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 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

This keeps getting uglier and uglier. I’m not trying to promote "doom and gloom" so don’t shoot the messenger. My objective is to keep  you on top of today’s insane turbulent real estate market.

"He Who Masters The New Rules Firstest, WINS The MOSTEST"

 

 

Foreclosure Furor Rises; Many Call for a Freeze

By DAVID STREITFELD and GRETCHEN MORGENSON
Published: October 5, 2010
 
The uproar over bad conduct by mortgage lenders intensified Tuesday, as lawmakers in Washington requested a federal investigation and the attorney general in Texas joined a chorus of state law enforcement figures calling for freezes on all foreclosures.
 
Flawed Paperwork Aggravates a Foreclosure Crisis (October 4, 2010)
 
Representative Nancy Pelosi, the House speaker, and 30 other Democratic representatives from California told the Justice Department, the Federal Reserve and the comptroller of the currency that “it is time that banks are held accountable for their practices.”
 
In a request for an investigation into questionable foreclosure practices by lenders, the lawmakers said that “the excuses we have heard from financial institutions are simply not credible."
 
Officials from the federal agencies declined to comment.
 
Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, a Republican, sent letters to 30 lenders demanding they stop foreclosures, evictions and the sale of foreclosed properties until they could provide assurances that they were proceeding legally.
 
Both developments indicated that scarcely two weeks after the country’s fourth-biggest lender, GMAC Mortgage, revealed that it was suspending all foreclosures in the 23 states where the process requires judicial approval, concerns about flawed foreclosures had mushroomed into a nationwide problem.
 
Some of the finger-pointing was also being directed back at Congress. The Ohio secretary of state, Jennifer Brunner, suggested in a telephone interview on Tuesday that a bill passed by Congress last week about notarizations could facilitate foreclosure fraud.
 
Dubious notary practices used by banks to justify foreclosures have come under scrutiny in recent weeks as GMAC and other top lenders suspended homeowner evictions over possible improper procedures.
 
Ms. Brunner, who has recently referred possible cases of notary fraud in her state to federal authorities, worries that the legislation would allow the lowest standard for notaries to become a nationwide practice. She said she also worried that the changes were coming in the middle of a foreclosure storm where people could lose their homes improperly.
 
“A notary’s signature is that of a trusted, impartial third party, whose notarization bolsters the integrity of the document,” Ms. Brunner said. “To take away the safeguards of notarization means foreclosure procedures could be more susceptible to fraud.”
 
As banks’ foreclosure practices have come under the microscope, problems with notarizations on mortgage assignments have emerged. These documents transfer the ownership of the underlying note from one institution to another and are required for foreclosures to proceed.
 
In some cases, the notarizations predated the preparation of the legal documents, suggesting that signatures were not reviewed by a notary. Other notarizations took place in offices far away from where the documents were signed, indicating that the notaries might not have witnessed the signings as the law required.
 
Notary practices vary from state to state and the bill, sponsored by Representative Robert B. Aderholt, a Republican from Alabama, would essentially require that one state’s rules be accepted by others. If one state allows its notaries to sign off on electronic signatures, for example, documents carrying such signatures and notarized by officials in that state would have to be recognized and accepted in any state or federal court.
 
Ms. Brunner pointed out that some states had adopted “electronic notarization” laws that ignored the requirement of a signer’s personal appearance before a notary. “Many of these policies for electronic notarization are driven by technology rather than by principle, and they are dangerous to consumers,” she said.
 
Mr. Aderholt had introduced the bill twice before and both times it passed the House of Representatives but not the Senate. Mr. Aderholt reintroduced the bill last October and it passed the Senate on Sept. 29. It is awaiting President Obama’s signature.
 
Mr. Aderholt’s press secretary, Darrell Jordan, said there was no connection between the timing of the bill and the current notarization problems with foreclosures. In a statement announcing the bill’s passage, Mr. Aderholt said: “This legislation will help businesses around the nation by eliminating the confusion which arises when states refuse to acknowledge the integrity of documents notarized out of state.”
 
