Archive for 'foreclosures halted'

Freddie Mac has invested billions of dollars betting that U.S. homeowners won’t be able to refinance their mortgages at today’s lower rates, according to an investigation by NPR and ProPublica, an independent, nonprofit newsroom.

January 30, 2012

Freddie Mac, a taxpayer-owned mortgage company, is supposed to make homeownership easier. One thing that makes owning a home more affordable is getting a cheaper mortgage.

These investments, while legal, raise concerns about a conflict of interest within Freddie Mac.

“We were actually shocked they did this,” says Scott Simon, who heads the mortgage-backed securities team at the giant bond trading and investment firm called PIMCO. “It seemed so out of line with their mission, out of line with what Congress wanted them to do.”

Freddie Mac, formally called the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corp., was chartered by Congress in 1970. On its website, it says it has “a public mission to stabilize the nation’s residential mortgage markets and expand opportunities for homeownership.” The company is owned by U.S. taxpayers and overseen by a regulator, the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA).

In December, Freddie’s chief executive, Charles Haldeman, assured Congress his company is “helping financially strapped families reduce their mortgage costs through refinancing their mortgages.”

But public documents show that in 2010 and 2011, Freddie Mac set out to make gains for its own investment portfolio by using complex mortgage securities that brought in more money for Freddie Mac when homeowners in higher interest-rate loans were unable to qualify for a refinancing.

Those trades “put them squarely against the homeowner,” PIMCO’s Simon says.

Freddie Mac’s trades came at a time when mortgage rates were falling to record lows. Millions of homeowners wish they could refinance, but their lenders tell them they can’t qualify for today’s low rates because of tight rules. Freddie Mac is one of the gatekeepers with the power to set those rules, and lately, it has been saying no more often to homeowners.

That raises concerns among some industry insiders who see a conflict: Freddie Mac’s own financial health improves when homeowners can’t refinance.

Simply put, “Freddie Mac prevented households from being able to take advantage of today’s mortgage rates — and then bet on it,” says Alan Boyce, a former bond trader who has been involved in efforts to push for more refinancing of home loans.

In the summer of 2010, long lines of hopeful homeowners waited for help from the Neighborhood Assistance Corporation of America’s “Save the Dream” tour. The tour made stops around the U.S., offering assistance from hundreds of mortgage counselors from various mortgage companies.

Freddie and FHFA repeatedly declined to comment on the specific transactions, but Freddie did say that its employees who make investment decisions are “walled off” from those who decide the rules for homeowners.

When Homeowners Lose, Freddie Mac Wins

Freddie Mac, based in Northern Virginia, says its job is to purchase “loans from lenders to replenish their supply of funds so that they [the lenders] can make more mortgage loans to other borrowers.” That’s one reason why Freddie has a gigantic portfolio containing loans that generate income from mortgage payments. Critics say this investment portfolio has been allowed to grow far larger than necessary to further Freddie’s policy mission.

Plus, in 2010 and 2011, Freddie didn’t just hold a simple pile of loans. Instead, for hundreds of thousands of home loans, it used Wall Street alchemy to chop these loans up into complicated securities — slices of which were sold in financial markets.

    This hypothetical example may help explain what happens:

    1) Freddie Mac takes, say, $1 billion worth of home loans and packages them. With the help of a Wall Street banker, it can then slice off parts of the bundle to create different investment securities, some riskier than others. The slices could be set up so that, say, $900 million worth are relatively safe investments, based upon homeowners paying the principal on their mortgages.

    2) But the one remaining slice, worth $100 million, is the riskiest part. Freddie retains that slice, known as an “inverse floater,” which receives all of the interest payments from the entire $1 billion worth of mortgages.

    3) That riskiest investment pays out a lucrative stream of interest payments. But Freddie’s slice also has all the so-called “pre-payment risk” associated with that $1 billion worth of loans. So if lots of people “pre-pay” their old loans and refinance into new, cheaper ones, then Freddie Mac starts to lose money. If people can’t refinance, then Freddie wins because it continues to receive that flow of older, higher interest payments.

If the homeowner is unable to refinance, the Freddie Mac portfolio managers win, Simon says. “And if the homeowner can refinance, they lose.”

Refinancing A Path To Recovery…

“I’m sending this Congress a plan that gives every responsible homeowner the chance to save about $3,000 a year on their mortgage, by refinancing at historically low rates,” Obama said during his State of the Union speech last week. “No more red tape. No more runaround from the banks.”

In his State of the Union address, President Obama pushed for legislation to allow “every responsible homeowner the chance to save about $3,000 a year on their mortgage” by refinancing without what he called “red tape” or a “runaround from the banks.”

Columbia University economist Chris Mayer supports such an approach. “A widespread refinancing program would have many benefits — not only helping the economy and putting tens of billions of dollars back in consumers’ pockets, the equivalent of a very long-term tax cut,” he says.

“It also is likely to reduce foreclosures and benefit the U.S. government by having fewer losses that they have to pay,” Mayer adds.

In the long term, he says, allowing more Americans to refinance would help taxpayers as well as mortgage giants Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, because they would suffer fewer losses related to foreclosures. These inverse floater trades, however, give Freddie Mac a short-term incentive to resist such so-called “mass re-fi” programs.

“If there was a mass re-fi program, the bets they made would get absolutely wiped out,” PIMCO’s Simon says. “The way these bets do the best is if the homeowner is barred from refinancing.”

In a written statement, Freddie said it “is actively supporting efforts for borrowers to realize the benefits of refinancing their mortgages to lower rates.” It also says it refinanced loans for hundreds of thousands of borrowers just last year.

