The decline in home prices is accelerating across the nation, according to a new report, and a record number of foreclosures is expected to push prices down further through next year.

 
 
But a second report released on Tuesday indicated that consumer confidence in the economy rose in November to the highest level in five months amid some more hopeful signs.
 
The Standard & Poor’s Case-Shiller 20-city home price index released Tuesday fell 0.7 percent in September from August. Eighteen of the 20 cities recorded price declines.
 
Cleveland recorded the biggest drop, 3 percent from a month earlier. Prices in San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego, which had been showing strength this year, also dropped in September from August.
 
Washington and Las Vegas were the only metro areas to post gains in monthly prices.
 
The 20-city index has risen 5.9 percent from its April 2009 bottom. But it remains nearly 28.6 percent below the peak, in July 2006. And home prices have fallen in 15 of the 20 cities in the last year.
 
Prices rose in many cities from April through July, mostly helped by government tax credits that have since expired.
 
The national quarterly index, which measures home prices in nine regions of the country, dropped 2 percent in the third quarter from the previous quarter.
 
In the other report, the Conference Board said that its Consumer Confidence Index for November rose to 54.1 points, up from a revised 49.9 in October. Analysts were expecting 52.0. November’s reading is the highest since June’s 54.3.
 
The November reading is the highest since June, when the index stood at 54.3 just as the economy’s recovery started to lose momentum. Economists surveyed by Thomson Reuters had expected 52.0.
 
It takes a level of 90 to indicate a healthy economy, which has not been approached since the recession began in December 2007.
 
One component of the index, how Americans feel now about the economy, rose to 24, up from 23.5. The other gauge, which measures how American feel about the economy over the next six months, rose to 74.2, up from 67.5 last month.
 
“Consumer confidence is now at its highest level in five months, a welcome sign as we enter the holiday season,” Lynn Franco, director of the Conference Board Consumer Research Center, said in a statement. “Consumers’ assessment of the current state of the economy and job market, while only slightly better than last month, suggests the economy is still expanding, albeit slowly. Hopefully, the improvement in consumers’ mood will continue in the months ahead.”
 
Others were less optimistic.
 
“The rise in consumer confidence in November is not consistent with a sustained acceleration in consumption growth at a time when income growth is weak, the unemployment rate is high and a double dip in house prices is under way,” said Paul Dales, United States economist at Capital Economics.
 
The consumer confidence index, which measures how respondents feel about business conditions, the job market and the economy over the next six months, has recovered fitfully since hitting a record low of 25.3 in February 2009. Economists watch confidence closely because consumer spending accounts for about 70 percent of economic activity and is crucial to a strong rebound. The improved confidence mirrors an increase in spending in November, fueled by early discounting on holiday goods that lured shoppers into stores.
 
The Conference Board’s index, based on a random survey mailed to 5,000 households from Nov. 1 to Nov. 19, showed that worries about jobs eased, but that concern remained high.
 
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
 
For more: http://nyti.ms/eoUCAk

 F.H.A. Rule Changes for Mortgage Borrowers

 
HOME buyers with sketchy credit who are unable to qualify for conventional mortgages may now find it more costly and difficult to obtain loans insured by the Federal Housing Administration. 
 
New rules that went into effect this month adjust the two types of mortgage insurance paid by consumers for loans insured by the F.H.A., which is part of the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
 
One change raises the annual insurance premium, paid monthly by the borrower, setting it at 0.85 percent to 0.9 percent of the loan balance, depending on the down payment or equity owned; the amount used to be 0.5 percent to 0.55 percent. The other change lowers the one-time upfront insurance premium that borrowers must pay, to 1 percent of the loan balance from 2.25 percent.
 
The upfront premium is paid in a lump sum at closing or added to the loan balance, unlike the monthly premium, which is paid over the life of the loan in addition to the interest and principal.
 
The decrease in the upfront premium, welcome though it might seem to some customers, does little to offset the effects of the monthly increase, which Andre Harriott, the president of the Access Mortgage Corporation in New Haven, Conn., called “really pretty hefty.”
 
“Everyone is really living paycheck to paycheck,” he said.
 
F.H.A. loans are usually taken out by buyers who cannot qualify under the stiffer down-payment requirements of Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac, the government-controlled buyers of loans. F.H.A. requires 3.5 percent, while Fannie Mae typically requires 5 to 15 percent or more, depending on the type of loan.
 
The changes, under an example provided by the F.H.A., mean that a borrower who puts 3.5 percent down on a $154,000 house with a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage at 5 percent (such a consumer typically earns a gross annual income of $54,000, according to the agency) and who finances the upfront premium into the loan will see monthly mortgage payments, including taxes, interest and the two insurance premiums, rise to $1,238 from $1,205. The example is based on median data, including property taxes put at about 2.5 percent of home value. That increase includes the drop in the upfront mortgage insurance, to $1,486 from $3,344 — but also includes the rise in the monthly insurance premium, to $111 from $68.
 
Last August, President Obama signed into law a bill authorizing the F.H.A. to increase premiums to shore up its insurance funds; the agency had been authorized to raise the annual premium to as much as 1.55 percent.
 
