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

Half million dollar house in Salinas, Californ...

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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?