Fannie and Freddie have taken part in an existing federal program known as “HARP” to help Americans refinance, but many economists say far more homeowners would benefit if Fannie and Freddie were to implement the program more aggressively.
The Silversteins had trouble selling this house after they moved out, forcing them to carry two mortgages for more than two years. “It just drained us,” says Jay Silverstein.
Enlarge Chris Arnold/NPR

The Silversteins had trouble selling their house after they moved out, forcing them to carry two mortgages for more than two years. “It just drained us,” says Jay Silverstein.

Stuck In ‘Financial Jail’

Some homeowners believe the current re-fi game is stacked against them.
If Jay and Bonnie Silverstein were able to refinance their mortgage, they could save nearly $500 a month.

Jay and Bonnie Silverstein describe themselves as truly stuck in a bad mortgage. They live in an unfinished development of yellow stucco houses north of Philadelphia. The developer went bankrupt.

The Silversteins bought this home before the housing market crashed, and then couldn’t sell their old house. They now say that buying a new home before selling the old one was a mistake — a painful one. Stuck with two mortgages, they started to get behind on their payments on the old house.

“It wound up taking us years to sell that house, so we had two homes and two mortgages for two-and-a-half years,” Jay Silverstein says. “It burned up my 401(k) and drained us.”

Jay Silverstein has a modest pension, and they haven’t missed a mortgage payment on their current home. Still, they are struggling. They could make the monthly payment on their new home if they could just refinance — down from their current interest rate of near 7 percent to today’s rates below 4 percent. That could save them roughly $500 a month.

“You know, we’re living paycheck to paycheck,” he says. A lower rate “might go a long way toward helping us.”

But that’s the problem — getting approved for a refinancing. Here’s why: After the housing market crashed, the Silversteins’ old house had to be sold for less than the mortgage was worth. That’s known as a short sale.

Freddie Mac has been tightening lending restrictions, and one of its restrictions blocks people with a short sale in their past from refinancing for up to four years following that short sale. So the Silversteins are stranded by the rule.

“We’re in financial jail,” Jay says. “We’ve never been there before.”
One of Freddie Mac’s restrictions blocks people who have a short sale in their past from refinancing for two to four years following the short sale.

Tight For Homeowners, But Elsewhere, Money Still Flows

Economists say that during the housing bubble, lending standards got too loose. Now many believe the pendulum has swung too far, making rules too tight.

The short-sale restriction may be a good example. For a home purchase, such a rule may be prudent, but allowing people with existing loans to refinance actually lowers the risk that they may default by giving them more affordable mortgage payments.

In a recent analysis of remedies for the stalled housing market, the Federal Reserve criticized Fannie and Freddie for the fees they have charged for refinancing. Such fees are “another possible reason for low rates of refinancing,” the Fed wrote, adding that the charges are “difficult to justify.”

Meanwhile, even though Freddie is a ward of the federal government, its top executives are highly compensated. The Freddie Mac official then in charge of its investment portfolio, Peter Federico, made $2.5 million in 2010, and had target compensation of $2.6 million for last year — the time period during which most of these inverse floater investments were made. ProPublica and NPR made numerous attempts to reach Federico. A woman who answered his home phone said he declined to comment.

NPR’s Uri Berliner and Marilyn Geewax also contributed to this report.

How Homeowner Assistance Fell Short

Freddie Mac: Mortgage giants Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae were government-sponsored enterprises that nearly failed during the 2008 financial crisis that brought down the U.S. housing market. The government took over the companies that year; it has sunk more than $169 billion into keeping them afloat. Freddie Mac was chartered by Congress in 1970.

“Our statutory mission is to provide liquidity, stability and affordability to the U.S. housing market,” Freddie Mac says on its website. Fannie and Freddie own or guarantee trillions of dollars worth of mortgages and mortgage-backed securities. The Securities and Exchange Commission has charged that six former top executives of Frannie and Freddie misled investors about the firms’ exposure to high-risk mortgages.

FHFA: The Federal Housing Finance Agency has regulated Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae since the government took them over in 2008. The FHFA was created as part of the Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008, which was designed in part to allow borrowers to refinance with lower-cost, government-backed mortgages.

The Obama administration has been pressing the FHFA to allow more homeowners to refinance their government-backed loans at lower rates. But so far, programs to help millions of homeowners lower their costs have fallen short of expectations.

Refinancing: With mortgage rates at historic lows, millions of homeowners could save hundreds of dollars a month by refinancing their mortgages. Rates for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages have remained below 4 percent for several weeks in a row. But many homeowners can’t qualify for refinancing because their homes are “underwater” — the value has dropped far below the amount that they owe on their mortgages. In many cases, they can’t get a “re-fi” because they have been tripped up by a tangle of complicated eligibility requirements and paperwork.

— Avie Schneider from NPR

 Could This Be The Start Of A Nationwide Trend?

Are Big Banks Bullying Efforts Paying Off or Is Our Court System Scared Of The Tsunami of Mortgage Fraud Cases Smothering Their Dockets?

Theresa Edwards and June Clarkson had headed up investigations on behalf of the Florida attorney general’s office for more than a year into the fraudulent foreclosure practices that had become rampant in the Sunshine State. They issued subpoenas and conducted scores of interviews, building a litany of cases that documented the most egregious abuses.

That is, until the Friday afternoon in May when they were called into a supervisor’s office and forced to resign abruptly and without explanation.

