Bank of America Offers $20,000 Short-Sale Incentive to Homeowners, by Kimberly Miller, The Palm Beach Post


Bank of America, the nation’s largest mortgage servicer, is offering Florida homeowners up to $20,000 to short sale their homes rather than letting them linger in foreclosure.

The limited-time offer has received little promotion from the Charlotte, N.C.-based bank, which sent emails to select Florida Realtors earlier this week outlining basic details of the plan.

Only homeowners whose short sales are submitted for approval to Bank of America before Nov. 30 will qualify. The homes must have no offers on them already and the closing must occur before Aug. 31, 2012.

A short sale is when a bank agrees to accept a lower sales price on a home than what the borrower owes on the loan.

Realtors said the Bank of America plan, which has a minimum payout amount of $5,000, is a genuine incentive to struggling homeowners who may otherwise fall into Florida’s foreclosure abyss.

The current timeline to foreclosure in Florida is an average of 676 days — nearly two years — according to real estate analysis company RealtyTrac. The national average foreclosure timeline is 318 days.

“I think this is a positive sign that the bank is being creative to try and help homeowners and get things moving,” said Paul Baltrun, who works with real estate and mortgages at the Law Office of Paul A. Krasker in West Palm Beach. “With real estate attorneys handling these cases, you’re talking two, three, four years before there’s going to be a resolution in a foreclosure.”

Guy Cecala, chief executive officer and publisher of Inside Mortgage Finance, called the short sale payout a “bribe.”

“You can call it a relocation fee, but it’s basically a bribe to make sure the borrower leaves the house in good condition and in an orderly fashion,” Cecala said. “It makes good business sense considering you may have to put $20,000 into a foreclosed home to fix it up.”

Homeowners, especially ones who feel cheated by the bank, have been known to steal appliances and other fixtures, or damage the home.

“This might be the banks finally waking up that they can have someone in there with an incentive not to damage the property,” said Realtor Shannon Brink, with Re/Max Prestige Realty in West Palm Beach. “Isn’t it better to have someone taking care of the pool and keeping the air conditioner on?”

A spokesman for Bank of America said the program is being tested in Florida, and if successful, could be expanded to other states.

Wells Fargo and J.P. Morgan Chase have similar short-sale programs, sometimes called “cash for keys.”

Wells Fargo spokesman Jason Menke said his company offers up to $20,000 on eligible short sales that are left in “broom swept” condition. Although the program is not advertised, deals are mostly made on homes in states with lengthy foreclosure timelines, he said.

And caveats exist. The Wells Fargo short-sale incentive is only good on first-lien loans that it owns, which is about 20 percent of its total portfolio.

Bank of America’s plan excludes Ginnie Mae, Federal Housing Administration and VA loans.

Similar to the federal Home Affordable Foreclosure Alternatives program, or HAFA, which offers $3,000 in relocation assistance, the Bank of America program may also waive a homeowner’s deficiency judgment at closing.

A deficiency judgment in a short sale is basically the difference between what the house sells for and what is still owed on the loan.

HAFA, which began in April 2010, has seen limited success with just 15,531 short sales completed nationwide through August.

But Realtors said cash for keys programs can work.

Joe Kendall, a broker associate at Sandals Realty in Fort Myers, said he recently closed on a short sale where the seller got $25,000 from Chase.

“They realize people are struggling and this is another way to get the homes off the books,” he said.

U.S. To Have Tough Time in Suits Against 17 Banks Over Mortgage Bonds, by Jim Puzzanghera, Los Angeles Times


Federal regulators allege the banks misled Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac over the safety of the bonds. But analysts say the two mortgage giants should have known that the loans behind the bonds were toxic.

Reporting from Washington—

The government’s latest attempt to hold large banks accountable for helping trigger the Great Recession could fall as flat as earlier efforts to punish Wall Street villains and compensate taxpayers for bailing out the financial industry.

Federal regulators, in landmark lawsuits this month, alleged that 17 large banks misled Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac on the safety and soundness of $200 billion worth of mortgage-backed securities sold to the two housing finance giants, sending them to the brink of bankruptcy and forcing the government to seize them.

Targets of other federal lawsuits and investigations have deflected such claims by arguing, for example, that the collapse of the housing market and job losses from the recession caused the loss in the value of mortgage-backed securities.

The big banks, though, might have a more powerful defense: Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were no novices at investment decisions.

The two companies were major players in the subprime housing boom through the mortgage-backed securities market they helped create, and they should have known better than anyone that many of the loans behind those securities were toxic, some analysts and legal experts said.

“I can’t think of two more sophisticated clients who were in a better position to do the due diligence on these investments,” said Andrew Stoltmann, a Chicago investors’ lawyer specializing in securities lawsuits. “For them to claim they were misled in some form or fashion, I think, is an extremely difficult legal argument to make.”

But the Federal Housing Finance Agency, which has been running Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac since the government seized them in 2008, argued that banks can’t misrepresent the quality of their products no matter how savvy the investor.

“Under the securities laws at issue here, it does not matter how ‘big’ or ‘sophisticated’ a security purchaser is. The seller has a legal responsibility to accurately represent the characteristics of the loans backing the securities being sold,” the FHFA said.

The sophistication of Fannie and Freddie is expected to be the centerpiece of the banks’ aggressive defense. Analysts still expect the suits to be settled to avoid lengthy court battles, but they said the weakness of the case meant that financial firms would have to pay far less money than Fannie and Freddie lost on the securities.

Stoltmann predicted that a settlement would bring in only several hundred million dollars on total losses estimated so far at about $30 billion.

In the 17 suits, the FHFA alleged that it was given misleading data.

For example, in the suit against General Electric Co. over two securities sold in 2005 by its former mortgage banking subsidiary, the FHFA said Freddie Mac was told that at least 90% of the loans in those securities were for owner-occupied homes.

The real figure was slightly less than 80%, which significantly increased the likelihood of losses on the combined $549 million in securities, the suit said.

GE said it “plans to vigorously contest these claims.” The company said it had made all its scheduled payments to date and had paid down the principal to about $66 million.

The federal agency also has taken on some of the titans of the financial industry, including Goldman Sachs & Co., Bank of America Corp. and JPMorgan Chase & Co., to try to recoup some of the losses on the securities. That would help offset the $145 billion that taxpayers now are owed in the Fannie and Freddie bailouts.

The suits represent one of the most forceful government legal actions against the banking industry nearly four years after the start of a severe recession and financial crisis brought on in part by the crash of the housing market.

The FHFA had been negotiating separately with the banks to recover losses from mortgage-backed securities purchased by Fannie and Freddie, but decided to get more aggressive.

“Over the last couple of years, they’ve been doing sort of hand-to-hand combat with each of the banks,” said Michael Bar, a University of Michigan law professor who was assistant Treasury secretary for financial institutions in 2009-10. “The suits are an attempt to consolidate those fights over individual loans.”

Bar thinks the government has a legitimate case.

“The banks will say, ‘You got what you paid for,'” he said. “And the investors will say, ‘No we didn’t. We thought we were getting bad loans and we got horrible loans.'”

