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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Court rulings complicate evictions for lenders in Oregon, by Brent Hunsberger, The Oregonian


Another Oregon woman successfully halted a post-foreclosure eviction after a judge in Hood River found the bank could not prove it held title to the home.

Sara Michelotti’s victory over Wells Fargo late last week carries no weight in other Oregon courts, attorneys say. But it illustrates a growing problem for banks  — if the loans’s ownership history isn’t recorded properly, foreclosed homeowners might be able to fight even an eviction. 

“There’s this real uncertainty from county to county about what that eviction process is going to look like for the lender,” said Brian Cox, a real estate attorney in Eugene who represented Wells Fargo. 

Michelotti’s case revolved around a subprime mortgage lender, Option One Mortgage Corp., that went out of business during the housing crisis. Circuit Court Judge Paul Crowley ruled that it was not clear when or how Option One transferred Michelotti’s mortgage to American Home Mortgage Servicing Inc., which foreclosed on her home and later sold it to Wells Fargo. 

Since the loan’s ownership was not properly recorded in Hood River County records, as required by Oregon law, Crowley ruled that Wells Fargo could not prove it had valid title to the property to evict. Crowley presides over courts in Hood River, Gilliam, Sherman, Wasco and Wheeler counties. 

In June, a Columbia County judge blocked U.S. Bank’s eviction of Martha Flynn after finding the loan’s ownership history wasn’t properly recorded. But unlike Flynn’s case, Michelotti’s loan did not involve the Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems – a lightening rod for lawsuits over whether lenders properly foreclosed n homeowners. 

“A lot of people get lost in ‘Oh it’s all MERS,'” said Michelotti’s attorney, Thomas Cutler of Harris Berne Christensen in Lake Oswego. “The problem runs broader than that.” 

Crowley also rejected the bank’s argument that if Michelotti had paid her mortgage, the eviction would never have occurred. 

“(Wells Fargo)’s counter argument to the effect that ‘if (Michelotti) had paid the mortgage we wouldn’t be here’ does not prevail at this junction because the question remains: are the right we here?'” Crowley wrote. 

H&R Block Inc. sold Option One in 2008 to Wilbur Ross & Co., a distressed-asset investor, who merged it with American Home Mortgage Investment Corp. 

But Crowley said he found no evidence of when the merger took place or why Option One’s name continued to be used on loan documents. 

Cox said Wells Fargo had not yet decided how to respond to the ruling.

 
 

The Meat of the Matter – In Re: Veal Analyzed, by Phil Querin, Q-Law.com


 

“When a note is split from a deed of trust ‘the note becomes, as a practical matter, unsecured.’ *** Additionally, if the deed of trust was assigned without the note, then the assignee, ‘having no interest in the underlying debt or obligation, has a worthless piece of paper.’” [In re Veal – United States Bankruptcy Appellate Panel of the Ninth Circuit (June 10, 2011)]

Introduction. This case is significant for two reasons: First, it was heard and decided by a three-judge Bankruptcy Appellate Panel for the Ninth Circuit, which includes Oregon.  Second, it represents the next battleground in the continuing foreclosure wars between Big Banks and Bantam Borrowers: The effect of the Uniform Commercial Code (UCC”)on the transferability of the Promissory Note (or “Note”).

Remember, the Trust Deed follows the Note.  If a lender is the owner of a Trust Deed, but cannot produce the actual Note which it secures, the Trust Deed is useless, since the lender is unable to prove it is owed the debt.  Conversely, if the lender owns the Note, but not the Trust Deed, it cannot foreclose the secured property. [For a poetic perspective on the peripatetic lives of a Note and Trust Deed, connect here. – PCQ]

By now, most observers are aware that Oregon’s mandatory recording statute, ORS 86.735(1), has been a major impediment to lenders and servicers seeking trying to foreclose borrowers.  Two major Oregon cases, the first in federal bankruptcy court, In re McCoy, and the other, in federal district trial court, Hooker v. Bank of America, et. al, based their decisions to halt the banks’ foreclosures, squarely on the lenders’ failure to record all Trust Deed Assignments.  To date, however, scant mention has been made in these cases about ownership of the Promissory Note. [Presumably, this is because a clear violation of the Oregon’s recording statute is much easier to pitch to a judge, than having to explain the nuances – and there are many – of Articles 3 and 9 of the UCC.  – PCQ]

Now we have In re: Veal, which was an appeal from the bankruptcy trial judge’s order granting Wells Fargo relief from the automatic stay provisions under federal bankruptcy law.   Such a ruling meant that Wells Fargo would be permitted to foreclose the Veals’ property.  But since this case arose in Arizona – not Oregon – our statutory law requiring the recording of all Assignments as a prerequisite to foreclosure, did not apply.  Instead, the Veals’ lawyer relied upon the banks’ failure to establish that it had any right under the UCC to enforce the Promissory Note.