“It just came out of nowhere,” said Edwards, who had worked in the attorney general’s economic crimes section for more than three years. “We were completely stunned.”

Less than a month before they were forced out, a supervisor cited their work as “instrumental in triggering a nationwide review of such practices.” Now, Edwards is convinced their sudden dismissals will have “a chilling effect” on those probes into the shoddy foreclosure practices that caused national outrage when they made headlines last fall.

Although similar abuses have occurred throughout the country, they have been particularly rampant in Florida, which was ground zero for the housing bust and is home to a collection of large law firms that were hired by the financial industry to relentlessly churn out foreclosures in recent years. That made the investigations headed by Edwards and Clarkson among the earliest and most closely watched by officials across the country.

A spokeswoman for Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi declined to comment on what she cited as internal personnel matters but said in an e-mail that the foreclosure investigations remain a top priority.

Before the uproar last fall, Edwards and Clarkson were already investigating the problems plaguing foreclosure filings in the state. Working under then-attorney general Bill McCollum, they created a 98-page presentation entitled “Unfair, Deceptive and Unconscionable Acts in Foreclosure Cases,” which detailed such far-ranging problems as fake and forged affidavits and falsified mortgage ownership records.

Their inquiry led them to focus on “foreclosure mill” law firms that were filing foreclosures for their clients at lightning speed, as well as to the practices of other companies in the mortgage industry. It also led to calls from other attorneys general offices across the country that were beginning to scrutinize similar problems.

“We were farther along in our investigation because we had dug a little deeper than anybody else,” Edwards said. “We kept opening up more and more investigations, more and more cases.”

Their work won them accolades. In the evaluation provided by Edwards, a supervisor wrote that the pair had “achieved what is believed to be the first settlement in the United States relating to law firm foreclosure mills” — a multimillion-dollar settlement a month earlier with a Fort Lauderdale firm.

Despite that praise, Edwards and Clarkson said in separate interviews that they sensed a change when Bondi took office in January. Almost immediately, they said, supervisors began to question their findings and demand details about how they were gathering information.

Both women say they were summoned into a meeting on the afternoon of May 20 and told they could either resign or be fired. Either way, they would no longer be employed come 5 p.m. They had to come back over the weekend to pick up their things, they said.

“No two weeks’ notice, no severance, no nothing,” Clarkson said. “I have no idea why it happened.”

Added Edwards, “We didn’t even have a chance to go over our cases with anybody. We were just locked out.”

A spokeswoman for Bondi, Jennifer Krell Davis, said the economic crimes division “continues to actively pursue the investigations into foreclosure law firms.” She said the division’s director, Richard Lawson, is leading the inquiry into one of the state’s largest foreclosure firms and is supervising other cases.

“The division has made these investigations a top priority and will continue to actively pursue all of our investigations into foreclosure law firms,” Davis said in an e-mail, adding that Lawson had assigned 14 attorneys and investigators to work on the cases that belonged to Edwards and Clarkson.

As for their hasty departure, she wrote, “We do not comment on personnel matters. However, the Florida Attorney General’s Office is always striving to make sure that we have the best staff working to serve and protect the people of Florida.”

Edwards and Clarkson, whose dismissals were first detailed this week by The Palm Beach Post, have since opened a private law firm together in South Florida focused largely on foreclosure defense. They expressed doubts about how aggressively the cases they left behind will be pursued, saying the other attorneys in their division are dedicated and hardworking but that each already had a full caseload.

For her part, Clarkson said she worries about the work left undone, the potential misdeeds left undiscovered, even as state and federal officials negotiate a settlement with banks to end some of the worst practices.

“There is so much paperwork that came in due to our subpoenas that I didn’t even get a chance to look at,” she said, adding, “I looked at enough to know that there’s a lot more problems out there.”

By Brady Dennis, Published: July 14
from Washington Post Business

Forwarded by Gold Member Roger Taylor

HUD has implemented a program that allows unemployed borrowers to remain in their homes for an extended period of time without having to make a mortgage payment.

The FHA has always taken exceptional steps to assist borrowers who have become delinquent in their loan payments. For example, borrowers who have fallen behind in payments are urged to contact a HUD approved housing counselor. There are a variety of programs available to help delinquent homeowners. The HUD housing counselor can provide specific guidance to each delinquent homeowner on the best course of action to take.

Commencing in August, the FHA will make changes to its Special Forbearance Program. Loan servicers will be required to Click Here for Full Video/Article (Members Only)

Wells Fargo, one of the nation’s biggest banks and the largest consumer lender, said Wednesday that its fourth-quarter earnings rose 21 percent, helped by an improving loan portfolio and withdrawals from its capital reserves.

The bank, which is based in San Francisco, earned $3.4 billion, or 61 cents a share, in the fourth quarter, up from $2.8 billion, or 8 cents a share, in the year-earlier period, matching analysts’ forecasts. For the year, Wells Fargo reported net income of $12.36 billion in 2010, compared with $12.28 billion in 2009.
The bank’s full-year revenue fell to $85 billion, however, from $88.7 billion in 2009, as new federal regulations limited the overdraft fees that banks can charge on checking accounts.
Still, compared with the third quarter, the bank generated revenue growth in roughly two-thirds of its businesses.
“As the U.S. economy showed continued signs of improvement, our diversified model continued to perform for our stakeholders, as demonstrated by growth in loans and deposits, solid capital levels and improving credit quality,” John G. Stumpf, the bank’s chairman and chief executive, said in a statement.
Despite its heavy hand in the lending industry, which has been hit by losses for three years,