Edward Mills, a financial policy analyst with FBR Capital Markets, said the FHFA has a fiduciary responsibility to try to limit the losses by Fannie and Freddie. But the independent regulatory agency also probably felt political pressure to ensure that banks be held accountable for their actions leading up to the financial crisis, he said.

“There’s still a feeling out there that most of these entities got away without a real penalty, so there’s still a desire from the American people to show that someone had to pay,” Mills said.

Although the suits cover $200 billion in mortgage-backed securities, the actual losses that Fannie and Freddie incurred are much less. For example, the FHFA sued UBS Americas Inc. separately in July seeking to recover at least $900 million in losses on $4.5 billion in securities.

The faulty mortgage-backed securities contributed to combined losses of about $30 billion by Fannie and Freddie, but a final figure is likely to change as the real estate market struggles to work its way through a growing number of foreclosures.

Some experts worry that the uncertainty created by the lawsuits makes it more difficult for the housing market to recover, which adds to the pressure on the FHFA and the banks to settle.

The government case also could be weakened by an ongoing Securities and Exchange Commission investigation into whether Fannie and Freddie did to their own investors what they’re accusing the banks of doing — not properly disclosing the risks of their investments.

Banks are expected to make that point as well. But both sides have strong motives to settle the cases and move on, said Peter Wallison, a housing finance expert at the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research.

“Within any institution there are people who send emails and say crazy things, and the more these things are litigated, the more they get exposed,” Wallison said.

Because of flaws in its case and political pressures, the FHFA also will be motivated to settle, Wallison said.

“There will be a settlement because the settlement addresses the political issue … that the government is going to get its pound of flesh from the banks,” he said.

jim.puzzanghera@latimes.com

What’s Behind the U.S. Suing Big Banks Over Mortgage-Backed Securities?, By Robert Blonk, ESQ., LLM., William H. Byrnes, ESQ.


More bank stock declines and less lending could be in store as financial institutions face another massive round of lawsuits. The Federal Housing Finance Agency sued 17 banks on Sept. 2, alleging that the financial institutions committed securities violations in the lead-up to the recent financial crisis.

The lawsuit concerns sales by the institutions to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac of almost $200 million in residential private-label mortgage-backed securities that later collapsed. The lawsuit also names some of the banks’ officers and unaffiliated lead underwriters. 

In addition to the securities violations, the lawsuits allege that the banks made negligent misrepresentations and failed to do adequate due-diligence and follow standard underwriting procedures when offering the mortgage-backed securities.

The complaints were filed in both federal and state courts (New York and Connecticut) against 17 banks, including major financial institutions like Bank of America, Barclays, Citigroup, Countrywide, Credit Suisse, Deutsche Bank, General Electric, Goldman Sachs, HSBC, JPMorgan Chase, Merrill Lynch, Morgan Stanley and others. The lawsuit is substantially similar to the suit filed against UBS Americas earlier this year.

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were placed into conservatorship in 2008, right after the subprime mortgage crisis made public waves. Under the conservatorship, the FHFA has control over the government-sponsored enterprises and has the power to bring lawsuits on their behalf, as it did in this case.

The feds waited to file the lawsuit until the stock market was closing for the Labor Day weekend Sept. 2. But the timing didn’t prevent a run on bank stocks as rumors about the suit led to significant declines in bank stock prior to the release. This latest litigation comes on the heels of the 50-state robosigner foreclosure investigation which by itself could cost banks almost $200 billion.

Some in Washington say not bringing the suit would have been akin to giving the banks another bailout. U.S. Rep. Brad Miller, D-NC, praised the FHFA for bringing the suit, saying that “[n]ot pursuing those claims would be an indirect subsidy for an industry that has gotten too many subsidies already. The American people should expect their government not to give the biggest banks a backdoor bailout.”

But other commentators say the government’s timing of the lawsuit couldn’t be worse. It will hit the banks’ bottom lines when they can least afford it. And with interest rates likely to stay at record lows for the next two years and the Federal Reserve running out of options for stimulating bank lending, the cost may further stagnate the slow economic recovery. It’s hard to imagine how the lawsuit could be anything other than a weight on the already fragile economy.

FDIC Sues WaMu Execs and Their Wives, by Kirsten Grind, Bizjournals.com


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The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. filed suit against former executives of Washington Mutual, including former CEO Kerry Killinger, former President Steve Rotella, and their wives, in a case that seeks to recover unspecified damages at trial.

The suit, filed in the U.S. District Court in Western Washington, also seeks to freeze the estates of the Killingers and Rotellas. It also names David Schneider, the former head of WaMu‘s home loans division, who now works at JPMorgan Chase.

Earlier, the FDIC said it would seek $1 billion in damages, but the amount wasn’t specified in the suit.

In its 63-page complaint, the FDIC said that it’s suing the former, “highly-paid” WaMu executives to hold them responsible for losses in WaMu’s mortgage division. WaMu was closed by the federal Office of Thrift Supervision and its assets turned over to the FDIC in September 2008, marking the largest bank failure in U.S. history.

The complaint alleges that Killinger, Rotella and Schneider caused WaMu “to take extreme and historically unprecedented risks with WaMu’s held-for-investment home loans portfolio. They focused on short term gains to increase their own compensation, with reckless disregard for WaMu’s longer term safety and soundness.”

The executives and their attorneys could not immediately be reached for comment. In a statement, the FDIC said it files suits against former officers directors and other “professionals of failed institutions “when the case has merit and is expected to be cost effective.”

“This is done on behalf of creditors of the failed institution,” the FDIC said in its statement. “The FDIC investigates every failure to determine whether there is a solid basis for legal action and a sound source for recovery.”

The suit does not specify damages, although the FDIC previously said it would seek to recover up to $1 billion from all three former WaMu executives.

The suit also alleges that Killinger and his wife, Linda, sought to defraud WaMu’s creditors by transferring their multi-million dollar home in Palm Beach, Calif., into two personal trusts in August of 2008, a month before the bank failed. Linda Killinger was appointed trustee of those accounts. Killinger also transferred half of the couple’s property in the Highlands area of Seattle into a trust in Linda Killinger’s name.

Both these actions were “made with actual intent to hinder, delay or defraud Kerry Killinger’s present and future creditors,” the FDIC suit alleges. The government agency notes that Killinger faced numerous lawsuits at the time, and WaMu had lost more than $9 billion in a bank run.

Similarily, the suit alleges that Rotella and his wife, Esther, transferred their house in Orient, New York, into two residential trusts in the spring of 2008, and Rotella also transferred $1 million to Esther Rotella after WaMu failed, according to the complaint. “… the transfers were not disclosed to or were concealed from his present and future creditors,” the suit alleges.

KIRSTEN GRIND covers banking, finance and residential real estate for the Puget Sound Business Journal. She is currently on book leave.

