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.

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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