Legal Background. For reasons that do not need to be explained here, the Veals filed two contemporaneous appeals. One was against Wells Fargo Bank, which was acting as the Trustee for a REMIC, Option One Mortgage Loan Trust 2006–3, Asset–Backed Certificates Series 2006–3.  In the second appeal, the Veals challenged the bankruptcy court’s order overruling their objection to a proof of claim filed by Wells Fargo’s servicing agent, American Home Mortgage Servicing, Inc. (“AHMSI”).

Factual Background. In August 2006, the Veals executed a Promissory Note and Mortgage in favor of GSF Mortgage Corporation (“GSF”). On June 29, 2009, they filed a Chapter 13 bankruptcy.  On July 18, 2009, AHMSI filed a proof of claim, on behalf of Wells Fargo as its servicing agent.  AHMSI included with its proof of claim the following documents:

  • A copy of the Note, showing an indorsement[1] from GSF to “Option One”[2];
  • A copy of the GSF’s Mortgage with the Veals;
  • A copy of a recorded “Assignment of Mortgage” assigning the Mortgage from GSF to Option One; and,
  • A letter dated May 15, 2008, signed by Jordan D. Dorchuck as Executive Vice President and Chief Legal Officer of AHMSI, addressed to “To Whom it May Concern”, stating that AHMSI acquired Option One’s mortgage servicing business.[3]

The Veals argued that AHMSI [Wells’ servicing agent] lacked standing since neither AHMSI or Wells Fargo established that they were qualified holders of the Note under Arizona’s version of the UCC.

In a belated and last ditch effort to establish its standing, Wells Fargo filed a copy of another Assignment of Mortgage, dated after it had already filed for relief from bankruptcy stay.  This Assignment purported to transfer to Wells Fargo the Mortgage held by “Sand Canyon Corporation formerly known as Option One Mortgage Corporation”.

The 3-judge panel noted that neither of the assignments (the one from GSF to Option One and the other from Sand Canyon, Option One’s successor, to Wells) were authenticated – meaning that there were no supporting affidavits or other admissible evidence vouching for the authenticity of the documents.  In short, it again appears that none of the banks’ attorneys would swear that the copies were true and accurate reproductions of the original – or that they’d even seen the originals to compare them with.  With continuing reports of bogus and forged assignments, and robo-signed documents of questionable legal authority, it is not surprising that the bankruptcy panel viewed this so-called “evidence” with suspicion, and did not regard it as persuasive evidence.

  • As to the Assignment of Mortgage from GSF (the originating bank) to Option One, the panel noted that it purported to assign not only the Mortgage, but the Promissory Note as well.[4]
  • As to the Assignment of Mortgage from Sand Canyon [FKA Option One] to Wells Fargo[created after Wells Fargo’s motion for relied from stay], the panel said that the document did not contain language purporting to assign the Veals’ Promissory Note.  As a consequence[even had it been considered as evidence], it would not have provided any proof of the transfer of the Promissory Note to Wells Fargo. At most, it would only have been proof that the Mortgage had been assigned.

After considerable discussion about the principles of standing versus real party in interest, the 3-judge panel focused on the latter, generally defining it as a rule protecting a defendant from being sued multiple times for the same obligation by different parties.

Applicability of UCC Articles 3 and 9. The Veal opinion is well worth reading for a good discussion of the Uniform Commercial Code and its applicability to the transfer and enforcement of Promissory Notes.  The panel wrote that there are three ways to transfer Notes.  The most common method is for one to be the “holder” of the Note.  A person may be a “holder” if they:

  • Have possession of the Note and it has been made payable to them; or,
  • The Note is payable to the bearer [e.g. the note is left blank or payable to the “holder”.]
  • The third way to enforce the Note is by attaining the status of a “nonholder in possession of the [note] who has the rights of a holder.” To do so, “…the possessor of the note must demonstrate both the fact of the delivery and the purpose of the delivery of the note to the transferee in order to qualify as the “person entitled to enforce.”

