JPMorgan Chase and Bank of Americahave halted many or all of their foreclosure proceedings in the wake of allegations of sloppiness, shortcuts or worse. And a potential nightmare situation has emerged that has spooked not only homeowners but lawyers, title insurance companies and their investors.

What would happen if scores of people who had lost their homes to foreclosure somehow persuaded a judge to overturn the proceedings? Could they somehow win back the rights to their homes, free and clear of any mortgage? But they may not be able to simply move back into their home at that point. Banks, after all, have turned around and sold some of those foreclosed homes to nice young families reaching out for a bit of the American dream. Would they simply be put out on the street? And then what?

The answer to that last question may depend on whether those new homeowners have title insurance, because people who buy a home without a mortgage can choose to go without a policy.

Title insurance covers you in case people turn up months or years after you buy your home saying that they, in fact, are the rightful owners of the house or the land, or at least had a stake in the transaction. (The insurance may cover you in other instances as well, relating to easements and other matters, but we’ll leave those aside for now.)

The insurance companies or their agents begin any transaction by running a title search, sifting through government filings related to the property. They do this before you buy a home or refinance your mortgage to help sort out any problems ahead of time and to reduce the risk of your filing a claim later.

But sometimes they miss things, and new issues can arise later.

For instance, the person doing the title search may not notice that a home equity loan is still outstanding or that a contracting firm filed a lien against the owner years ago. That could create problems for you later, when you try to sell the home.

Then there are the psychodramas that can ensue. The previous owner’s long-lost heirs or a previously unknown love child could show up, saying that they never agreed to the sale of the property. Or perhaps there was fraud against a seller who was elderly or had a mental disability, or forgery of an estranged spouse’s signature. It’s rare, but it happens, and when it does, your title insurance company is supposed to provide legal counsel or settle with whomever is making a claim.

Title insurance companies would like you believe that they are the good guys standing behind you. After all, you are the customer who owns the policy.

In fact, many of the title insurance companies are more concerned about the real estate agents, lawyers and lenders who can steer business their way. The title insurance companies are well aware that most people do not shop around for title insurance, even though it’s possible to do so — say through a Web site like entitledirect.com.

While the title insurers are not supposed to kick back money directly to companies or brokers that send business their way, various government investigations over the years have turned up all sorts of cozy dealings that make you shake your head in disgust.

But since you have to buy the insurance if you need a mortgage, there is not much you can do except hold your nose.

That’s what John Kovalick did in January when he bought a foreclosed house in Deltona, Fla., for $102,000 from Deutsche Bank. But in recent weeks, he’s seen the headlines about other banks halting foreclosures and wondered whether something might have gone wrong with the foreclosure on his new house. A spokesman for Deutsche Bank declined comment.

Mr. Kovalick is not the only one pondering what could go wrong. While the banks were pressing the pause button on many foreclosures, some title insurers were growing concerned as well.

On Oct. 1, Old Republic National Title Insurance Company released a notice forbidding any agents or employees to issue new policies on homes that had been recently foreclosed by GMAC Mortgage or Chase.

Clearly, the title insurer was also worried about a situation in which untold numbers of former homeowners have their foreclosures overturned. At that point, those individuals might claim the right to take back their old homes, but they’d also be responsible for, say, a $400,000 loan on a home that is worth half that.

So what would happen next? The banks that foreclosed might start the process over again. At that point, lawyers for the people who had been foreclosed upon might take the next logical step and try to show that the banks never had the documents to prove ownership of the mortgage in the first place. The banks might settle at that point, writing checks to everyone who had gone through a disputed foreclosure in exchange for each of them giving up the title.

But if banks did not settle, or the evicted homeowners refused to settle and fought on and won, they might end up owning their homes once again and not owing the bank either.

Or banks might agree to slice a big chunk off the remaining balance in exchange for a release from any liability for the errors it made.

At that point — and again, this is what Old Republic and investors in other title insurers fear — those homeowners might actually want to move back in. But some foreclosed homes were sold by the banks to others who now live there. And those new residents would have big, fat title insurance claims if their predecessors ever turned up at their doorsteps, proclaimed them trespassers and told them to leave.

“All of these Joe Schmos who did everything legally would then be in the middle of it, too,” said Mr. Kovalick, who manages an auto repair shop and is now hoping not to be one of those Schmos.

“Now, you’d have two total disasters,” he said. “How would you like to be the judge to get that first case?”

While homeowners like Mr. Kovalick may have title insurance, it generally covers them only for the purchase price of the home. When you buy a home out of foreclosure, however, it often needs a lot of work. “If I bought it at $200,000 and it’s a steal but I had to gut it and sink $100,000 more in, my recovery is limited if there is a problem,” said Matthew Weidner, a lawyer in St. Petersburg, Fla.

Indeed, this possibility has occurred to Mr. Kovalick, who has plans to put an addition on his home and is asking how he could extract that investment if someone ever turned up on his doorstep and asked him to leave. “What do I do, take the paint off the walls and the custom blinds off the windows?”