 

State AGs And Banks Prepare Fraudclosure Settlement, Bailout Number Two For BofA Imminent, Zerohedge.com


CNBC’s Diana Olick reports that the investigation into the biggest financial fraud in recent history is about to be shelved: the reason, state AGs are nearing a settlement with banks, which will slap a few wrists, will see banks put some lunch money in a settlement fund, will result in some principal reductions, and everything will be well again, as banker bonuses surpass 2009 levels (as noted previously). Retroactively in perpetuity. In other news, state sponsored fraud in America is alive and well.

Update: don’t spend that bonus money on the January edition Perfect 10s just yet. In what seems to be a day of relentless newsflow, we have just learned via Charlie Gasparino and Fox Biz, that Phil Angelides is launching his own probe into the mortgage market. Then again, all this means is that BofA will need to spend a few million extra dollars to bribe the key people in this latest development, and then everything shall be well again.

Add Phil Angelides to the growing list of regulators investigating whether banks committed fraud in the $6.4 trillion mortgage-bond market, the FOX Business Network has learned.

The Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, which Angelides chairs, has begun investigating whether mortgages packaged into bonds and now held by investors including government agencies like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were done so improperly, thus calling into question the legality of trillions of dollars of debt, according to people with direct knowledge of the matter.

The inner workings of the mortgage-backed securities market have come under intense scrutiny in recent months following revelations that big banks may have committed fraud by hiring so-called robo-signers to approve foreclosure applications on tens of thousands of mortgages. At issue: Whether the robo-signers properly approved foreclosures and whether people forced from their homes received due process.

The latest twist in the robo-signer controversy involves whether improper foreclosures and banks failing to follow proper legal procedures will call into question the mortgage bonds themselves. Many of the foreclosed mortgages aren’t held by banks, but have been placed in bonds held by investors. The money thus is returned to an investor holding the bond.

But if the foreclosure has been done by a robo-signer, or if the banks creating the bond did so improperly, as a recent congressional study suggested, then the bonds themselves could be declared illegal. That could pose big problems for the banks that created the mortgages and sold the bonds, like Bank of America (BAC: 11.94 ,-0.16 ,-1.32%) and JPMorgan (JPM: 39.58 ,-0.47 ,-1.17%) because it would allow investors to “put”, or force the banks to buy back, the underlying mortgages.

And here is Diana Olick’s disclosure:

While sources say there is no universal solution to shoddy foreclosure practices at some of the nation’s largest mortgage banks/servicers, the three largest, BofA, JPM and Wells Fargo, may be agreeing to the same solution.

First, banks would pay into a fund used to compensate borrowers who have claims after their home has been sold in foreclosure. The borrowers would have to prove they were wronged in the process, and the attorney’s general would allocate the funds. In other words, the AGs would be the administrators. The amount of said fund is still undetermined, and likely still in negotiation. Each bank could settle on its own amount, or there could be a joint agreement.

Secondly, the banks would do away with the dual track of modifications and foreclosures. That means that only after all options of modification are exhausted can a bank begin foreclosure proceedings. Many borrowers currently complain that they are in the midst of the modification process when they get a notice of foreclosure sale. The drawback to eliminating the dual track is even greater extended timelines to foreclosure for borrowers. As it is, borrowers on average can be in their homes for a year and a half without making mortgage payments before eviction.

Finally, there would be some kind of agreement to third party mediation for review of all the cases in the first part of the agreement where borrowers are seeking compensation from the AG fund.

There has also been talk of principal write down as part of settlements, perhaps with some banks and not others. “It’s been on the table,” says one source.

 


How Do You Keep Homeowners In Their Home When They Are Already Gone?, Housingdoom.com


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Once more Congress is trying to legislate the un-legislatable [It’s not a word, but it ought to be.] They want to force lenders to keep borrowers in homes: [Thanks L!]

WASHINGTON/CHARLOTTE, North Carolina (Reuters) – Banks under fire over their foreclosure practices face twin hearings in Congress this week, at which they will come under renewed pressure to find ways to keep borrowers in their homes.

The hearings on Tuesday and Thursday will include the first appearances by executives from major lenders like Bank of America and JPMorgan Chase since the furor over sloppy foreclosure paperwork erupted in September.

Banks are accused of having used “robo-signers” to sign hundreds of foreclosure documents a day, a fiasco that has reignited public anger with banks that received billions of dollars in taxpayer aid during the financial crisis.

Lenders will be pressed on whether the paperwork problems are further evidence that modifying loans is a better alternative to eviction.

Foreclosure should be the last option and we need to examine barriers to mortgage modifications,” Democratic Senator Tim Johnson, expected to lead the Banking Committee next year, said in an emailed response to Reuters.

Here’s a couple of barriers that Congress needs to consider:

1.  Many foreclosures are investor owned.  These homes do not qualify for loan mods.  Many of them were purchased at the peak, or close to it.  In many cases the owners are unable to find renters, or cannot find renters willing to pay enough to cover the mortgage.  A recent study showed that 33% of foreclosures are on investor owned properties, so that takes a lot of foreclosures out of the loan mod pool.

2. Many homeowners in foreclosure pick up and leave.  Unemployment is now the leading cause of foreclosures.  Even with assistance to pay the mortgage, people often find themselves unable to pay their other expenses.  We know that household formation is down, but I’m unaware of any studies showing how many former homeowners are now living with friends or relatives because they can’t afford to keep the utilities paid.  L has told me that the vast majority of the foreclosures he sees are empty by the time the banks get them, and I’m certain that his experience is not unique.  We don’t know if these folks have downsized, moved in with relatives or are renting a comparable place for less, but for whatever reason, many folks are just picking up and leaving.  They aren’t interested in mods, or feel they don’t qualify.

The loan mod programs have been a disaster, and could certainly be better managed.  However, Congress can legislate all it wants, but it’s unlikely that any loan mod program will make a significant dent in the foreclosure problem.  Too many of these homeowners can’t be saved with a loan mod.  So here’s the question for Congress: How do you keep homeowners in their homes when they are already gone?

 

Sales of U.S. New Homes Increased Again in September, by Bob Willis, Bloomberg.com


Sales of new homes rose in September for a second month to a pace that signals the industry is struggling to overcome the effects of a jobless rate hovering near 10 percent.

Purchases increased 6.6 percent to a 307,000 annual rate that exceeded the median forecast of economists surveyed by Bloomberg News, figures from the Commerce Department showed today in Washington. Demand is hovering near the record-low 282,000 reached in May.

A lack of jobs is preventing Americans from gaining the confidence needed to buy, overshadowing declines in borrowing costs and prices that are making houses more affordable. At the same time, foreclosure moratoria at some banks, including JPMorgan Chase & Co., signal the industry will redouble efforts to tighten lending rules, which may depress housing even more.

“These are still very low levels,” said Jim O’Sullivan, global chief economist at MF Global Ltd. in New York. “Ultimately, a significant recovery in housing will depend on a clear pickup in employment.”

Another Commerce Department report today showed orders for non-military capital equipment excluding airplanes dropped in September, indicating gains in business investment will cool.