The panel concluded that none of Wells Fargo’s exhibits showed that it, or its agent, had actual possession of the Note.  Thus, it could not establish that it was a holder of the Note, or a “person entitled to enforce” it. The judges noted that:

“In addition, even if admissible, the final purported assignment of the Mortgage was insufficient under Article 9 to support a conclusion that Wells Fargo holds any interest, ownership or otherwise, in the Note.  Put another way, without any evidence tending to show it was a “person entitled to enforce” the Note, or that it has an interest in the Note, Wells Fargo has shown no right to enforce the Mortgage securing the Note. Without these rights, Wells Fargo cannot make the threshold showing of a colorable claim to the Property that would give it prudential standing to seek stay relief or to qualify as a real party in interest.”

As for Wells’ servicer, AHMSI, the panel reviewed the record and found nothing to establish that AHMSI was its lawful servicing agent.  AHMSI had presented no evidence as to who possessed the original Note.  It also presented no evidence showing indorsement of the Note either in its favor or in favor of Wells Fargo.  Without establishing these elements, AHMSI could not establish that it was a “person entitled to enforce” the Note.

Quoting from the opinion:

“When debtors such as the Veals challenge an alleged servicer’s standing to file a proof of claim regarding a note governed by Article 3 of the UCC, that servicer must show it has an agency relationship with a “person entitled to enforce” the note that is the basis of the claim. If it does not, then the servicer has not shown that it has standing to file the proof of claim. ***”

Conclusion. Why is the Veal case important?  Let’s start with recent history: First, we know that during the securitization heydays of 2005 – 2007, record keeping and document retention were exceedingly lax.  Many in the lending and servicing industry seemed to think that somehow, MERS would reduce the paper chase.  However, MERS was not mandatory, and in any event, it captured at best, perhaps 60% of the lending industry.  Secondly, MERS tracked only Mortgages and Trust Deeds – not Promissory Notes.  So even if a lender can establish its ownership of the Trust Deed, that alone is not enough, without the Note, to permit the foreclosure.

As recent litigation has revealed, some large lenders, such as Countrywide, made a habit of holding on to their Promissory Notes, rather than transferring them into the REMIC trusts that were supposed to be holding them.  This cavalier attitude toward document delivery is now coming home to roost.  While it may not have been a huge issue when loans were being paid off, it did become a huge issue when loans fell into default.

So should the Big Banks make good on their threat to start filing judicial foreclosures in Oregon, defense attorneys will likely shift their sights away from the unrecorded Trust Deed Assignments[5], and focus instead on whether the lenders and servicers actually have the legal right to enforce the underlying Promissory Notes.


[1] The word “indorsement” is UCC-speak for “endorsement” – as in “endorsing a check” in order to cash it.

[2] Although not perhaps as apparent in the opinion as it could have been, there were not successive indorsements of the Veals’ Promissory Note, i.e. from the originating bank to the foreclosing bank. There was only one, i.e. from GSF to Option One.  There was no evidence that the Note, or the right to enforce it, had been transferred to Wells Fargo or AHMSI.  Ultimately, there was no legal entitlement under the UCC giving either Wells or its servicer, AHMSI, the ability to enforce that Note.  The principle here is that owning a borrower’s Trust Deed or Mortgage is insufficient without also owning, or have a right to enforce, the Promissory Note that it secures.

[3] Mr. Dorchuck did not appear to testify.  His letter, on its face, is clearly hearsay and inadmissible.  The failure to properly lay any foundation for the letter, or authenticate it “under penalty of perjury” is inexplicable – one that the bankruptcy panel criticized. This was not the only example of poor evidentiary protocol followed by the banks in this case.  However, this may not be the fault of the banks’ lawyers. It is entirely possible these were the documents they had to work with, and they declined to certify under “penalty of perjury” the authenticity of them. If that is the case, one wonders how long good attorneys will continue to work for bad banks?

[4] This is a drafting sleight of hand.  Mortgages and Trust Deeds are transferred by “assignment” from one entity to another. But Promissory Notes must be transferred under an entirely different set of rules – the UCC. Thus, to transfer both the Note and Mortgage by a simple “Assignment” document, is facially insufficient, by itself, to transfer ownership of – or a right to enforce – the Promissory Note.