Chances are, it will not come to that. After all, title insurers could settle with the previous residents, allowing them to walk away with a big check to restart their lives elsewhere.

Still, for anyone considering buying a bargain home out of foreclosure anytime soon, consider asking your title insurer if any special riders are available that can cover appreciation on your home in the event of a total loss.

That said, if you can possibly help it, stay away from foreclosed homes until the scene shakes out a little bit.

Some people will undoubtedly make a fortune investing in these properties in the next few months. But if your down payment represents most of what you have in the world, it’s hard to justify betting it all on a situation like this one.

 

 

The Foreclosure Mess MBS Hate Triangle Emerges: Junior Versus Senior Bondholders Versus Servicers, by Tyler Durden, Zerohedge.com


The WSJ has an article that does a great job of qualifying the impact of what the foreclosure halt will do to the traditional cash waterfall priority schedule inherent in every MBS deal. To wit: junior bondholders will rejoice as they will receive payments for the duration of the halt/moratorium (these would and should cease upon an act of foreclosure), while senior bondholders will suffer, as the deficiency money will come out of the total “reserve” in the pooling and servicing agreement set up by the servicers. As for the servicers themselves, they should be “reimbursed by funds in the trust for all costs related to litigation and extra processing of foreclosures, provided they follow standard industry practices.” In other words, it will now become “every man, sorry, banker for themselves” as each party attempts to preserve as much capital as possible given the new development: juniors will push for an indefinite foreclosure halt, seniors will seek an immediate resumption of the status quo, while the servicers stand to get stuck with billion dollar legal and deficiency fees if it is found that “standard industry practices” were not followed. Alas, it would appears that the servicers have by far the weakest case, and the impact to the banks, whose sloppy standards brought this whole situation on, will be in the tens if not billions of dollars. Oh, and suddenly both junior and senior classes will be embroiled in very vicious, painful, and extended litigation with the servicers. Lots of litigation.

More from the WSJ on the conflict between juniors and seniors:

When houses that have been packaged into a mortgage bond are liquidated at a foreclosure sale—the very end of the foreclosure process—the holders of the junior, or riskiest debt, would be the first investors to take losses. But if a foreclosure is delayed, the servicer must typically keep advancing payments that will go to all bondholders, including the junior debt holders, even though the home loan itself is producing no revenue stream.

The latest events thus set up an odd circumstance where junior bondholders—typically at the bottom of the credit structure—could actually end up better off than they expected. Senior bondholders, typically at the top, could end up worse off.

Not surprisingly, senior debt holders want banks to foreclose faster to reduce expenses. Junior bondholders are generally happy to stretch things out. What is more, it isn’t entirely clear how the costs of re-processing tens of thousands of mortgages will be allocated. Those costs could be “significant” said Andrew Sandler, a Washington, D.C., attorney who represents mortgage companies.

“This is sort of an extraordinary situation,” said Debashish Chatterjee, a vice president for Moody’s Investors Service who covers structured finance. By delaying foreclosures, “it means the subordinate bondholders don’t get written down for a much longer period of time, and they keep getting payments.”

This, however, ignores the class that will impacted the most by all this: servicers.

Typically, mortgage servicers enter into contracts called pooling and servicing agreements with bondholders that spell out the servicers’ obligations to manage the loans in the best interests of the investors. These agreements provide that the servicers be reimbursed by funds in the trust for all costs related to litigation and extra processing of foreclosures, provided they follow standard industry practices.

Servicing companies hope the reviews will be quick. At GMAC Mortgage, a unit of Ally Financial Inc., the vast majority of these affidavits will be resolved in the coming weeks and before the end of the year,” a spokeswoman for the company said. A spokesman for J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. said the company’s review process is expected to take “a few weeks.”

But the problems could be magnified if the reviews uncover a lack of proper documentation or other substantive problems rather than simple procedural errors. The furor over servicer practices is also likely to trigger additional legal challenges from borrowers facing foreclosure and more judicial scrutiny, which could further slow the process and increase foreclosure costs.

And the explanation for why one day soon the XLF will open limit down, as soon as Wall Street sellside research gets their cranium out of their gluteus:

“It’s very hard to see how the servicers can avoid reimbursing the trusts for losses caused by taking short cuts,” said David J. Grais, an attorney in New York who represents investors. Investors could press trustees to investigate servicer conduct, sue the servicers to recoup damages or replace a servicer, he said.

As we said: lots of litigation… playa.

And since Wall Street continues to refuse to touch this topic with a ten foot pole (here is the bottom line for those who may not have been paying attention: huge hits to bank EPS) Zero Hedge is in the process of quantifying just how many billions of dollars each day, week and month of halted foreclosures will bring to the juniors, and how many more billions servicers will be on the hook for unless they manage to convince each of the hundreds of judges in thousands of upcoming lawsuits that all the mortgage fraud (for lack of a better word) was “standard industry practice.”