Capital Goods Demand

Bookings for such goods, including computers and machinery meant to last at least three years, fell 0.6 percent after a 4.8 percent gain in August that was smaller than previously estimated. Total orders climbed 3.3 percent last month, led by a doubling in aircraft demand.

Stocks fell, snapping a five-day gain for the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index, on the durable goods report and investor speculation that steps taken by the Federal Reserve to shore up the economy will be gradual. The S&P 500 fell 0.5 percent to 1,179.8 at 10:14 a.m. in New York.

Economists forecast new home sales would increase to a 300,000 annual pace from a 288,000 rate in August, according to the median of 73 survey projections. Estimates ranged from 270,000 to 330,000.

The median price increased 3.3 percent from September 2009 to $223,800.

Purchases rose in three of four regions, led by a 61 percent jump in the Midwest. Purchases dropped 9.9 percent in the West.

Less Supply

The supply of homes at the current sales rate fell to 8 months’ worth, down from 8.6 months in August. There were 204,000 new houses on the market at the end of September, the fewest since July 1968.

Reports earlier this month showed the housing market is hovering at recession levels. Housing starts increased in September to an annual rate of 610,000, the highest since April, while building permits fell to the lowest level in more than a year, signaling construction will probably cool.

Sales of existing homes, which now make up more than 90 percent of the market, increased by 10 percent to a 4.53 million rate in September, the National Association of Realtors said yesterday. The pace was still the third-lowest on record going back a decade.

Home resales are tabulated when a contract is closed, while new-home sales are counted at the time an agreement is signed, making them a leading indicator of demand.

Moratoria’s Influence

Economists are debating the likely effect on new-home sales from the foreclosure moratoria and regulators’ probes into faulty paperwork. Most agree the moratoria pose a risk to housing sales as a whole.

Michelle Meyer, a senior economist at Bank of America Merrill Lynch Global Research in New York, is among those who say the moratoria, by limiting the supply of existing homes, may lift demand for newly built houses in coming months.

“There is a possibility there will be a shift in demand for new construction, at least in the short term,” she said.

The U.S. central bank and other regulators are “intensively” examining financial firms’ home-foreclosure practices and expect preliminary findings next month, Fed Chairman Ben S. Bernanke said this week at a housing conference in Arlington, Virginia.

Fed officials have signaled they may start another round of unconventional monetary easing at their next meeting Nov. 2-3 to try to spur the economic recovery.

Homebuilders say labor-market conditions will be the biggest factor in spurring or delaying a recovery.

“The U.S. economy needs to improve, and we’ve got to see some improvement in job creation,” Larry Sorsby , chief financial officer at Hovnanian Enterprises Inc., the largest homebuilder in New Jersey, said during an Oct. 7 conference call.

To contact the reporter on this story: Bob Willis in Washington at bwillis@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Christopher Wellisz at cwellisz@bloomberg.net

Foreclosure Crisis Triggers Debate on Role of Mortgage Registry, by Thom Weidlich, Bloomberg.com


On July 1, a federal judge took away Robert Bellistri’s house in Arnold, Missouri.

Bellistri, who bought the house as an investment after it was seized for non-payment of taxes, failed to notify Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems Inc. of his purchase, the judge said. A state appeals court last year had ruled otherwise, finding Bellistri didn’t need to tell MERS, a company that lets banks electronically register their sales of home loans so they can avoid trudging down to the county land-records office.

The case highlights a debate raging in courts on the role MERS has, if any, in home foreclosures. How it’s resolved will determine whether MERS’s involvement produced a defective process and clouded millions of property titles. A definitive ruling against MERS might slow any future bundling of mortgages into securities since the company played a role in that process.

“MERS is the central device by which the banks have tried to opt out of the legal system and the real-property record system,” U.S. Representative Alan Grayson of Florida said in an interview. “They have taken it upon themselves, with the supposed consent of the borrowers, to violate a system of property record-keeping that we’ve had going back centuries.”

Attorneys general of all 50 states opened a joint investigation into home foreclosures Oct. 13, saying they will seek an immediate halt to any improper practices at banks and mortgage companies. The announcement came after several banks, including Bank of America Corp., halted foreclosures in either all states or the 23 with judicial supervision of foreclosures.

More Rounds

MERS, whose parent company is Merscorp Inc., bills itself as a provider of “support services to the mortgage industry,” specifically tracking the servicing rights and ownership interests in mortgage loans on its electronic registry.

Merscorp, based in Reston, Virginia, was created by industry leaders in 1995 to improve servicing after county offices couldn’t deal with the flood of mortgage assignments, Karmela Lejarde, a spokeswoman for MERS, said in an interview.

“That bottleneck got mitigated,” she said. The company’s tagline is “Process Loans, Not Paperwork.”

According to its Website, MERS is owned by the largest lenders in the country including Bank of America, Citigroup Inc., JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Wells Fargo & Co., in addition to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which own or guarantee more than half of the $11 trillion U.S. mortgage market.

The company’s net operating revenue last year was $32 million, she said.

Nominee

Under the MERS system, a borrower who takes out a loan agrees to allow the company to act as the lender’s nominee, or agent, on the mortgage or deed of trust securing the property. That means MERS holds the lien, according to the company.

MERS continues to be the mortgagee of record as long as the note promising the borrower’s repayment is owned by a MERS member. If it’s sold to an outside entity, the assignment is recorded with the appropriate county.

About 60 percent of newly originated loans are on the MERS system, Lejarde said. Since its inception in 1995, it has carried 66 million loans and currently has between 23 million and 25 million active loans, she said.

“The problem with MERS is it takes a public function and puts it into a private entity that doesn’t seem to have any clear accountability,” said Alan White, a law professor at Valparaiso University in Indiana. “And it does it on legal grounds that seem tenuous.”

Securitization

MERS played a key role in the bundling of mortgages into securities that reached a frenzy before the economic decline of 2008, critics including Grayson of Florida said. It allowed banks to sell and resell home loans faster, easier and cheaper, he said.

“MERS was a facilitator of securitization,” said Grayson, a Democratic member of the House Financial Services Committee.

MERS disagrees. It was created to provide clarity and transparency and not “to enable faster securitization,” it said in an Oct. 9 statement.

“MERS probably served a necessary purpose given the volume of securitization that went on,”Talcott Franklin, a lawyer in Dallas who represents investors in mortgage-backed securities, said in a phone interview. “But for MERS, do you know how overwhelmed the county recorder offices would have been by the volume of assignments that had to go through there?”

Fees

A big selling point for the company is its cost savings. It charges $6.95 for every loan registered, Lejarde said. With an average cost of about $40 for filing a mortgage assignment with local counties, MERS has saved the industry about $2.4 billion, Merscorp Chief Executive Officer R.K. Arnold said in a September 2009 deposition in an Alabama suit.

The company is accused in two whistleblower suits filed this year of cheating California and Nevada counties out of millions of dollars in recording fees. In 2006, New York State’s highest court told one county it had to record MERS mortgages against its wishes. The county said MERS cost it $1 million a year.