Wells Fargo has quietly emerged from the financial crisis as one of the nation’s strongest banks.
The report from Wells is an important step for the bank as it looks to increase its dividend, which has been stuck at 5 cents for nearly two years.
Wells Fargo Press Release
When the financial crisis struck, Wells, JPMorgan Chase and other industry giants cut dividends as they moved to bolster their capital. Now, two years later, banks are eager to give money back to shareholders — if the government will let them. The Federal Reserve must first complete a second round of bank stress tests, whose results are expected in March.
JPMorgan, which last week reported a $17 billion profit for 2010, has said it hopes to raise its dividend as much as a dollar in the coming months.
Wells Fargo has been more coy about its plans. Mr. Stumpf, in a conference call with investors, said he was eager to raise the dividend.
But Brian Foran, a senior bank analyst with Nomura Securities International, noted, “They historically have been cagey about saying anything before they know it.”
The bank’s dividend outlook has improved on the back of its lending operation.
Wells Fargo picked up new borrowers in the fourth quarter, particularly businesses, and it released $850 million from its reserves, thanks to the improving loan portfolio.
The bank’s provision for credit losses was cut nearly in half, to $2.99 billion in the fourth quarter from $5.91 billion a year earlier.
Shares of Wells Fargo fell 68 cents, or 2.1 percent, on Wednesday, closing at $31.81.
Although the bank’s mortgage shop reported a 19 percent drop in income from 2009, it originated $128 billion in home mortgages in the fourth quarter, up from $94 billion in the fourth quarter of 2009.
“You can see the momentum building as economic activity is returning,” said Marty Mosby, a managing director at Guggenheim Partners.
Yet Wells Fargo still faces problems surrounding its mortgage portfolio.
On Jan. 7, the highest state court in Massachusetts ruled that Wells Fargo and US Bancorp had wrongly foreclosed on two homes, because they could not prove they owned the mortgages.
Regulators in all 50 states have begun investigations into whether hundreds of thousands of foreclosures made in recent years were invalid.
Some banks temporarily suspended foreclosures last year during the controversy.
Wells Fargo officials say they have largely avoided the documentation problems and have decided not to halt foreclosures.
“At the end of the day, the litigation will be less of an impact on Wells Fargo than people fear,” said Lawrence Remmel, a partner at the law firm Pryor Cashman, where he leads the firm’s banking and financial institutions group.
Wells Fargo has also moved to distance itself from litigation over soured loans that banks securitized and sold to investors.
Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the government-controlled mortgage finance companies, are demanding that Wells Fargo and other big banks buy back loans sold at the height of the mortgage bubble.
In the fourth quarter, the bank recorded a $464 million provision for future mortgage repurchases, up from $370 million in third quarter.
But the bank’s chief financial officer, Howard I. Atkins, said Wednesday that Wells Fargo did not plan to settle its dispute with Fannie and Freddie. Mr. Atkins said the bank’s mortgage securities were of higher quality than those generated by its competitors.
“This is a diminishing issue, not an increasing issue,” Mr. Atkins said in an interview.
Eric Dash contributed reporting.
By Ben Protess
For more: http://nyti.ms/eP7Rd8
Question: What’s worse than having your house foreclosed upon?
 
Answer: having your house foreclosed upon twice . Unless, of course, you get it back the second time.
 
Homeowners in Massachusetts are now facing "back-to-back foreclosures," due to problems with property titles. When lenders are unable to get title insurance for the property on which they have foreclosed, they are now opting to try the whole process again. In Massachusetts, where the issue has affected at least hundreds, and "possibly thousands," of homeowners, it has become common enough to merit its own name: "re-foreclosure."
 
It sounds pretty awful. But the “re-foreclosure’’ storm clouds may have a silver lining for some homeowners: Sometimes, the banks lose the second time around.
 
From the Boston Globe article:
 
"Zepheniah Taylor lost his Dorchester three-decker to foreclosure two times in 17 months. Now the 59-year-old grandfather has returned home to stay. The scenario, once implausible, is becoming more common in the crazed and fast-changing world of foreclosures."
 
Also of note, homeowners are able to purchase their houses back at "current market value" — which means if the property value has deteriorated, as is often the case in neighborhoods with high foreclosure rates, the homeowner may be able to benefit by buying the property back at a cheaper price.
 
In the words of one such beneficiary: "I’m starting over fresh…It feels good. It is a new chance. "
 
But the whole process can be a little unsettling. In the words of Zoe Cronin, an attorney with Greater Boston Legal Services, a group that represents low income people: "They are weirded out…What is this? I got a letter saying I own my house again."
 
At the moment, it is still unclear how many properties and homeowners could be affected by these types of issues in the future.
 
By: Ash Bennington, writer for CNBC
 
For more: http://bit.ly/a7mX5v

 Battle Lines Forming in Clash Over Foreclosures

 
That clash — expected to be played out in courtrooms across the country and scrutinized by law enforcement officials investigating possible wrongdoing by big lenders — leaped to the forefront of the mortgage crisis this week as big lenders began lifting their freezes on foreclosures and insisted the worst was behind them. 
 
Battle Lines Forming in Clash Over Foreclosures
 
 
About a month after Washington Mutual Bank made a multimillion-dollar mortgage loan on a mountain home near Santa Barbara, Calif., a crucial piece of paperwork disappeared.
 
Cynthia Veintemillas, a lawyer in Florida, met with a client, Patrick Jeffs, on Wednesday.
 