[5] The successive recording requirement of ORS 86.735(1) only applies when the lender is seeking to foreclose non-judicially.  Judicial foreclosures do not contain that statutory requirement.  However, to judicially foreclose, lenders will still have to establish that they meet the standing and real party interest requirements of the law.  In short, they will have to deal head-on with the requirements of Articles 3 and 9 of the Uniform Commercial Code.  The Veal case is a good primer on these issues.

Phil Querin
Attorney at Law
http://www.q-law.com/
121 SW Salmon Street, Suite 1100 Portland, OR 97204 
Tel: (503) 471- 1334

Fannie Mae Homepath Review, by Thetruthaboutmortgage.com


Government mortgage financier Fannie Mae offers special home loan financing via its “HomePath” program, so let’s take a closer look.

In short, a HomePath mortgage allows prospective homebuyers to get their hands on a Fannie Mae-owned property (foreclosure) for as little down as three percent down.

And that down payment can be in the form of a gift, a grant, or a loan from a nonprofit organization, state or local government, or an employer.

This compares to the minimum 3.5 percent down payment required with an FHA loan.

HomePath financing comes in the form of fixed mortgages, adjustable-rate mortgages, and even interest-only options!

Another big plus associated with HomePath financing is that there is no lender-required appraisal or mortgage insurance.

Typically, private mortgage insurance is required for mortgages with a loan-to-value ratio over 80 percent, so this is a pretty good deal.

HomePath® Buyer Incentive

Fannie Mae is also currently offering buyers up to 3.5 percent in closing cost assistance through June 30, 2011.

But only those who plan to use the property as their primary residence as eligible – second homes and investment properties are excluded.

Finally, many condominium projects don’t meet Fannie’s guidelines, but if the condo you’re interested in is owned by Fannie Mae, it may be available for financing via HomePath.

Note that most large mortgage lenders, such as Citi or Wells Fargo, are “HomePath Mortgage Lenders,” meaning they can offer you the loan program.

Additionally, some of these lenders work with mortgage brokers, so you can go that route as well.

Final Word

In summary, HomePath might be a good alternative to purchasing a foreclosure through the open market.

And with flexible down payment requirements and no mortgage insurance or lender-required appraisal, you could save some serious cash.

So HomePath properties and corresponding financing should certainly be considered alongside other options.

But similar to other foreclosures, these homes are sold as-is, meaning repairs may be needed, which you will be responsible for. So tread cautiously.

Oregon Foreclosures: The Mess That MERS Made, by Phil Querin, Q-Law.com


For the past several years in Oregon, foreclosures have been processed fraudulently and in violation of Oregon’s trust deed law. Banks, servicers, title companies and licensed foreclosure trustees, were all aware of the problem for years, but no one did anything about it. This was not a minor error or simple oversight – it was a patent disregard for the laws of Oregon.

Oregon’s Trust Deed Foreclosure Law. It is widely known that during the credit/housing boom, lenders frequently sold their loans between one another. When the ownership of a loan is transferred, it is necessary to execute, in recordable form, an “Assignment of Trust Deed.” ORS 86.735(1) governs what must occur before a trust deed may be foreclosed in Oregon; all such assignments must be placed on the public record. This is not a new law and it is not significantly different from the laws of many other states. Oregon’s law has been on the books for decades.

ORS 86.735(1) is not complicated or confusing. It simply means that after the original lender makes a loan and takes back a trust deed (which is immediately recorded), all subsequent assignments of that loan must be recorded before the foreclosure is formally commenced. In this manner, one can see from the public record, the “chain of title” of the loan, and thereby know with certainty, that the lender filing the foreclosure actually has the legal right to do so. It protects the consumer and assures the reliability of Oregon land titles.

The MERS Solution. In the 1990s, MERS came into existence. Its avowed purpose was to replace the time honored system of public recording for mortgage and trust deed transfers, with an electronic registry which its members would voluntarily use when a loan was transferred. This registry is for use only by MERS members, all of whom are in the lending industry. The immediate effect of MERS was that lenders stopped publicly recording their mortgage and trust deed assignments. This deprived local governments of millions of dollars in recording fees, and took the business of the sale of loans “underground.” A more detailed discussion of MERS’ business model is posted here.