Last week, JPMorgan Chase and Bank of America joined GMAC in suspending foreclosures in the states where they must be approved by a judge. The judicial states do not include California or Texas. But Mr. Abbott, the Texas attorney general, told lenders in letters dated Oct. 4 that if they used so-called robo-signers — employees who signed thousands of foreclosure affidavits a month, falsely attesting that they had reviewed the material — it would be a violation of Texas law.
 
As a result, he wrote, “the document and therefore the foreclosure sale would have been invalid.”
 
The three lenders who are at the center of the controversy, GMAC Mortgage, JPMorgan Chase and Bank of America, declined to comment. Other lenders singled out by Mr. Abbott include Wells Fargo, CitiMortgage, HSBC and National City.
 
Meanwhile, shares of a major foreclosure outsourcing company, Lender Processing Services of Jacksonville, Fla., fell 5 percent on Tuesday, adding to a slide that began last week.
 
The company’s documentation practices are stirring questions, including how the same employee can have wildly varying signatures on mortgage documents. L.P.S. blamed a midlevel manager’s decision to allow employees to sign forms in the name of an authorized employee. It says it has stopped the practice.
 
The United States Attorney’s Office in Tampa began investigating L.P.S. in February. An L.P.S. representative could not be reached Tuesday for comment.
 
Other calls for investigations came from Senators Al Franken, a Democrat from Minnesota, and Robert Menendez, a Democrat from New Jersey.
 
 

 This article from http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/06/business/06mortgage.html

 How Will This Foreclosure Mess Affect You & Your Business?
(15 min Video)

 


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Another article sent from Roger

 

Flawed Paperwork Aggravates a Foreclosure Crisis

By GRETCHEN MORGENSON
Published: October 3, 2010
 
As some of the nation’s largest lenders have conceded that their foreclosure procedures might have been improperly handled, lawsuits have revealed myriad missteps in crucial documents.
 
Jay LaPrete/Associated Press
Jennifer Brunner, the secretary of state of Ohio, has highlighted examples of what her office considers possible notary abuse.
The flawed practices that GMAC Mortgage, JPMorgan Chase and Bank of America have recently begun investigating are so prevalent, lawyers and legal experts say, that additional lenders and loan servicers are likely to halt foreclosure proceedings and may have to reconsider past evictions.
 
Problems emerging in courts across the nation are varied but all involve documents that must be submitted before foreclosures can proceed legally. Homeowners, lawyers and analysts have been citing such problems for the last few years, but it appears to have reached such intensity recently that banks are beginning to re-examine whether all of the foreclosure papers were prepared properly.
 
In some cases, documents have been signed by employees who say they have not verified crucial information like amounts owed by borrowers. Other problems involve questionable legal notarization of documents, in which, for example, the notarizations predate the actual preparation of documents — suggesting that signatures were never actually reviewed by a notary.
 
Other problems occurred when notarizations took place so far from where the documents were signed that it was highly unlikely that the notaries witnessed the signings, as the law requires.
 
On still other important documents, a single official’s name is signed in such radically different ways that some appear to be forgeries. Additional problems have emerged when multiple banks have all argued that they have the right to foreclose on the same property, a result of a murky trail of documentation and ownership.
 
There is no doubt that the enormous increase in foreclosures in recent years has strained the resources of lenders and their legal representatives, creating challenges that any institution might find overwhelming. According to the Mortgage Bankers Association, the percentage of loans that were delinquent by 90 days or more stood at 9.5 percent in the first quarter of 2010, up from 4 percent in the same period of 2008.
 
But analysts say that the wave of defaults still does not excuse lenders’ failures to meet their legal obligations before trying to remove defaulting borrowers from their homes.
 
“It reflects the hubris that as long as the money was going through the pipeline, these companies didn’t really have to make sure the documents were in order,” said Kathleen C. Engel, dean for intellectual life at Suffolk University Law School and an expert in mortgage law. “Suddenly they have a lot at stake, and playing fast and loose is going to be more costly than it was in the past.”
 
Attorneys general in at least six states, including Massachusetts, Iowa, Florida and Illinois, are investigating improper foreclosure practices. Last week, Jennifer Brunner, the secretary of state of Ohio, referred examples of what her office considers possible notary abuse by Chase Home Mortgage to federal prosecutors for investigation.
 