Herbert Newlands Jr. of Temple Terrace, Fla., getting foreclosure advice from his lawyer on Tuesday. Florida has been hit hard by foreclosures.
 
But bank officials were unperturbed. After conducting a “due and diligent search,” an assistant vice president simply drew up an affidavit stating that the paperwork — a promissory note committing the borrower to repay the mortgage — could not be found, according to court documents.
 
The handling of that lost note in 2006 was hardly unusual. Mortgage documents of all sorts were treated in an almost lackadaisical way during the dizzying mortgage lending spree from 2005 through 2007, according to court documents, analysts and interviews.
 
Now those missing and possibly fraudulent documents are at the center of a potentially seismic legal clash that pits big lenders against homeowners and their advocates concerned that the lenders’ rush to foreclose flouts private property rights.
 
That clash — expected to be played out in courtrooms across the country and scrutinized by law enforcement officials investigating possible wrongdoing by big lenders — leaped to the forefront of the mortgage crisis this week as big lenders began lifting their freezes on foreclosures and insisted the worst was behind them.
 
Federal officials meeting in Washington on Wednesday indicated that a government review of the problems would not be complete until the end of the year.
 
In short, the legal disagreement amounts to whether banks can rely on flawed documentation to repossess homes.
 
While even critics of the big lenders acknowledge that the vast majority of foreclosures involve homeowners who have not paid their mortgages, they argue that the borrowers are entitled to due legal process.
 
Banks “have essentially sidestepped 400 years of property law in the United States,” said Rebel A. Cole, a professor of finance and real estate at DePaul University. “There are so many questionable aspects to this thing it’s scary.”
 
Others are more sanguine about the dispute.
 
Joseph R. Mason, a finance professor who holds the Louisiana Bankers Association chair at Louisiana State University, said that concerns about proper foreclosure documentation were overblown. At the end of the day, he said, even if the banks botched the paperwork, homeowners who didn’t make their mortgage payments still needed to be held accountable.
 
“You borrowed money,” he said. “You are obligated to repay it.”
 
After freezing most foreclosures, Bank of America, the largest consumer bank in the country, said this week that it would soon resume foreclosures in about half of the country because it was confident that the cases had been properly documented. GMAC Mortgage said it was also proceeding with foreclosures, on a case-by-case basis.
 
While some other banks have also suggested they can wrap up faulty foreclosures in a matter of weeks, some judges, lawyers for homeowners and real estate experts like Mr. Cole expect the courts to be inundated with challenges to the banks’ actions.
 
“This is ultimately going to have to be resolved by the 50 state supreme courts who have jurisdiction for property law,” Professor Cole predicted.
 
Defaulting homeowners in states like Florida, among the hardest hit by foreclosures, are already showing up in bigger numbers this week to challenge repossessions. And judges in some states have halted or delayed foreclosures because of improper documentation. Court cases are likely to hinge on whether judges believe that banks properly fulfilled their legal obligations during the mortgage boom — and in the subsequent rush to expedite foreclosures.
 
The country’s mortgage lenders contend that any problems that might be identified are technical and will not change the fact that they have the right to foreclose en masse.
 
“We did a thorough review of the process, and we found the facts underlying the decision to foreclose have been accurate,” Barbara J. Desoer, president of Bank of America Home Loans, said earlier this week. “We paused while we were doing that, and now we’re moving forward.”
 
Some analysts are not sure that banks can proceed so freely. Katherine M. Porter, a visiting law professor at Harvard University and an expert on consumer credit law, said that lenders were wrong to minimize problems with the legal documentation.
 
“The misbehavior is clear: they lied to the courts,” she said. “The fact that they are saying no one was harmed, they are missing the point. They did actual harm to the court system, to the rule of law. We don’t say, ‘You can perjure yourself on the stand because the jury will come to the right verdict anyway.’ That’s what they are saying.”
 
Robert Willens, a tax expert, said that documentation issues had created potentially severe tax problems for investors in mortgage securities and that “there is enough of a question here that the courts might well have to resolve the issue.”
 
As the legal system begins sorting through the competing claims, one thing is not in dispute: the pell-mell origination of mortgage loans during the real estate boom and the patchwork of financial machinery and documentation that supported it were created with speed and profits in mind, and with little attention to detail.
 
Once the foreclosure wheels started turning, said analysts, practices became even shoddier.
 
For example, the foreclosure business often got so busy at the Plantation, Fla., law offices of David J. Stern — and so many documents had to be signed so banks could evict people from their homes — that a supervisor sometimes was too tired to write her own name.
 
When that happened, Cheryl Samons, the supervisor at the firm, who typically signed about 1,000 documents a day, just let someone else sign for her, court papers show.
 
“Cheryl would give certain paralegals rights to sign her name, because most of the time she was very tired, exhausted from signing her name numerous times per day,” said Kelly Scott, a Stern employee, in a deposition that the Florida attorney general released on Monday. A lawyer representing the law firm said Ms. Samons would not comment.
 
Bill McCollum, Florida’s attorney general, is investigating possible abuses at the Stern firm, a major foreclosure mill in the state, involving false or fabricated loan documents, calling into question the foreclosures the firm set in motion on behalf of banks.
 
That problem extends far beyond Florida.
 
As lenders and Wall Street firms bundled thousands of mortgage loans into securities so they could be sold quickly, efficiently and lucratively to legions of investors, slipshod practices took hold among lenders and their representatives, former employees of these operations say.
 