Several courts have expressed confusion that MERS positions itself as both mortgage owner and representative of a mortgage owner. That stems from its use of mortgage language that typically states it is both the mortgagee and “acting solely as nominee for Lender and Lender’s successors and assigns.”

Agent and Principal

“It is axiomatic the same entity cannot simultaneously be both an agent and a principal with respect to the same property right,” Christopher Peterson, a law professor at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, wrote in a law-review article about MERS this year.

Peterson wrote that courts should look to the actual economics of the transaction, which some have done, finding that MERS has no standing in proceedings to seize delinquent borrowers’ homes.

In a March 2009 ruling, U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Linda B. Riegle in Las Vegas decided MERS wasn’t a true beneficiary under a trust deed.

“If it doesn’t walk like a duck, talk like a duck and quack like a duck, then it’s not a duck,” she wrote.

Consumer advocates and bankruptcy attorneys who criticize MERS say it has no right to foreclose when it doesn’t hold both the promissory note and the security instrument — the mortgage or trust deed. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1872 that a mortgage has no separate existence from the note, Peterson wrote.

Legal Right

“It appears that on a widespread and probably pervasive basis, they did not take the steps necessary to own the note,” Grayson said in a Sept. 30 video he recorded about MERS, “which means that in 45 out of the 50 states they lack the legal right to foreclose.”

MERS says it has the right to foreclose because the borrower grants the company legal title to the mortgage and it forecloses as agent for the promissory-note holder. “Courts around the country have repeatedly upheld and recognized this right,” MERS said in an Oct. 4 e-mailed statement.

Since March 2009, supreme courts in Arkansas, Kansas and Maine have found that MERS had no standing in foreclosure proceedings under their states’ laws. The company lends no money and suffers no injury, the panels said.

MERS’s relationship to the bank that owned a loan in question was “more akin to that of a straw man than to a party possessing all the rights given a buyer,” the Kansas Supreme Court wrote. “What stake in the outcome of an independent action for foreclosure could MERS have?”

Minnesota Victory

MERS won a high-court victory last year when the Minnesota Supreme Court declared the company doesn’t have to record the sale of a promissory note, as opposed to a mortgage, at the county office before a foreclosure can begin.

Citing a 2004 state law it called “the MERS statute,” the Minnesota court said “the legislature appears to have given approval to MERS’s operating system for purposes of recording.” A MERS lawyer helped draft the law, Arnold, the company CEO, said in the deposition last year.

In response to the Kansas decision, the state legislature there changed court-procedure rules this year to require a “nominee of record” to be made part of such lawsuits.

Eventually high courts in states with judicial oversight of foreclosures will have to review MERS’s role, Patrick A. Randolph, a professor at the University of Missouri-Kansas City specializing in real-estate law, said in an interview.

“It’s a question of state law,” Randolph said. “The problem is simply confusion about a word the courts are not used to seeing in this context — the word ‘nominee.’”

Lien Holder

Under its contracts, MERS is the mortgage owner’s agent and has the right to foreclose, said Randolph, who is also affiliated with a St. Louis law firm, Husch Blackwell LLP, which works for MERS, though he doesn’t handle those cases he said.

Complicating matters, MERS doesn’t handle foreclosures itself. Home-loan owners, including trustees of mortgage-backed entities, do so in its name. MERS Inc., which holds the liens, has no employees, and MERSCORP, the parent, has only about 50, Lejarde said.

MERS has also come under fire for allowing members to appoint their employees as MERS certifying officers — as assistant secretaries or vice presidents of MERS — to sign documents, including assignments. MERS has deputized “thousands” of such certifying officers, Arnold said.

Vexed

New York Supreme Court Justice Arthur M. Schack, a trial- level judge in Brooklyn, is particularly vexed by the practice and has tossed foreclosure actions in part because of it.

He has pointed out what he sees as a potentially serious conflict: The same person, as an “employee” of MERS — with duties owed to the entity selling a mortgage — assigns that mortgage to a bank at presumably market value, and then the same person, as the bank’s employee, swears an affidavit in the foreclosure case.

Schack has demanded that two-hat-wearing signers provide him with their employment histories.

Lejarde, the MERS spokeswoman, said the certifying officers are employees of the lenders, not MERS, and must follow both companies’ policies.

MERS’s certifying officers represent for the company’s critics what they see as its role in muddying mortgage titles, to the point borrowers don’t know who owns their loans — a charge MERS strongly denies.

Previous Lender

In his case, Bellistri had notified BNC Mortgage Inc., the previous homeowner’s lender, that he bought the house in Arnold, about 18 miles southwest of St. Louis. He didn’t notify MERS, which was listed as BNC’s nominee on the trust deed.

By that time, BNC had conveyed the note to Deutsche Bank AG, as trustee of a mortgage-backed investment vehicle, though Bellistri had no way of knowing that. MERS continued to hold “legal title to the beneficial interests in the deed of trust on behalf of Deutsche Bank,” according to the federal judge’s ruling.

In the proceeding Bellistri initiated, a Missouri state court and the Missouri Court of Appeals in St. Louis named him the property’s rightful owner. Deutsche Bank had hired Ocwen Financial Corp. as servicer. MERS assigned the deed to Ocwen and said the note went with it.

The appeals court disagreed, saying MERS had no right to grant Ocwen the note because records showed it was still owned by BNC. So Ocwen lacked standing to contest Bellistri’s deed, it said. Under Missouri law, the note and deed go together, and therefore Bellistri keeps the house, the appeals court said.

Federal Suit

MERS filed a federal suit at U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri, where judgeCharles A. Shaw ruled the other way. Shaw said that Bellistri failed to properly notify MERS of its redemption rights and that the state-court decision threatened MERS’s “overall business model — at least in Missouri.”

Lawsuits elsewhere attack that business model. In Delaware federal court, homeowners accuse MERS of forcing them to pay inflated fees related to their foreclosures.

MERS and its members have been sued this year for racketeering in New York, Florida and Kentucky federal courts, accused of conspiring to falsely foreclose on loans and “to undermine and eventually eviscerate long-standing principles of real-property law.”

Dozens of lawsuits claiming MERS itself is a fraud have been consolidated for pretrial proceedings in federal court in Phoenix. The homeowners haven’t fared well there. In September 2009, U.S. District Judge James Teilborg threw out an earlier case with similar accusations. On Sept. 30, he tossed six proposed class-action, or group, lawsuits.

Defaulting Owners

Teilborg found the defaulting homeowners failed to sufficiently allege that MERS and its members conspired to commit fraud because it’s not a true beneficiary under the trust deed. They also fail to explain how MERS, as a “’sham’ beneficiary,” diminishes their need to pay back the money they borrowed, the judge said.

“At most, plaintiffs find the MERS system to be disagreeable and inconvenient to them as consumers,” Teilborg wrote.

The Bellistri case is Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems Inc. v. Bellistri, 09-cv-731, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Missouri (St. Louis) and Bellistri v. Ocwen Loan Servicing LLC, ED91369, Missouri Court of Appeals, Eastern District (St. Louis).