The implications are not yet clear for borrowers who have been evicted from their homes as a result of improper filings. But legal experts say that courts may impose sanctions on lenders or their representatives or may force banks to pay borrowers’ legal costs in these cases.
 
Judges may dismiss the foreclosures altogether, barring lenders from refiling and awarding the home to the borrower. That would create a loss for the lender or investor holding the note underlying the property. Almost certainly, lawyers say, lawsuits on behalf of borrowers will multiply.
 
In Florida, problems with foreclosure cases are especially acute. A recent sample of foreclosure cases in the 12th Judicial Circuit of Florida showed that 20 percent of those set for summary judgment involved deficient documents, according to chief judge Lee E. Haworth.
 
“We have sent repeated notices to law firms saying, ‘You are not following the rules, and if you don’t clean up your act, we are going to impose sanctions on you,’ ” Mr. Haworth said in an interview. “They say, ‘We’ll fix it, we’ll fix it, we’ll fix it.’ But they don’t.”
 
As a result, Mr. Haworth said, on Sept. 17, Harry Rapkin, a judge overseeing foreclosures in the district, dismissed 61 foreclosure cases. The plaintiffs can refile but they need to pay new filing fees, Mr. Haworth said.
 
The byzantine mortgage securitization process that helped inflate the housing bubble allowed home loans to change hands so many times before they were eventually pooled and sold to investors that it is now extremely difficult to track exactly which lenders have claims to a home.
 
Many lenders or loan servicers that begin the foreclosure process after a borrower defaults do not produce documentation proving that they have the legal right to foreclosure, known as standing.
 
As a substitute, the banks usually present affidavits attesting to ownership of the note signed by an employee of a legal services firm acting as an agent for the lender or loan servicer. Such affidavits allow foreclosures to proceed, but because they are often dubiously prepared, many questions have arisen about their validity.
 
Although lawyers for troubled borrowers have contended for years that banks in many cases have not properly documented their rights to foreclose, the issue erupted in mid-September when GMAC said it was halting foreclosure proceedings in 23 states because of problems with its legal practices. The move by GMAC followed testimony by an employee who signed affidavits for the lender; he said that he executed 400 of them each day without reading them or verifying that the information in them was correct.
 
JPMorgan Chase and Bank of America followed with similar announcements.
 
But these three large lenders are not the only companies employing people who have failed to verify crucial aspects of a foreclosure case, court documents show.
 
Last May, Herman John Kennerty, a loan administration manager in the default document group of Wells Fargo Mortgage, testified to lawyers representing a troubled borrower that he typically signed 50 to 150 foreclosure documents a day. In that case, in King County Superior Court in Seattle, he also stated that he did not independently verify the information to which he was attesting.
 
Wells Fargo did not respond to requests for comment.
 
In other cases, judges are finding that banks’ claims of standing in a foreclosure case can conflict with other evidence.
 
Last Thursday, Paul F. Isaacs, a judge in Bourbon County Circuit Court in Kentucky, reversed a ruling he had made in August giving Bank of New York Mellon the right to foreclose on a couple’s home. According to court filings, Mr. Isaacs had relied on the bank’s documentation that it said showed it held the note underlying the property in a trust. But after the borrowers supplied evidence indicating that the note may in fact reside in a different trust, the judge reversed himself. The court will revisit the matter soon.
 
Bank of New York said it was reviewing the ruling and could not comment.
 
Another problematic case involves a foreclosure action taken by Deutsche Bank against a borrower in the Bronx in New York. The bank says it has the right to foreclose because the mortgage was assigned to it on Oct. 15, 2009.
 
But according to court filings made by David B. Shaev, a lawyer at Shaev & Fleischman who represents the borrower, the assignment to Deutsche Bank is riddled with problems. First, the company that Deutsche said had assigned it the mortgage, the Sand Canyon Corporation, no longer had any rights to the underlying property when the transfer was supposed to have occurred.
 
Additional questions have arisen over the signature verifying an assignment of the mortgage. Court documents show that Tywanna Thomas, assistant vice president of American Home Mortgage Servicing, assigned the mortgage from Sand Canyon to Deutsche Bank in October 2009. On assignments of mortgages in other cases, Ms. Thomas’s signatures differ so wildly that it appears that three people signed the documents using Ms. Thomas’s name.
 