Banks routinely failed to record each link in the chain of documents that demonstrate ownership of a note and a property, according to court documents, analysts and interviews. When problems arose, executives and managers at lenders and loan servicers sometimes patched such holes by issuing affidavits meant to prove control of a mortgage.
 
In Broward County, Fla., alone, more than 1,700 affidavits were filed in the last two years attesting to lost notes, according to Legalprise, a legal services company that tracks foreclosure data.
 
When many mortgage loans went bad in the last few years, lenders outsourced crucial tasks like verifying the amount a borrower owed or determining which institution had a right to foreclose.
 
Now investors who bought mortgage trusts — investment vehicles composed of mortgages — are wondering if the loans inside them were recorded properly. If not, tax advantages of the trusts could be wiped out, leaving mortgage securities investors with significant tax bills.
 
For years, lenders bringing foreclosure cases commonly did not have to demonstrate proof of ownership of the note. Consumer advocates and consumer lawyers have complained about the practice, to little avail.
 
But a decision in October 2007 by Judge Christopher A. Boyko of the Federal District Court in northern Ohio to toss out 14 foreclosure cases put lenders on notice. Judge Boyko ruled that the entities trying to seize properties had not proved that they actually owned the notes, and he blasted the banks for worrying “less about jurisdictional requirements and more about maximizing returns.”
 
He also said that lenders “seem to adopt the attitude that since they have been doing this for so long, unchallenged, this practice equates with legal compliance.” Now that their practices were “put to the test, their weak legal arguments compel the court to stop them at the gate,” the judge ruled.
 
Yet aside from the actions of a few random judges, little was done to force lenders to change their practices or slow things down. Since March 2009, more than 300,000 property owners a month have received foreclosure notices or lost their home in a foreclosure, according to RealtyTrac, which tracks foreclosure listings.
 
What finally prompted a re-examination of the foreclosure wave was the disclosure in court documents over the last several months of so-called robo-signers, employees like Ms. Samons of the Stern law firm in Florida who signed affidavits so quickly that they could not possibly have verified the information in the document under review.
 
Lenders and their representatives have sought to minimize the significance of robo-signing and, while acknowledging legal lapses in how they documented loans, have argued that foreclosures should proceed anyway. After all, the lenders say, the homeowners owe the money.
 
People who have worked at loan servicers for many years, who requested anonymity to protect their jobs, said robo-signing and other questionable foreclosure practices emanated from one goal: to increase efficiency and therefore profits. That rush, they say, allowed for the shoddy documentation that is expected to become evidence for homeowners in the coming court battles.
 
For example, years ago when banks made loans, they typically stored promissory notes in their vaults.
 
But the advent of securitization, in which loans are bundled and sold to investors, required that loan documents move quickly from one purchaser to another. Big banks servicing these loans began in 2002 to automate their systems, according to a former executive for a top servicer who requested anonymity because of a confidentiality agreement.
 
First to go was the use of actual people to determine who should be liable to a foreclosure action. They were replaced by computers that identified delinquent borrowers and automatically sent them letters saying they were in default. Inexperienced clerical workers often entered incorrect mortgage information into the computer programs, the former executive said, and borrowers rarely caught the errors.
 
Other record-keeping problems that are likely to become fodder for court battles involve endorsements, a process that occurs when notes are transferred and validated with a stamp to identify the institution that bought it. Eager to cut costs, most institutions left the notes blank, with no endorsements at all.
 
Problems are also likely to arise in court involving whether those who signed documents required in foreclosures actually had the authority to do so — or if the documents themselves are even authentic.
 
For example, Frederick B. Tygart, a circuit court judge overseeing a foreclosure case in Duval County, Fla., recently ruled that agents representing Deutsche Bank relied on documents that “must have been counterfeited.” He stopped the foreclosure. Deutsche Bank had no comment on Wednesday.
 
Cynthia Veintemillas, the lawyer representing the borrower in the case, Patrick Jeffs, said the paperwork surrounding her client’s foreclosure was riddled with problems.
 
“Everybody knows the banks screwed up and loaned out money to people who couldn’t pay it back,” she said. “Why are people surprised that they don’t know what they are doing here either?”
 
Meanwhile, another judge on Wednesday indicated that the courts would not simply sign off on the banks’ documentation. Jonathan Lippman, the chief judge of New York’s courts, ordered lawyers to verify the validity of all foreclosure paperwork.
 
“We cannot allow the courts in New York State to stand by idly and be party to what we now know is a deeply flawed process, especially when that process involves basic human needs — such as a family home — during this period of economic crisis,” Judge Lippman said in a statement.
 
For more: http://nyti.ms/clFAba
 

 Mortgage Mess May Cost Big Banks Billions

 
“I don’t see how it can be cleared up in a short period of time,” said Richard X. Bove, an analyst with Rochdale Securities. “The moratorium won’t last that long but the problem will last at least four or five years, maybe a decade.” In the short term, he said, “it could easily cost $1.5 billion per quarter.” 
 
After scratching their heads for weeks over how much the foreclosure mess will hurt banks’ bottom lines, investors got out their calculators Thursday to tally the potential costs — and sent bank stocks plunging.
 
Analyst estimates of the possible toll varied widely, but the fear was evident in the stock market. The share price of Bank of America fell 5.2 percent, while shares of JPMorgan Chase sank almost 2.8 percent.
 
“The market never likes uncertainty, and it seems like every day we’re adding to the list of things we need to worry about with the financials,” said Jason Goldberg, an analyst with Barclays Capital. “The industry needs to work quickly to put this issue behind them.”
 