Although the numbers vary, it is believed that MERS comprises approximately 60% of the national lending industry. Until recently, it had no employees. MERS was not born from any state statute or national enabling legislation. It was the brainchild of its owners, Mortgage Bankers Association, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, Bank of America, Nationwide, HSBC, American Land Title Association, and Wells Fargo, among others.

How MERS Has Contributed To Oregon’s Mortgage Mess. In an effort to give MERS the appearance of authority, its rules clarify that it will act solely as a “Nominee” for each of its members – doing only what its member instructs, but in its own name and not the name of the member. The “Nominee” is, as some Oregon federal judges have correctly observed, nothing more than “a strawman.”

When the foreclosure crisis hit, lenders realized that they needed some way to get the trust deed into current bank’s hands to initiate the process. Since MERS’ existence was virtual, and with no real employees, whenever it came time to assign a mortgage or trust deed, a MERS “Assistant Vice President” or “Assistant Secretary” would execute the assignment on behalf of MERS in their “official” capacity. But since MERS has no such officers, it simply created mass “Corporate Resolutions”, appointing one or more low level member bank employees to “robo-sign” thousands of bogus assignments.

It is important to note that these MERS “officers” only made one assignment – i.e. from the original lender whose name appeared on the public record when the loan was first made, to the foreclosing lender. In Oregon, this means that ORS 86.735(1) requiring the recording all of the intervening assignments, was intentionally ignored. Hence, there was never a “chain of title” on the public record disclosing the intervening assignments of the loan. As a result, in Oregon, no one – including the homeowner – knows if the bank foreclosing a loan even has a legal right to do so.

And there is reason to believe many of the banks did not have the legal right to foreclose. In every Oregon foreclosure I have witnessed during the last twelve months, where the loan was securitized into a REMIC, there is substantial doubt that the foreclosing bank, acting as the “trustee” of the securitized loan pool, actually had any right to foreclose. This is due to the strict tax, accounting, and trust laws governing the REMIC securitization process.

The short explanation is that if the paperwork was actually transferred into a loan pool between, say 2005 – 2008, there would be no need for an assignment to that trustee today – the loan would have already been in the pool and the trustee already had the right to foreclose; but if the loan was not transferred into the pool back then – when it should have been, it cannot be legally assigned out to that trustee today. Although it is not always easy to locate, the Pooling and Servicing Agreement, or “PSA,” governing the REMIC will contain a “Cut-Off Date.” That date is the deadline for the sponsor of the REMIC to identify the pool’s notes and trust deeds (or mortgages) in the trust. After that time [subject to limited exceptions – which do not include the transfer of nonperforming loans into the trust – PCQ], no new loans may be added. For example, if the REMIC was created in early 2006, the Cut-Off Date is likely to also be in 2006. This would mean that a bank, acting in the capacity of a trustee for a certain REMIC today, would not have the legal right to foreclose, if that trustee only recently received the trust deed assignment. The REMIC had been closed years earlier.

This is fraudulent. Yet it was so widespread, that foreclosures routinely adopted this “single assignment” model, and it became an assembly line business for MERS and its member banks. The assignment documents were typically prepared in advance by foreclosure mill attorneys and foreclosure trustee companies, uploaded into cyberspace to a servicer or foreclosure processing company, and signed, en masse, by robo-signers. Then the assignments were shipped over to notaries, who never actually witnessed the MERS “officer” sign an document. Once completed, the original assignment document was sent via overnight mail to the foreclosure trustee to record and begin the foreclosure. In many instances, the foreclosure trustee, (a) acting as a MERS “officer” would sign the assignment document transferring ownership of the loan to a lender, then (b) he or she would sign another document appointing their company as the Successor Trustee, then (c) that same person would also sign the Notice of Default, which commenced the foreclosure. No conflict of interest there…. It is this “need for speed” that epitomizes the MERS business model.

The result has been predictable – today there is evidence of fraudulent foreclosure paperwork on a massive scale. Forgeries are rampant. Notarization laws are flaunted. Until recently, the banks and MERS have gotten away with this scheme. The lending, servicing and title industries have simply taken a “don’t ask, don’t tell” approach to foreclosures in Oregon and elsewhere.