Given the differences in the signatures, Mr. Shaev filed court papers last July contending that the assignment is a sham, “prepared to create an appearance of a creditor as a real party in interest/standing, when in fact it is likely that the chain of title required in these matters was not performed, lost or both.”
 
Mr. Shaev also asked the judge overseeing the case, Shelley C. Chapman, to order Ms. Thomas to appear to answer questions the lawyer has raised.
 
John Gallagher, a spokesman for Deutsche Bank, which is trustee for the securitization that holds the note in this case, said companies servicing mortgage loans engaged the law firms that oversee foreclosure proceedings. “Loan servicers are obligated to adhere to all legal requirements,” he said, “and Deutsche Bank, as trustee, has consistently informed servicers that they are required to execute these actions in a proper and timely manner.”
 
Reached by phone on Saturday, Ms. Thomas declined to comment.
 
The United States Trustee, a unit of the Justice Department, is also weighing in on dubious court documents filed by lenders. Last January, it supported a request by Silvia Nuer, a borrower in foreclosure in the Bronx, for sanctions against JPMorgan Chase.
 
In testimony, a lawyer for Chase conceded that a law firm that had previously represented the bank, the Steven J. Baum firm of Buffalo, had filed inaccurate documents as it sought to take over the property from Ms. Nuer.
 
The Chase lawyer told a judge last January that his predecessors had combed through the chain of title on the property and could not find a proper assignment. The firm found “something didn’t happen that needed to be fixed,” he explained, and then, according to court documents, it prepared inaccurate documents to fill in the gaps.
 
The Baum firm did not return calls to comment.
 
A lawyer for the United States Trustee said that the Nuer case “does not represent an isolated example of misconduct by Chase in the Southern District of New York.”
 
Chase declined to comment.
 
“The servicers have it in their control to get the right documents and do this properly, but it is so much cheaper to run it through a foreclosure mill,” said Linda M. Tirelli, a lawyer in White Plains who represents Ms. Nuer in the case against Chase. “This is not about getting a free house for my client. It’s about a level playing field. If I submitted false documents like this to the court, I’d have my license handed to me.”
 
Link to Article
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/04/business/04mortgage.html

Attorney Harry Borders sent this article from the Federal Trade Commission

 

Forensic Mortgage Loan Audit Scams:

A New Twist on Foreclosure Rescue Fraud

Fraudulent foreclosure “rescue” professionals use half-truths and outright lies to sell services that promise relief to homeowners in distress. According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the nation’s consumer protection agency, the latest foreclosure rescue scam to exploit financially strapped homeowners pitches forensic mortgage loan audits.

In exchange for an upfront fee of several hundred dollars, so-called forensic loan auditors, mortgage loan auditors, or foreclosure prevention auditors backed by forensic attorneys offer to review your mortgage loan documents to determine whether your lender complied with state and federal mortgage lending laws. The “auditors” say you can use the audit report to avoid foreclosure, accelerate the loan modification process, reduce your loan principal, or even cancel your loan.

Nothing could be further from the truth. According to the FTC and its law enforcement partners:

  • there is no evidence that forensic loan audits will help you get a loan modification or any other foreclosure relief, even if they’re conducted by a licensed, legitimate and trained auditor, mortgage professional or lawyer.
  • some federal laws allow you to sue your lender based on errors in your loan documents. But even if you sue and win, your lender is not required to modify your loan simply to make your payments more affordable.
  • if you cancel your loan, you will have to return the borrowed money, which may result in you losing your home.

If you are in default on your mortgage or facing foreclosure, you may be targeted by a foreclosure rescue scam. The FTC wants you to know how to recognize the telltale signs and report them. If you are faced with foreclosure, the FTC says legitimate options are available to help you save your home.