Wall Street initially hoped the banks would do just that but as the political furor grew, a quick end to the crisis was looking less and less likely. On Wednesday, 50 state attorneys general announced they were investigating the practices of the mortgage servicing industry, while Florida’s attorney general subpoenaed the nation’s largest mortgage processor, L.P.S., as part of a broader investigation.
 
In some cases, officials at mortgage servicers signed hundreds of documents a day with barely a chance to review them — the so-called robo-signers — while doubts have arisen about the veracity of the original documents compiled as part of the foreclosure process.
 
“I don’t see how it can be cleared up in a short period of time,” said Richard X. Bove, an analyst with Rochdale Securities. “The moratorium won’t last that long but the problem will last at least four or five years, maybe a decade.” In the short term, he said, “it could easily cost $1.5 billion per quarter.”
 
Meanwhile, the foreclosure machinery in many states has ground to a halt. Major institutions like Bank of America, JPMorgan and GMAC Mortgage have halted foreclosures in many states, and have not said when they would resume. As a result, foreclosed homes will remain on the bank’s books while racking up thousands of dollars a month in extra costs.
 
Until Thursday, Wall Street regarded the foreclosure issue as a risk to the banks’ reputations, rather than their bottom lines. Indeed, some analysts insisted it was unlikely that wide-scale abuses would be found.
 
“It’s inexcusable that the banks didn’t staff up to meet the surge in foreclosures,” said Christopher Kotowski, an analyst with Oppenheimer. “On the other hand, we need to look at whether they are filing foreclosures on a massive basis against people who are not delinquent. So far, I haven’t seen any evidence that they are.”
 
Inside the investment houses, several traders said nerves were frazzled further by worries that banks could face much bigger mortgage related losses, not from foreclosures, but because of questions about how the money was lent in the first place. If it turns out that mortgages were bundled together and sold improperly, more holders could sue the banks and force them to buy back tens of billions in mortgage-backed securities.
 
An alarming report on Bank of America, compiled by Branch Hill Capital, a San Francisco hedge fund, circulated widely on Wall Street on Thursday. Branch Hill suggested that the bank, the nation’s largest, could be facing more than $70 billion in losses from mortgage securities that it may have to repurchase from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, as well as private investors.
 
“We think this is a very important issue, and the liability will be substantial,” said Manal Mehta, a partner at Branch Hill. “There has been pervasive bad behavior throughout the system.” The fund is betting that Bank of America shares could decline because of the potential liability.
 
Bank of America declined to comment Thursday. But the company’s chief executive, Brian T. Moynihan, said last month at an investor conference that adequate reserves had been taken to protect against any losses that could materialize if it was forced to repurchase mortgage securities. “This will be manageable over time, but it has cost us a lot of money so I’m not making light of it,” he said. “We’ll continue to manage it.”
 
On Wednesday, JPMorgan said it had added $1 billion to its reserves to cover faulty home loans that it was obligated to repurchase from Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and private insurers. It has set aside a total of $3 billion for potential repurchases.
 
Even if the larger losses envisioned by Mr. Mehta do not materialize, the foreclosure issue remains a worry. In a report, Paul Miller, an analyst with FBR Capital Markets, forecast that the controversy would cost the banking industry $6 billion to $10 billion. He estimated that each month’s delay cost the banks $1,000 per home loan, so if there was a three-month delay on the roughly two million homes currently in foreclosure, that translated into a $6 billion hit.
 
In addition to the losses directly caused by the delay, Mr. Miller foresees additional charges totaling $3 billion to $4 billion to cover lawsuits stemming from faulty foreclosure procedures.
 
For now, bank executives are not making any predictions how long the foreclosure halt will last.
 
“If you’re talking about three or four weeks it will be a blip in the housing market,” said Jamie Dimon, chief executive of JPMorgan Chase, in a conference call on Wednesday. “If it went on for a long period of time, it will have a lot of consequences, most of which will be adverse on everybody.”
 
For more: http://nyti.ms/diFs2w

 

Bill Rafter submitted this article. Add your comments below.

Also, this morning on the Fox News, one of their reporters claimed an article in the Wall Street Journal stated if homeowners were having a hard time making their house payments, now might be a good time to stop making payments to save up some cash. Interesting… Stay Tuned!

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by DAN FITZPATRICK, DAMIAN PALETTA And ROBIN SIDEL

 
 
Bank of America Corp. imposed a nationwide moratorium on foreclosures and the sale of foreclosed homes after it came under intense pressure from a government-run housing-finance giant worried about documentation problems, people familiar with the situation said.
 
The bank called the halt as concern mounted from legislators and state prosecutors about procedures used by lenders to foreclose on homes. Many banks use so-called robo signers, employees who sign hundreds of documents a day, without carefully reviewing their contents, when foreclosing on homes. Critics say that could result in improper foreclosures.
 
Freddie Mac, the government-run mortgage-finance company that along with Fannie Mae owns many of the mortgages serviced by banks, pressed Bank of America to expand its search for problems with the foreclosure documentation process, said the people familiar with the situation.
 
On a call Thursday with several banks that included Bank of America, a Freddie official said the mortgage company wanted the institutions to look at foreclosure documentation across all 50 states, and asked them to consider putting a stop to the entire foreclosure process, say people familiar with the call.
 
 
Bank of America has decided to halt all foreclosure sales. So will other banks follow BofA’s lead and what impact will the move have on the housing market? Rick Brooks and Brett Arends discuss. Plus, the Dow tops 11,000 and the $2.8 million car.
 