However, in 2010, Oregon and several other states said “enough.” In Oregon for example, there were at least three federal district court and bankruptcy court cases that struck down foreclosures due to the use of the MERS strawman model, and also based upon the flagrant violation of ORS 86.735(1). The most notable of these cases is the February 7, 2011 published opinion of Hon. Frank R. Alley III, Chief Bankruptcy Judge in Donald McCoy III v. BNC Mortgage, et al. Judge Alley held, in part, that: “…the powers accorded to MERS by the Lender [whose name appears in the Trust Deed] – with the Borrower’s consent – cannot exceed the powers of the beneficiary. The beneficiary’s right to require a non-judicial sale is limited by ORS 86.735. A non-judicial sale may take place only if any assignment by [the Lender whose name appears in the Trust Deed] has been recorded.” [Parentheticals mine. PCQ]

Judge Alley concluded that a failure to follow the successive recording requirement of ORS 86.735(1) meant that the foreclosure was void. It is important to note that in McCoy, as in most rulings against MERS lenders, the courts have not held that the banks may not prosecute their foreclosures – merely that before doing so, they must record all intervening assignments, so there is no question as to the foreclosing bank’s standing.

MERS is now engaged, through surrogates and one or more lobbyists, to introduce a bill in the Oregon legislature. It is a bold effort to legislatively overturn Judge Alley’s ruling, as well as similar adverse rulings by Oregon federal court judges, King, Hogan, and Perris.

MERS, its member banks, and the foreclosure industry, including its foreclosure mill attorneys, have never had justification for ignoring Oregon’s foreclosure law. Nor have they offered any justification. Instead, they have threatened that if ORS 86.735(1) and other homeowner protections in our foreclosure statutes are not amended to give MERS the right to continue acting as a strawman, and to avoid recording all successive assignments, the Oregon housing and foreclosure crisis will continue longer than necessary. Metaphorically speaking, having been caught with their hand in the cookie jar, MERS now asks the Oregon Legislature to legalize cookie theft.

Oregon Consumers Need To Be Protected. MERS’ proposed legislative solution does nothing to protect homeowners. Rather, it is aimed at legalizing patently fraudulent conduct, in the name of “helping” Oregon homeowners get through the foreclosure crisis faster. Thanks, but no thanks. The title and lending industry are concerned that if a law is not immediately passed giving MERS its way, foreclosures will come to a halt and commerce will suffer. The banks have even threatened to file judicial foreclosures against homeowners, to somehow avoid the recording of assignments law. This is a complete ruse. Here’s why:

Lenders cannot avoid their paperwork problems in Oregon by going into court. As we have seen in Oregon’s federal court cases, the banks are still unwilling to produce the necessary documents to prove they have standing to foreclose. If a bank does not have the legal documentation minimally necessary to establish its right to foreclose non-judicially, why would it go into court and shine a bright light on its own fraudulent paperwork? The outcome will be the same – as we have seen in judicial foreclosure states such as Florida, where they now require the banks’ attorneys to certify to the truthfulness of their pleadings and paperwork.
Lenders will not go into court for fear of further alienating an already alienated public. [Note the recent MERS Announcement to it’s members, tightening is rules due to concern over its “…reputation, legal and compliance risk….” – PCQ]
The banks know that with the high court filing fees and lawyers, it will be much more costly for them to foreclose judicially in court. While they do not seem concerned about their high executive bonuses, when it comes to the cost of foreclosures, they’ll pinch a penny ’til it screams.
In any event, there is little reason to fear judicial foreclosures clogging court dockets. With proper documentation, the process can be relatively fast (3+ months), since the cases could be disposed of on summary judgment. If judicial foreclosure cases became too numerous, the local courts can create expedited protocols and assign certain judges to speed them through – as done in other states. Lastly, many foreclosures are already being filed judicially, especially on commercial properties. To date, there has been no hue and cry that it is overwhelming the court systems.
The lenders’ complaints that foreclosures are slowing Oregon’s housing recovery are not necessarily verified by the stats. Oregon’s Regional Multiple Listing Service (“RMLS™”) shows that January 2009 housing inventory (i.e. dividing active listings by closed sales) was 19.2 months; January 2010 was 12.6 months; January 2011 was 11.3 months. February 2009 was 16.6 months, February 2010 was 12.9 months; and February 2011 was 10.9 months. March 2010 showed housing inventory at 7.8 months (down from 12.0 months in 2009), and there is no reason we cannot expect even better numbers when this month is over.