Spotting a Scam

If you’re looking for foreclosure prevention help, avoid any business that:

  • guarantees to stop the foreclosure process – no matter what your circumstances are
  • instructs you not to contact your lender, lawyer or credit or housing counselor
  • collects a fee before providing any services accepts payment only by cashier’s check or wire transfer
  • encourages you to lease your home so you can buy it back over time
  • recommends that you make your mortgage payments directly to it, rather than your lender
  • urges you to transfer your property deed or title to it
  • offers to buy your house for cash at a fixed price that is inappropriate for the housing market
  • pressures you to sign papers you haven’t had a chance to read thoroughly or that you don’t understand.
Finding Legitimate Help

Housing experts say that when you’re behind on your mortgage payments, maintaining communication with your lender is the most important thing you can do. Contact your lender or servicer immediately if you’re having trouble paying your mortgage or you have received a foreclosure notice. You may be able to negotiate a new repayment schedule. 

Gold Member Roger Taylor emailed me this article in the New York Times.

This is huge and will greatly affect the real estate market across America.

Chew on this a bit, not only will this slow down and halt foreclosures creating a massive stockpile of defaults, but there will also be many other critical issues for both homeowners and investors alike.

For Example:

Title Companies will stop writing title insurance. Old Republic has already announced it will not insure any properties having a GMAC mortgage.

Investors and Homeowners alike, who have already purchased "bank owned" real estate or HUD properties, may find themselves with a toxic property because it may have an unmarketable title due to all of the huge lenders and law firms having openly admitted falsifying documents during the foreclosure process.

Homeowners in default, by the masses, will be filing all kinds of action demanding lenders produce all of the original and real documents involving their mortgage. Keep in mind, a California bankruptcy court has already ruled that "MERS" is NOT sufficient proof of ownership of notes and mortgages. In other words, the lender who claims to own the note and mortgage, must be able to produce the original promissory note and documents. (Notes and mortgages were sliced, diced, and chopped up and sold on the secondary market using MERS without any concern for the physical documents themselves. 

Stay Tuned…

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Bank of America to Freeze Foreclosure Cases

By DAVID STREITFELD
Published: October 1, 2010 in NYT
 
Bank of America, the country’s largest mortgage lender by assets, said on Friday that it was reviewing documents in all foreclosure cases now in court to evaluate if there were errors.
 
It is the third major lender in the last two weeks to freeze foreclosures in the 23 states where the process is controlled by courts.
 
But Bank of America went further than the first two lenders, GMAC Mortgage and JPMorgan Chase, which have said they will amend paperwork only in cases they think were improperly done. So far, that has amounted to only a handful of cases.
 
Bank of America, in an e-mailed statement, said it would “amend all affidavits in foreclosure cases that have not yet gone to judgment.”
 
That could mean tens of thousands of foreclosure cases would be in limbo for months or, if the consumers in default hire lawyers, years.
 
Spokesmen for the bank said that they were uncertain how many cases the lender currently had in court. They provided no timeline or explanation for the freeze, saying only that the bank planned to eventually resubmit all the cases.
 
The moratorium is likely to further fuel the uproar over the foreclosure tactics of the big lenders, which continued to have political ramifications on Friday.
 
Before Bank of America’s announcement, Richard Blumenthal, the Connecticut attorney general, asked judges in his state to put a halt to all foreclosures for 60 days. Connecticut is one of the 23 states where foreclosure is a judicial matter. Others include Illinois, Florida, New Jersey and New York.
 
Mr. Blumenthal, who is running for senator in Connecticut, said the freeze “should stop a foreclosure steamroller based on defective documents and enable effective remedies.”
 
California’s attorney general, Jerry Brown, said that Chase should stop any foreclosures in the state until it proved that it was following the law. Mr. Brown, who is a candidate for governor, earlier made the same demand of GMAC.
 
In California, lenders generally pursue foreclosures outside of the court system, so they are presumably still proceeding with evictions. Chase declined to say whether it would comply with Mr. Brown’s comments.
 
Chase said this week that it had frozen 56,000 foreclosure cases. GMAC, which is largely owned by the Treasury after receiving $17 billion in federal bailout money to prevent its collapse, has repeatedly declined to say how many cases it is halting.
 
The nation’s two other major lenders, Citi and Wells Fargo, have issued statements maintaining they have no problems with their cases.
 
The problem for all the lenders that have announced moratoriums stems directly from their attempt to deal with an unprecedented number of foreclosures.
 
According to LPS Applied Analytics, a mortgage data firm, 2 million households are in foreclosure. Another 2.37 million households are seriously delinquent and waiting for their lender to take action.
 