More
 
Delays Could Stall Recovery, Analysts Say
U.S. Steps Lightly Into Foreclosure Controversy
Heard: Banks Boxed In on Foreclosures
Foreclosure Bill Is Blocked
Heard on the Street: The Fed’s 30-Year Warp
Mortgage Investors Are Set for More Pain
Foreclosure? Not So Fast
SmartMoney: Signs the Mortgage Market Has Hit Bottom
Real Time Econ: Which Cities Face Biggest Housing Risks?
Many in the banking industry fear that the widening paperwork problem could cause further delay on foreclosures and threaten an already weak housing market, which in turn is stalling the broader U.S. economic recovery. On the other hand, it could provide a brief financial respite to people who have defaulted on their mortgages and are still occupying their homes.
 
As of August, there were more than 4.4 million home loans that were either in the foreclosure process or 90 days past due, according to mortgage research firm LPS Analytics. Since 2006, about 6.4 million homes have been lost through the foreclosure process.
 
Edward DeMarco, who heads the Federal Housing Finance Agency, which regulates Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, said in an interview that officials were working to find a "tailored" response to the foreclosure problem that won’t cause broader problems for the fragile housing market. "We are trying to be quick but measured in the approach and the response taken," he said. "We’re concerned about the whole housing market, and we’re concerned about what this means for taxpayers and other market participants."
 
More
 
Memo: President’s Disapproval of H.R. 3808
Letter: HUD letter on the foreclosure process
Release: N.C. attorney general launches inquiry of foreclosure practices
Last week Bank of America, J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. and Ally Financial Inc. agreed to more closely examine documents used in 23 states where a court’s approval is required to foreclose on a home. J.P. Morgan said its review suspended nearly 56,000 foreclosures.
 
In conversations with Bank of America, Freddie said financial penalties or litigation could result if the bank did not take additional steps, said a person familiar with the conversations. Bank of America told Freddie that an audit of procedures in the 23 states uncovered no errors, this person said.
 
But Freddie said the work didn’t go far enough and asked for a review in all 50 states, as well a stop to any foreclosure sales, said people familiar with the situation. Freddie Mac declined to comment.
 
Bank of America Chief Executive Brian Moynihan said Friday that the bank hasn’t found problems in its foreclosure process, but opted to temporarily halt all foreclosures to "clear the air." He said the bank wants to "go back and check our work one more time."
 
Its decision is expected to stop "a couple of thousand" foreclosure sales scheduled for the next week, according to one person familiar with the matter said. The bank declined to specify how many homes it has in the foreclosure pipeline.
 
So far, Bank of America is the only lender to expand its foreclosure freeze, but others may be forced to begin or broaden a review, banking executives say. Wells Fargo & Co., one of the nation’s largest mortgage lenders, says it hasn’t stopped foreclosing on any properties.
 
At this point, J.P. Morgan isn’t expanding its foreclosure moratorium, but is widening its document review beyond the 23 states where it has frozen foreclosures, according to a person close to the bank.
 
 
Bank of America services 14 million mortgages, or one out of every five in the U.S., and its loan-servicing portfolio exceeds $2.1 trillion in size. Of its mortgages, 10 million came from its 2008 acquisition of troubled California lender Countrywide Financial Corp. More than 80% of its delinquent loans were acquired through Countrywide.
 
A push over the last week from politicians and law-enforcement officials troubled by reports of foreclosure problems only intensified the pressure on Bank of America, which has been working to improve its relations in Washington. It concluded that reviews in just 23 states wouldn’t cut it with elected officials in the other states, a person close to the bank said.
 
"In this intense political season we are in, it didn’t play well to say do it in some states but not your state," this person said.
 
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.), whose state has been hit hard by foreclosures, and House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Edolphus Towns (D., N.Y.), both said Friday they welcomed Bank of America’s move and called on other banks to follow.
 
Cassandra Toroian, chief investment officer at Bell Rock Capital LLC, a money-management firm, says the additional reviews are unlikely to significantly impact the outcome for homeowners who are facing foreclosure. "It’s just delaying the inevitable," she says.
 
—Robbie Whelan contributed to this article.
 
The Article

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Breaking News Alert: Sen. Reid calls on major lenders to halt foreclosures in all 50 states 
October 8, 2010 12:56:49 PM
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Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) called on major lenders to halt foreclosures in all 50 states Friday following Bank of America’s announcement it was stopping proceedings until it finishes reviewing possible paperwork problems.

Reid, who had sent a letter to major banks asking them to suspend foreclosures in Nevada, extended his concern to include all 50 states. 

“I thank Bank of America for doing the right thing by suspending actions on foreclosures while this investigation runs its course," said Reid. "I urge other major mortgage servicers to consider expanding the area where they have halted foreclosures to all 50 states as well."

He emphasized, "My primary focus is to protect Nevada homeowners who have been hardest hit by foreclosures in the most recent economic downturn."

 

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Bank of America said Friday it is halting all foreclosure sales and foreclosure proceedings nationwide while it reviews the documents being used to justify homeowner evictions.
 
It is the first bank to put a moratorium on foreclosures in all 50 states. Previously, Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase and others were only pausing foreclosures in states where a court has to participate in foreclosure proceedings.
 
"Bank of America has extended our review of foreclosure documents to all fifty states," the bank said in a statement. "We will stop foreclosure sales until our assessment has been satisfactorily completed. Our ongoing assessment shows the basis for foreclosure decisions are accurate. We continue to serve the interests of our customers, investors and communities. Providing solutions for distressed homeowners remains our primary focus." 
 
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