These numbers suggest that housing inventory is gradually being reduced year over year. Although it is true that housing prices continue to decline, that is more likely the result of lenders fire-selling their own REO inventory, than anything else. I say this because of many anecdotal reports of lenders refusing short sales at prices higher than they ultimately sold following foreclosure. Perhaps lender logic is different than human logic….

In an online article in Mortgage News Daily [a lender resource site – just look at their advertising – PCQ], it was reported:

The cost of a foreclosure, it turns out, is pretty staggering and we wonder why lenders and the investors they represent aren’t jumping at a solution, any solution, that would allow them to avoid going to foreclosure whenever possible.***According the Joint Economic Committee of Congress, the average foreclosure costs were $77,935 while preventing a foreclosure runs $3,300.

Overall, foreclosure is a lose-lose proposition for all concerned – except perhaps the companies servicing and foreclosing the loans [Point of Interest: Bank of America owns BAC Servicing and ReconTrust, and is making millions from the business of servicing and foreclosing the loans it made to its own borrowers. A sterling example of vertical integration in a down market… PCQ]

The only good solution is a non-foreclosure solution. Lenders already have ultimate control over the outcome for every loan in default. In those cases where modifications are viable, they should do so on an expedited basis. [Point of Interest: Go to the following CoreLogic site here , where in 2010 they touted their new analytics program that is designed to enhance lender decision making on modifications, short sales, and deeds-in-lieu. One has to believe that if such programs exist and banks stopped losing borrowers’ paperwork, they could actually have a decision back fairly quickly – rather than the 14-month horror stories we hear about. – PCQ]

Although it is doubtful that the industry can and will – anytime soon – create a fast and fair process to reduce principal balances, that is certainly a fair solution. It is fair to the homeowner in need, and actually fair to the bank, since the cost of foreclosure, including taxes, insurance, commissions, and other carrying costs, are significantly more than the short term pain of a write down. [If the banks need a little accounting sleight-of-hand from the FASB, there’s no reason they couldn’t put some pressure on, as they did with the mark-to-market rules. -PCQ]

Another, more likely and quicker solution, is to establish a fast-track short sale process. This should not be complicated if the banks stopped “losing paperwork” and focused on turning short sales into 45-60 day closings, consistent with the timing for equity sales. It has been lender delays that have stigmatized short sales, so only hungry investors, and buyers with the patience of Job, participate. This can change if banks begin expediting their short sale processing.

With both the modification and short sale alternatives, lenders do not receive the property back into their already bloated REO departments; and there is the added advantage that the banks do not have to risk a judicial slapdown, when using their fraudulently prepared Assignments of Trust Deed. In short, it is a “win-win” solution for lender and borrower.

Conclusion. The MERS business model was based upon the concept that “It is better to seek forgiveness than permission.” The problems they created were done with their eyes wide open in a brazen act of “might makes right” hubris. After having created these problems, they are now seeking to legislatively overturn the rulings of several of Oregon’s highly regarded federal judges. These decisions have affirmed the rule of law. To do otherwise – that is to sanctify MERS’ illegal conduct by eviscerating statues designed to protect homeowners, would be a travesty.

MERS, the banks, and the title industry own this problem, and they should own the solution. Whatever the outcome, it must be fair, and should not be borne on the backs of Oregon’s already struggling homeowners.

Would-be buyers face even more hurdles on home front, by Mary Ellen Podmolik, Chicago Tribune


The drumbeat from the housing community was loud and clear in 2010: There was never a better time to buy a home.

For most of the past 12 months, home prices tumbled, mortgage rates ticked downward, and the inventory of available traditional and distressed homes was plentiful.

But would-be buyers, even if they were able to overcome job worries, found that the hurdles to obtain a loan were formidable. They remained on the sidelines, and housing analysts opined that if the broader economy improved and unemployment fell, pent-up demand would be unleashed, credit guidelines would ease and home sales would improve.

As the new year begins, that guarded optimism has turned into uncertainty, thanks to a combination of rising mortgage rates, tighter underwriting guidelines and sweeping government regulation. As a result, it’s unlikely to get any easier and may, in fact, get much more difficult to buy a home in 2011.