Sometimes these loans are still owned by the lender but often, the banks are merely the loan servicer acting on behalf of the owner. Many of the loans are owned by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the mortgage holding companies now controlled by the Treasury. In other cases the loans have been sold to private investment pools.
 
Confronted with so many cases, the lenders tried to process them on a wholesale basis, with the goal of avoiding the expense of a full trial and instead getting summary judgments.
 
The tool for doing this was the so-called robo-signers, in which midlevel bank executives would sign thousands of affidavits a month attesting that they had personal knowledge that the facts of the case were as presented. The affidavits were prepared by lawyers who were paid a flat fee, which also placed a premium on volume.
 
When defense lawyers started deposing these robo-signers, they acknowledged that they could not possibly have knowledge of all the cases. The banks say this is a technicality and they will refile the proper affidavits. The defense lawyers say the practice calls the cases, and indeed the entire process, into question.
 
Thomas Lawler, a housing economist, said the current mess was predictable and probably inevitable. Lenders made their money by making loans and then simply and efficiently servicing them by collecting the checks every month. They were never prepared to deal with the labor-intensive problems of delinquency and foreclosure.
 
“However, the foreclosure crisis is now almost three years old, and not having staffed up sufficiently to deal with the problems with inadequate staffing borders on criminal,” Mr. Lawler said. “I mean, jeepers, look at the unemployment rate; how hard would it have been to hire more folks?”
 
Mark Stopa, a Florida lawyer who represents defaulting homeowners, said the magnitude of the current troubles depends on how title insurance companies react. If those firms begin to shy away from insuring foreclosed properties because they think those properties are vulnerable to claims, he said, the entire housing market could suffer.
 
“Judges have to force banks to do foreclosures correctly,” Mr. Stopa said. But he noted that would require a significant increase in staff. “I’ll believe it when I see it,” he said.
 
Stocks of the major title insurance companies dropped on Friday amid concern that their business would suffer as a result of the foreclosure freezes. Fidelity National Financial fell more than 4 percent, while First American Financial dropped 3 percent.
 
One firm, Old Republic National Title, said this week it would not issue policies on GMAC foreclosures until further notice.

 

Gold Member Roger Taylor emailed me this article this morning. Thanks Roger!

 

Foreclosures Slow as Document Flaws Emerge

By DAVID STREITFELD
Published: September 30, 2010
 
 
The foreclosure machinery that has forced millions of Americans out of their homes is beginning to seize up as some lenders and their lawyers are accused of cutting corners in their pursuit of rapid home repossessions.
 
Matthew Staver/Bloomberg News
GMAC and JPMorgan Chase have acknowledged legal missteps, and have suspended new foreclosure actions in 23 states.
 
Evictions are expected to slow sharply, housing analysts said, as state and national law enforcement officials shine a light on questionable foreclosure methods revealed by two of the country’s biggest home lenders in the last two weeks.
 
Even lenders with no known problems are expected to approach defaulting homeowners more cautiously and look more aggressively for resolutions short of outright eviction.
 
Despite the turmoil, some economists said the breakdown could ultimately lay the groundwork for a real estate recovery.
 
Stricken neighborhoods across the country, for example, could benefit. One big factor undermining home sales is fear of a large number of foreclosed homes coming to the market. If the foreclosures are delayed or never happen, housing prices might find a floor.
 
“Maybe this is like shock therapy,” said the economist Karl E. Case. “Maybe this will actually get the lenders to the table and encourage them to work out deals that are to the benefit of everybody.”
 
While such a happy ending is possible, the near term is more likely to produce paralysis and confusion.
 
As more defaulting homeowners become aware of the lenders’ problems, they are expected to hire lawyers and challenge the proceedings against them. And if completed foreclosures were not properly done, families who bought the troubled homes could be vulnerable to claims by the former owners.
 
Apparently alarmed about such a possibility, one of the major title insurance companies, Old Republic National Title, has sent a bulletin to agents saying that “until further notice” it would not insure title to properties foreclosed upon by GMAC Mortgage, the country’s fourth-largest home lender and one of the two big lenders at the center of the current controversy.
 