To contact the reporter on this story: Thom Weidlich in Brooklyn, New York, federal court attweidlich@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: David E. Rovella at drovella@bloomberg.net.

 

The Wheels Are Coming Off in MBS Land: All 50 State AGs Join Probe; Banks Abandoning MERS Foreclosures, by Nakedcapitalism.com


I get on an airplane, and there are more dramatic developments by the time I land.

Even though the headline item is the fact that the attorneys general in all 50 states are joining the mortgage fraud investigation, the real indicator that the banks are stressed is that they have started abandoning MERS, the electronic database that passes itself off as a registry for mortgages. JP Morgan has quit using it as an agent on foreclosures; it clearly can’t withdraw from it fully, given that it has become a central information service.

Despite this being treated as a pretty routine event in the JP Morgan earnings call, trust me, it isn’t. The withdrawal of JP Morgan from the use of MERS as the face in foreclosures is a tacit admission that the past practice of using MERS as the stand -in for the trust is problematic. I’ve heard lawyers discuss the possibility of class action litigation to invalidate all MERS-initiated foreclosures in states with strong anti-MERS rulings; this idea no doubt will get more traction given JP Morgan’s move. (An attorney who is in the thick of this situation told me another major bank has made the same move as JPM, but I see no confirmation in the news as of this writing).

The triggers for the sudden escalation appear to have been the release of a research note by Citigroup which included a grim assessment (which we did not consider to be dire enough) by Professor Levitin to Citi clients on likely path of the mortgage crisis. This was no doubt compounded among the cogoscenti by the research note published by Josh Rosner, that most if not all notes (which are the borrower IOU in a mortgage) were endorsed in blank, which creates near insurmountable problems in foreclosure, worse even for the RMBS ownership of them as de facto mere unsecured paper.

But the stunner is the withdrawal of JP Morgan from the purported mortgage registry system, MERS. 60% the mortgages in the US are registered through MERS, and not at the local courthouse as was the long established, well settled custom in the US. Countries that have moved to central databases (such as Australia) have them operated by the government, and they are transparent and run with sound standards of data integrity. As noted, banks like JP Morgan can’t fully withdraw; MERS has become too integral, but its announcement is an admission that all is not well.

The fact that major MERS members are suddenly resigning from MERS is a sign that tectonic plates are moving. MERS has become central in mortgage securitization; Freddie and Fannie have required its use since early in this decade.

From the Associated Press:

JPMorgan Chase’s CEO says the bank has stopped using the electronic mortgage tracking system used by major financial institutions.

Lawyers have argued in court proceedings that the system is unable to accurately prove ownership of mortgages.

JPMorgan Chase & Co. and other banks have suspended some foreclosures following allegations of paperwork problems in thousands of cases.

The trigger may have been the publication of a simply devastating analysis at the end of September, “Two Faces: Demystifying the Mortgage Electronic Registration System’s Land Title Theory” by Christopher L. Peterson. Even though I have read the critical MERS unfavorable opinions, this is the first time I am aware of that someone has looked at the operation of MERS from a broader legal perspective. It finds fundamental flaws in virtually every aspect of its operation. To give a partial list: the language used by MERS in its registry at local courthouses is contradictory (it claims to be both the owner of the mortgage and as well as a nominee; legally, a single party can’t play two roles simultaneously), rendering it unenforcable; MERS has employees of servicers and law firms become “MERS vice presidents” or secretaries when fit none of the criteria that fit those roles, and also have clear conflicts of interest given that they are also full time employees of other organizations; MERS record keeping has the hallmarks of being poorly controlled (there have been cases of mortgages basically being stolen from other MERS members; some contacts have suggested that a single MERS member can assign a mortgage, meaning checks are weak; MERS members are not required to update records). And most important, every state supreme court that has looked at the role of MERS has ruled against it.

As much as I have heard the case against MERS in bits and pieces, and regarding it as very problematic, seeing it assembled in one place (with solid references to judicial decisions) makes for a overwhelming case. The best resolution the author can come up with is that lenders with MERS registered mortgages would be granted an equitable mortgage as a substitute for the flawed MERS registered mortgages:

While awarding equitable mortgages is surely a better approach for financiers and their investors than simply invalidating liens, it would not solve all their problems. Replacing legal mortgages with equitable mortgages would give borrowers significant leverage. Historically, state law has not uniformly treated equitable mortgagees vis-à-vis other competing creditors. Generally, the holder of an equitable mortgage had priority against judgment creditors. But, it is likely that an equitable mortgage could be avoided in bankruptcy. Moreover, it is likely that financiers would have less luck seeking deficiency judgments when foreclosing on equitable mortgages.

In Florida, the so-called rocket docket has apparently slowed to a crawl, between some banks suspending foreclosures and at least some judges starting to take borrower allegations of fraud seriously. From Bloomberg:

Home to more foreclosures than 47 U.S. states, Florida sought to clear out its backlog with a system of special court hearings that dispensed with cases quickly, sometimes in less than a minute.

Homeowners like Nicole West now threaten to slow that system, Florida’s so-called rocket docket, to a crawl. West, who has been fighting to save her Jensen Beach house from foreclosure, has leveled a new allegation in her three-year battle: the entire process is based on fraud.

West said her case is rife with the kind of flawed mortgage documents that have caused lenders including Bank of America Corp. and JPMorgan Chase & Co. to stop the process of foreclosures and evictions across the country. The banks said they are investigating homeowner charges like West’s that signatures were forged and documents were backdated…..

The bank moratoriums are already thwarting the initiative by Florida officials to clear jammed court dockets. Now, efforts by homeowners such as West to bring claims of fraud to the attention of judges are further prolonging evictions, and in turn slowing purchases of foreclosed properties.

The focus so far has been on what the foreclosure mess means for borrowers. Not enough media attention has been given to the implications for the major banks, particularly their trust businesses, and RMBS investors. Neither the facts nor the law are on the financiers’ side, but they are either in denial or doing a full bore job of obfuscation.

 

 

http://www.nakedcapitalism.com

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.

 

 

BofA Extends Freeze on Foreclosures to All 50 States, by Michael J. Moore, Lorraine Woellert and Dakin Campbell, Bloomberg.com


 

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Bank of America Corp., the biggest U.S. lender, extended a freeze on foreclosures to all 50 states as concern spread among federal and local officials that homes are being seized based on false data.

“We just want to clear the air,” Bank of America Chief Executive Officer Brian T. Moynihan said today in a speech to the National Press Club in Washington.

Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Ally Financial Inc. already froze foreclosures in 23 states where courts supervise home seizures amid allegations that employees used unverified or false data to speed the process. Bank of America’s new policy extends its moratorium to the entire nation, and the announcement spurred more demands from public officials and community groups for other banks to follow suit.

“All mortgage providers should follow the example of Bank of America and review their practices to ensure that they are not unfairly targeting homeowners in Nevada and across the nation,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat from Nevada, said today in a statement.

PNC Financial Services Group Inc. halted sales of foreclosed homes for a month to review documents in its mortgage servicing procedures, according to an Oct. 4 memo the Pittsburgh-based bank sent to lawyers handling the lender’s foreclosures.