“From a credit standpoint, I tend to think we’re toward the bottom of that cycle,” said Bob Walters, chief economist for Quicken Loans Inc. “The bad news is, I don’t think it’s going to get a lot better in 2011. You’ll hear a lot more noise pressuring the industry to ease guidelines, and you’ll hear from the industry that we don’t want a redo of what’s happened.”

Risky practices

Looming large over the mortgage market are provisions of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act that have yet to be finalized. Among them is a requirement that mortgage lenders maintain some “skin” in the game on the mortgages they originate by holding at least 5 percent of the credit risk rather than bundling the loans and selling them off entirely.

The goal is to discourage a repeat of risky past practices, but the legislation makes an exception to the risk-retention standard for what is labeled a “qualified residential mortgage.” It is the still-unspecified definition of what’s become the industry’s latest acronym to digest, QRM, that has lenders in an uproar.

If a very strict definition is applied by regulators, and a final rule isn’t expected until the spring, it could become more difficult, and more costly, for homebuyers to secure mortgage financing.

“People have some very different ideas of how to define this,” said Michael Fratantoni, vice president of research and economics at the Mortgage Bankers Association. “Some would say if it doesn’t have a 30 percent down payment, it’s not a QRM. For a first-time homebuyer, that would really be eye-opening. It definitely has the potential to turn the market upside down.

“This could dramatically tighten underwriting much more than what the lenders have already done. It’s going to make it even tougher to work through the (housing) overhang.”

Wells Fargo has told regulators it supports exempting mortgages with a 30 percent down payment. Community banks worry such a strict definition would curtail home mortgage lending.

“If you have to have 30 percent down, the American dream would become the American fantasy,” said Nick Parisi, a senior vice president at Standard Bank and Trust Co. in Hickory Hills, Ill.

Less competition

Additional regulation on mortgage bankers will mean a thinning of their ranks, weeding out the unscrupulous players. But it also will lessen consumers’ ability to comparison-shop widely for the best home mortgage product.

“That means less competition, and generally, less competition is not good for the consumer,” said Quicken’s Walters. “It might mean that your interest rate over time is a little higher. A less competitive industry has to work less hard.”

Tighter lending requirements already have steered 40 percent of buyers to secure Federal Housing Administration-backed loans, which carry their own set of fees. FHA-backed loans are exempt from the Dodd-Frank provision.

Another new wrinkle to the mortgage market is that beginning in March, Freddie Mac will raise fees for mortgages sold to Freddie that carry higher loan-to-value ratios.

Fannie Mae in late December announced its own series of considerable loan-level price adjustments, effective April 1, for mortgages with greater than a 60 percent loan-to-value that will apply even to consumers with credit scores above 700.

Loan fees aren’t the only item going up: So is the cost of money itself. The average rate on 30-year, fixed-rate mortgages has been below 5 percent since early May, but economists predict those days are nearing an end.

General guidance on mortgage rates for a 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage call for them to stay under 6 percent for the year, likely falling somewhere between 4.75 percent and 5.5 percent. Still, that could be a jolt to buyers on the sidelines who watched rates drop to as low as 4.2 percent in the fall.

Wells Fargo closed nearly 500,000 Loans in 3rd Quarter, Thetruthaboutmortgage.com


I recently noted that Wells Fargo was the top residential mortgage lender based on volume for the fourth consecutive quarter, ending in the third quarter, according to data fromMortgagestats.com.

Well, as you may have suspected, the San Francisco-based bank and mortgage lender was also tops with respect to total number of loans closed.

During the third quarter, the company closed 469,914 home loans, up five percent from the 446,403 loans closed a year earlier.

In the second quarter, the bank closed less than 400,000 loans, but closed a staggering 581,961 in the second quarter of 2009, when the refinance boom got its legs, thanks to those record low mortgage rates.

That, along with the reduced staff, may explain why it took so long to get an underwritingdecision on your loan.

Gone are the days of same-day or 24-hour underwriting – now it’s a couple of weeks, if you’re lucky.

Of course, loan origination volume is expected to slow this year, so maybe it’ll be easier to get that decision from the bank a little quicker.

Check out the rest of the leaders in total residential home loans closed, along with their market share and year-over-year change.

Quicken Loans was the biggest gainer (+65%), while Bank of America saw a more than 25 percent decline, but still held on to the second spot.