GMAC declined to comment, and Old Republic representatives did not return calls.
 
GMAC has acknowledged legal missteps in processing mortgages, and JPMorgan Chase has acknowledged the possibility of missteps, and both have suspended all foreclosures in the 23 states where they need a court’s approval. That’s 56,000 in the case of Chase alone; GMAC declined to provide a number.
 
Attorneys general in half a dozen states are demanding action or opening investigations. The Treasury Department said Thursday it was asking regulators to look into “these troubling developments.”
 
“We’re seeing a fundamental breakdown in the system, because no one cared that much about getting things right,” said Representative Alan Grayson, a Democrat of Florida, who unsuccessfully asked the Florida Supreme Court to halt all foreclosures in that state.
 
Wall Street was examining the impact the disclosures could have on the lenders. Moody’s Investors Service has placed the servicer ratings of GMAC and Chase on review for possible downgrade.
 
The federal government has been the majority owner of GMAC since supplying $17 billion to prevent the lender’s failure during the financial crisis.
 
Other lenders said Thursday that their foreclosure filings, including the crucial affidavits, had been properly done.
 
A Citigroup spokesman said the lender required “annual training for our foreclosure employees on the proper execution of affidavits, including having personal knowledge of the information in the affidavit.”
 
A Wells Fargo spokeswoman said “the affidavits we sign are accurate.” A spokesman for Bank of America, Rick Simon, said, “We do not have anything to tell you at this time.”
 
GMAC and Chase are in trouble because, overwhelmed with foreclosures, they tried to process them as quickly and cheaply as possible, defense lawyers say. The companies say they are reviewing their procedures to take care of any violations.
 
The missteps stemmed from the affidavits the lenders file as they seek a quick or summary judgment in thousands of foreclosure cases. The affidavits state certain facts about the case, including the amount owed, which the signer indicates he has personal knowledge of. Without the affidavit, the lender would have to prove the facts at trial.
 
In depositions taken by lawyers for homeowners, executives at GMAC and Chase said they or their teams signed 10,000 or more affidavits and related documents a month. That did not give them time to review the cases.
 
Defense lawyers say the disclosures are symptomatic of the carelessness, if not outright fraud, that lenders have been exhibiting for years in their rush to file cases. Many necessary documents have disappeared, with defense lawyers saying the lenders often do not even have standing to foreclose.
 
In a number of pending cases in Florida, defense lawyers there said, GMAC has already withdrawn affidavits. The lawyers said they would try to have the cases thrown out for possible fraud, although they acknowledged that might be difficult.
 
GMAC said it would refile the affidavits. Chase said it had not withdrawn any affidavits.
 
“The way the plaintiffs’ lawyers have handled this has corrupted our legal system,” said Thomas Cox, a Maine lawyer whose deposition of a GMAC executive in June helped prompt the current disclosures. “They tried to manufacture foreclosures the way you’d manufacture cars, on an assembly line. It can’t be done that way.”
 
Mr. Cox is representing pro bono a rural woman who is in foreclosure on a $82,000 mortgage. The plaintiff in the case is Fannie Mae, the mortgage holding company that failed during the financial crisis and is now under government conservatorship. GMAC serviced the loan for Fannie Mae.
 
This week, the judge in the case set aside his summary judgment in favor of Fannie when he read Mr. Cox’s deposition of a GMAC executive, Jeffrey Stephan, who said he never reviewed the file he had signed. The case will now go to trial.
 
“I don’t think they are going to give up easily,” said Mr. Cox.
 
As the foreclosure crisis has deepened, the length of time borrowers spend waiting for the end has lengthened.
 
In January 2009 the time between the owner’s first missed payment and eviction was 319 days, according to LPS Applied Analytics. By August it was 478 days.
 
Since spring, the data firm says, the lenders have been trying to clear their backlog. They have stepped up the rate at which they put defaulting owners into the formal foreclosure process. In August, they started 283,000 foreclosures, up from 220,000 in April.
 
Now, as the lenders are pressed to examine more closely their filings, those foreclosure starts are likely to fall, prolonging the owner’s time in limbo. Many borrowers use this period, when they are living in their home but not paying for it, to try and get their financial house back in order.