Bank of America fell 13 cents, or 1 percent, to $13.18 at 4 p.m. in New York Stock Exchange composite trading. The shares have lost 12 percent this year.

States Investigating

“We will stop foreclosure sales until our assessment has been satisfactorily completed,” the Charlotte, North Carolina- based company said today in a statement. “Our ongoing assessment shows the basis for foreclosure decisions is accurate.”

At least seven states are investigating claims that home lenders and loan servicers took shortcuts to speed foreclosures. Attorneys general in Ohio and Connecticut have said some of the practices used by banks to take away homes may amount to fraud. Acting Comptroller of the CurrencyJohn Walsh last week asked the nation’s seven biggest lenders to review foreclosures for defective documents, spokesman Bryan Hubbard said.

“Bank of America has done the right thing by stopping foreclosures in all 50 states,” North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper said today in a statement. “Other banks that have questionable procedures should do the same while the investigation continues.”

President Barack Obama’s administration didn’t pressure the bank to enact the freeze, Moynihan said.

Record Foreclosures

Lenders took possession of a record 95,364 homes in August and issued foreclosure filings to 338,836 homeowners, or one of every 381 U.S. households, according to RealtyTrac Inc., an Irvine, California-based data vendor.

Wells Fargo spokeswoman Vickee Adams said the lender is still processing foreclosures and referred to a statement the bank put out earlier this week, saying “our affidavit procedures and daily auditing demonstrate that our foreclosure affidavits are accurate.”

Thomas Kelly, a spokesman for New York-based JPMorgan, and Gina Proia, spokeswoman for Detroit-based Ally, declined to comment.

“Bank of America has made the right choice given the circumstances of this scandal,” said Kevin Stein, associate director of the California Reinvestment Coalition in San Francisco. “The primary concern for all of these banks should be to figure out where they are handling foreclosures illegally before they erroneously and unfairly take another family’s home.”

Lawmakers React

In Washington, dozens of lawmakers in Congress have called for a freeze on foreclosures and are seeking investigations. House Oversight and Government Reform Committee ChairmanEdolphus Towns yesterday demanded a moratorium and asked New York State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo to investigate allegations of fraud. Towns, a New York Democrat, led hearings last year into Bank of America’s federal bailouts.

“The implications of ignoring the foreclosure problems are far too great to be ignored,” Towns said in a statement. “Bank of America did the right thing today and I expect to see every other responsible banking institution follow their lead.”

On Wednesday, two members of the House Financial Services Committee, Luis Gutierrez of Illinois and Dennis Moore of Kansas, asked the Special Inspector General of the Troubled Asset Relief Program to investigate foreclosure practices.

‘Unwarranted Foreclosures’

“There is already enough evidence of unwarranted foreclosures and irregularities by lenders and servicers to warrant full investigations into the practices of these financial institutions,” the lawmakers wrote in a letter.

A coalition of community organizer groups and labor unions, including the National People’s Action and the Service Employees International Union, called for a national freeze on foreclosures.

“It is unconscionable that Wall Street banks continue to use a corrupt and fraudulent procedure to flood the housing market with illegal foreclosures that are throwing millions of American families out of their homes,” the groups said in a statement today. “It’s the latest example of a predatory industry.”

To contact the reporters on this story:
Michael J. Moore in New York at
mmoore55@bloomberg.net;
Lorraine Woellert in Washington at
lwoellert@bloomberg.net;
Dakin Campbell in San Francisco at
dcampbell27@bloomberg.net.To contact the editors responsible for this story:
Alec D.B. McCabe in New York at
amccabe@bloomberg.net;
Rick Green in New York at
rgreen18@bloomberg.net.

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.”

U.S. Justice Dept. probing foreclosure processes, Yahoo.com


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WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Justice Department said on Wednesday it was probing reports the nation’s top mortgage lenders improperly evicted struggling borrowers from their homes as part of the devastating wave of foreclosures unleashed by the financial crisis.

Amid mounting political outrage over the U.S. mortgage mess, key members of U.S. congressional banking committees joined calls for probes into the foreclosure activities of banks accused of tossing homeowners out without proper review.

At least three banks have already halted eviction proceedings, and various lawmakers have called for an industry-wide moratorium on home repossessions until the problems are fixed. Attorney General Eric Holder said the Justice Department would look into media reports that loan servicers improperly have used “robo-signers” to push through thousands of foreclosure orders.

Holder’s move, and the rising chorus of fury among lawmakers, comes ahead of November congressional elections and takes aim at one of the most visible signs of the U.S. economic crisis as hundreds of thousands of families have lost their homes as unemployment surged.

The moves on foreclosures risk further slowing the U.S. economic recovery, leaving banks unsure whether they will ever claw back losses and the housing market overshadowed by a mounting inventory of homes still likely to face foreclosure in future.

U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi and fellow Democrats wrote to Holder earlier this week asking the Justice Department to look into banks’ actions after receiving reports from thousands of homeowners about their foreclosure woes.

On Wednesday, the lead Republican on the Senate Banking Committee, Senator Richard Shelby, called on federal regulators to review the foreclosure practices of JPMorgan Chase and Co (JPM.N), Bank of America Corp (BAC.N) and Ally Financial Inc, formerly known as GMAC, and said a congressional investigation should also be started.

Two senior Democratic members of the House Financial Services Committee also said it was time to examine whether the banks broke the law based on their participation in the law that governed the Troubled Asset Relief Program, the $700 billion bailout of financial firm.

“The American people helped out these companies and the least they deserve is a guarantee of due process and fairness,” Representatives Luis Gutierrez and Dennis Moore said.

Banks are expected to take over a record 1.2 million homes this year, up from about 1 million last year, according to real estate data company RealtyTrac Inc.

Federal and state officials have pushed to suspend foreclosures after reports that banks signed large numbers of foreclosure affidavits without conducting proper reviews.

Banks and loan servicers, companies that collect monthly mortgage payments, reportedly have used “robo-signers” — middle-ranking executives who signed thousands of affidavits a month claiming they were knowledgeable of the cases.

Separately on Wednesday, Wells Fargo & Co (WFC.N) agreed to pay eight states $24 million after allegations of deceptive marketing practices at its home loan unit. The firm said it would also alter its foreclosure prevention practices that could benefit struggling homeowners by more than $700 million.

Wells Fargo Home Mortgage‘s chief financial officer, Franklin Codel, told Reuters that his unit did not cut corners to speed the foreclosure process. He said he was “confident that the paperwork is being properly produced.”

STATES TAKE ACTION

The issue on improper handling of foreclosures came to the fore last month when Ally Financial said officials had signed thousands of affidavits without having personal knowledge of borrowers’ situations.

Ally suspended evictions and post-foreclosure proceedings in 23 states last month, followed by similar moves by JPMorgan Chase & Co and Bank of America.

The foreclosure issue and the battered state of the U.S. housing market have weighed on the Obama administration ahead of the November congressional elections in which the Democrats already face the possibility of big losses.