In foreclosure controversy, problems run deeper than flawed paperwork, by Brady Dennis and Ariana Eunjung Cha, Washingtonpost.com


Sign of the times - Foreclosure

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Millions of U.S. mortgages have been shuttled around the global financial system – sold and resold by firms – without the documents that traditionally prove who legally owns the loans.

Now, as many of these loans have fallen into default and banks have sought to seize homes, judges around the country have increasingly ruled that lenders had no right to foreclose, because they lacked clear title.

These fundamental concerns over ownership extend beyond those that surfaced over the past two weeks amid reports of fraudulent loan documents and corporate “robo-signers.”

The court decisions, should they continue to spread, could call into doubt the ownership of mortgages throughout the country, raising urgent challenges for both the real estate market and the wider financial system.

For struggling homeowners trying to avoid foreclosure, it could mean an opportunity to challenge the banks they argue have been unhelpful at best and deceptive at worst. But it also threatens to leave them in prolonged limbo, stuck in homes they still can’t afford and waiting for the foreclosure process to begin anew.

For big banks, “there’s a possible nightmare scenario here that no foreclosure is valid,” said Nancy Bush, a banking analyst from NAB Research. If millions of foreclosures past and present were invalidated because of the way the hurried securitization process muddied the chain of ownership, banks could face lawsuits from homeowners and from investors who bought stakes in the mortgage securities – an expensive and potentially crippling proposition.

For the fragile housing market, already clogged with foreclosure cases, it could mean gridlock and confusion for years. And there is concern in Washington that if the real estate market and financial institutions suffer harm, it could force the government to step in again. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said Wednesday he is looking into the allegations of improper foreclosures, and Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.), chairman of the Senate banking committee, said he plans to hold hearings on the issue.

At the core of the fights over the legal standing of banks in foreclosure cases is Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems, based in Reston.

The company, known as MERS, was created more than a decade ago by the mortgage industry, including mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, GMAC, and the Mortgage Bankers Association.

MERS allowed big financial firms to trade mortgages at lightning speed while largely bypassing local property laws throughout the country that required new forms and filing fees each time a loan changed hands, lawyers say.

The idea behind it was to build a centralized registry to track loans electronically as they were traded by big financial firms. Without this system, the business of creating massive securities made of thousands of mortgages would likely have never taken off. The company’s role caused few objections until millions of homes began to fall into foreclosure.

In recent years, the company has faced numerous court challenges, including separate class-action lawsuits in California and Nevada – the epicenter of the foreclosure crisis. Lawyers in other states have also challenged the company’s legal standing in court.

 

Kentucky lawyer Heather Boone McKeever has filed a state class-action suit and a federal civil racketeering class-action suit on behalf of homeowners facing foreclosure, alleging that MERS and financial firms that did business with it have tried to foreclose on homes without holding proper titles.

“They have no legal standing and no right to foreclose,” McKeever said. “If you or I did this one time, we’d be in jail.”

Judges in various states have also weighed in.

In August, the Maine Supreme Court threw out a foreclosure case because “MERS did not have a stake in the proceedings and therefore had no standing to initiate the foreclosure action.”

In May, a New York judge dismissed another case because the assignment of the loan by MERS to the bank HSBC was “defective,” he said. The plaintiff’s counsel seemed to be “operating in a parallel mortgage universe,” the judge wrote.

Also in May, a California judge said MERS could not foreclose on a home, because it was merely a representative for Citibank and did not own the loan.

On the other hand, Minnesota legislators passed a law stating that MERS explicitly has the right to bring foreclosure cases. And on its Web site and in e-mails, MERS cites numerous court decisions around the country that it says demonstrate the company’s right to act on behalf of lenders and to undertake foreclosures.

“Assertions that somehow MERS creates a defect in the mortgage or deed of trust are not supported by the facts,” a company spokeswoman said.

But that’s precisely what lawyers are arguing with more frequency throughout the country. If such an argument gains traction in the wake of recent foreclosure moratoriums, the consequences for banks could be enormous.

“It’s an issue of the whole process of foreclosure having been so muddied by the [securitization] process,” said Bush, the banking analyst. “It is no longer a straightforward legalistic process, which is what foreclosures are supposed to be.”

Janet Tavakoli, founder and president of Tavakoli Structured Finance, a Chicago-based consulting firm, said that for much of the past decade, when banks were creating mortgage-backed securities as fast as possible, there was little time to check all the documents and make sure the paperwork was in order.

But now, when judges, lawyers and elected officials are demanding proper paperwork before foreclosures can proceed, the banks’ paperwork problems have been laid bare, she said.

The result: “Banks are vulnerable to lawsuits from investors in the [securitization] trusts,” Tavakoli said.

Referring to the federal government’s $700 billion Troubled Assets Relief Program for banks, she added, “This problem could cost the banks significantly more money, which could mean TARP II.”

dennisb@washpost.com chaa@washpost.com