Any broader push to solve the foreclosure crisis, such as the wholesale forgiveness of principal debt of struggling homeowners, is unlikely to find support among lawmakers because of the cost and the potential for political backlash from any move seen as rewarding reckless behavior by banks or borrowers.

The focus on bank procedures has thrown a new twist into the saga.

North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper on Wednesday became the latest state official to ask lenders to suspend home repossessions as he probes foreclosure practices.

Democratic Senator Robert Menendez earlier this week raised the idea of a national foreclosure moratorium.

Ally Financial and its GMAC Mortgage unit also were targeted by Ohio’s attorney general, Richard Cordray, on Wednesday, who announced a lawsuit alleging fraud and violations of Ohio’s consumer law.

Cordray also said he has sought meetings with Citibank (C.N), Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo to try to ascertain whether their foreclosure processes include any of the “mass” signing of official papers that are the subject of the suit against GMAC Mortgage.

Gina Proia, a spokeswoman for Ally Financial, said there was nothing fraudulent or deceitful about GMAC Mortgage’s practices. She said the company will “vigorously defend” itself, and expects to be fully vindicated by the Ohio courts.

GMAC Mortgage said in a statement it “believes there was nothing fraudulent or deceitful about its foreclosure practices. If procedural mistakes were made in the completion of certain legal documents, GMAC Mortgage reacted proactively to the issue and immediately undertook steps to remedy the situation.”

(Writing by Corbett B. Daly and Andrew Quinn; Editing by Leslie Adler)

 

Mortgage investor group wants loans ensnared in robo-signing snafu repurchased, by JASON PHILYAW, Housingwire.com


The Association of Mortgage Investors wants trustees of residential mortgage-backed securities “to hold servicers accountable for negligence in maintaining the assets of trusts.”

The Washington firm, which advocates on behalf of institutional and private MBS investors, said in a press release that the recently uncovered robo-signing debacle – first reported by HousingWire two weeks ago – “undermines the integrity and the operational framework of the housing finance and mortgage system as it exists today.”

Most of the nation’s largest mortgage lenders, includingBank of America, Ally Financial, formerly GMAC Mortgage, and JPMorgan Chase, have suspended foreclosures to amend faulty affidavits that may have been signed without looking at the documents or a notary present.

The AMI wants bond trustees to investigate the process and assure investors that mortgages bundled and sold into MBS are repurchased by the loan originators, who failed in their “fiduciary responsibilities [to] protect millions of American pensioners and retirees.”

“The capacity constraints at our nation’s largest servicers continue to be an issue of great concern to investors,” said Chris Katopis, executive director of the AMI. “We urgeAllyJPMorgan Chase, and all other servicers to invest the time and resources necessary to improve their operational infrastructure and to avoid situations where efficient mortgage servicing and collection practices are compromised.”

He said the may snafus may cause inaccurate legal filings for the mortgages and underlying properties in the MBS pools.

“The unfortunate and little-known consequence of these operational breakdowns is the destruction of capital needed to sustain fixed-income investors reliant upon cash flow from pensions and retirement accounts,” Katopis said.

Write to Jason Philyaw.

Wells Fargo Curtailing Short Sale Extensions, by Kate Berry, Americanbanker.com


In a move that will expedite some foreclosures, Wells Fargo & Co. has stopped granting extensions for certain distressed homeowners to complete short sales.

The change last month preceded recent revelations of faulty documentation at two major mortgage servicers — JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Ally Financial Inc. — that suspended thousands of foreclosure actions to review their processes. Wells said it does not have the same problems as those servicers.

The company said it changed its policy on short sales at the behest of investors for whom it services mortgages, including the government-sponsored enterprises.

Early last month, Fannie Mae told its servicers to stop unnecessarily delaying foreclosures. The GSE said it would hold servicers responsible for unexplained delays to foreclosures with fines and on-site reviews.

In a memo e-mailed to short sale vendors last month and obtained by American Banker, Wells said it will no longer postpone foreclosure sales for those who do not close short sales by the date in their approval letter from the company. Only extension letters dated Sept. 14 or earlier would be honored, Wells said.

Mary Berg, a spokeswoman for Wells, confirmed that the memo was genuine. But she said it had “caused confusion,” and stressed that Wells still grants extensions on loans in its own portfolio (including those it acquired with Wachovia Corp.) and in cases where investors allow it. For those two categories, Berg said, Wells allows one foreclosure postponement, provided these conditions are met: a short sale has been approved by Wells, by junior lienholders and by mortgage insurers; the buyer has proof of funds or approved financing; and the short sale can close within 30 days of the scheduled foreclosure sale.

Berg would not say how often Wells’ investors allow extensions.

The new policy on short sales was put in place “over the past couple of months … in response to various investor changes,” Berg said. Those investors “would include the GSEs, HUD and those investing in private-label” mortgage-backed securities.

In a short sale, a home is sold for less than the amount owed on the mortgage and the lender accepts a discounted payoff. The transactions are often less costly to the lender than seizing and liquidating the home.

“As long as there is a short sale possibility, the loss will always be less,” said Rayman Mathoda, the president and chief executive of AssetPlan USA, a Long Beach, Calif., provider of short sale training and education. “Basically foreclosure sales should be delayed for any responsible homeowner that has a real buyer available.”

Wells’ decision also follows efforts by the Obama administration to encourage short sales for borrowers who do not qualify for loan modifications.

“It makes no business sense why they are doing this, since it’s wrong for the borrowers and for the government,” said Eli Tene, the CEO of IShortSale Inc., a Woodland Hills, Calif., firm that advises distressed borrowers.

But experts on short sales said that in recent months servicers have been reluctant to approve the transactions out of concern that they will fall through, further prolonging the process.

“There is also a growing issue with the new buyer and financing issues, either losing their jobs ahead of closing or the new lender not being ready to close, which then gives rise to the buyer running out of patience and walking,” said Jim Satterwhite, executive vice president and chief operating officer of Infusion Technologies LLC, a Jacksonville, Fla., provider of short sale services.

Satterwhite said many servicers have reached the point where they know which borrowers do not qualify for a modification and are moving those borrowers through to foreclosure to deal with the backlog of inventory. “A lot of servicers are just falling in line with Fannie,” he said.

Moreover, the expectation that housing prices will fall further is forcing servicers — and the GSEs — to push for a quicker resolution through foreclosure, since short sales can involve further delays. “Values are dropping faster and that also means the losses on short sales are going up,” Satterwhite said.

Of course, the recent reports of “robo-signing” at Ally Financial’s GMAC Mortgage and at JPMorgan Chase could gum up the foreclosure works again. For example, on Friday, Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal asked state courts to freeze all home foreclosures for 60 days to “stop a foreclosure steamroller based on defective documents.” The day before, Acting Comptroller of the Currency John Walsh said he had told seven major servicers, including Wells, to review their foreclosure processes.

Another Wells spokeswoman, Vickee J. Adams, said the company’s “policies, procedures and practices satisfy us that the affidavits we sign are accurate.”