Conventional loans, which conform to Fannie and Freddie underwriting guidelines, do not require upfront mortgage insurance. But some may require monthly private mortgage insurance, if the borrower puts less than 20 percent down toward the purchase, or has less than 20 percent equity in a refinancing.
 
F.H.A. borrowers, meanwhile, can stop paying the monthly mortgage insurance only after five years and when their loan-to-value ratio reaches 78 percent, at which point they have 22 percent equity in their home.
 
F.H.A. loans are typically offered by niche direct lenders, and because of the insurance, they often carry interest rates equal to or slightly below those of conventional loans.
 
In October, the F.H.A. set a minimum FICO score of 500 for borrowers who want an F.H.A.-insured loan — the first time a minimum was set. It also introduced a new minimum down payment of 10 percent for borrowers with FICO scores below 580. (Those above 580 still pay a minimum 3.5 percent.)
 
The issue for the F.H.A, Mr. Harriott said, is that the realm of borrowers has widened. “We see executives of little companies, teachers, people making $200,000 a year, doing an F.H.A. loan, because they’ve gotten into a financial situation,” he said, adding that F.H.A. loans are perceived as safe by investors because of the insurance.
 
By LYNNLEY BROWNING
For more: http://nyti.ms/h22leV

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NEVER Buy Real Estate Using A Quit Claim Deed.

ALWAYS Buy Real Estate via a Real Professional Closing At A Real Estate Attorney’s Office or Title Company. This article explains the many pitfalls of using a "Quit Claim Deed" (not Quick Claim)

Mike Butler

 
Title insurance protects owners of real estate, and mortgage lenders, against any possible losses if the title to real estate is determined to be defective in some manner. If any type of encumbrance, lien or other defect to the title is discovered following the transfer of ownership or the placement of a mortgage lien, the owner and the lender are protected against losses associated with correcting the problem. If you desire to transfer or obtain an interest in real estate through a quitclaim deed, then you need to know whether title insurance is available.
 
 
Quit Claim Deed Function
 
The function of a quitclaim deed is to transfer the interest a purported owner of real estate may have in that property. Unlike a warranty deed, a quitclaim deed does not carry with it a guarantee that the title to the real estate is free and clear of any liens or encumbrances. The person conveying an interest in real estate with a quitclaim deed essentially is doing so in an "as is" condition.
 
 
Significance
 
Because no warranty or guarantee is made regarding the actual state of the title when a quitclaim deed is used, title insurance cannot be obtained. Title insurance is available when a warranty deed is used, because of the clear title guarantee associated with that type of instrument.
 
A primary reason why title insurance is not available with a quitclaim deed is because no title search is undertaken before such a deed is signed and filed. A title search is a thorough investigation of the state of the existing title to real estate to determine what liens or encumbrances, if any, exist.
 
 
Purpose
 
The purpose of title insurance is to protect a person or other legal entity against losses that arise when a lien or encumbrance is discovered after a transfer of title occurs. In the absence of a title search associated with a quitclaim deed, no title insurance company will extend this type of protection to the property owner.
 
 
Warning
 
A person receiving a purported real estate interest via a quitclaim deed may receive no legal right to the property whatsoever. If the person seeking to transfer real estate with a quitclaim deed has no legal interest, nothing legally is conveyed. In the absence of title insurance–which is not available for a quitclaim deed–the person receiving the quitclaim deed has no legal recourse because the deed itself states that only the interest of the grantor, if any interest exists, is conveyed.
 
 
by Mike Broemmel, Demand Media
For more: http://bit.ly/cYZmaq

 

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

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Even as investors put aside their worries on Friday about the effect of the foreclosure mess on bank stocks, new signs emerged of what is likely to be a long and expensive legal battle for the financial services industry over mortgages gone bad.

 
Citigroup disclosed in a regulatory filing that it was being sued by several investors, including Charles Schwab and the Federal Home Loan Bank of Chicago, in an effort to force Citigroup to buy back soured mortgages that the investors contended did not conform to proper underwriting standards.
 
Meanwhile, Wells Fargo said in a filing that it “cannot estimate the possible loss or range of loss” from these cases, and Bank of America said in a filing that investors holding $375 billion worth of mortgage securities had filed similar suits.
 
In a separate announcement, however, Bank of America said a lawsuit brought by the Maine State Retirement System and other investors was dismissed on Thursday by a federal court in California, reducing that $375 billion figure to $54 billion. But that news came after the S.E.C. filing had already been prepared.
 
The dismissal is a significant victory for Bank of America and underscores the legal challenges in trying to force banks to buy back defaulted mortgages.
 
“The court’s ruling demonstrates the strict legal hurdles plaintiffs face in bringing these sorts of claims,” said Brian E. Pastuszenski, counsel for Bank of America’s Countrywide unit.
 
Still, Bank of America faces a different effort by other investors, including the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and Pimco, the giant money management firm, to force it to buy back a portion of roughly $47 billion in mortgages they hold. Neither the $375 billion nor the $54 billion figure reflects this push, because those investors have yet to sue.
 
On Thursday, Bank of America’s lawyers sent a strongly worded letter to the lawyer leading the $47 billion effort, rejecting her claims as “utterly baseless.” The bank contends the any loss of value stemmed from the economic downturn rather than an underlying problem with how the mortgages were sold to investors or have been serviced.
 
Bank of America and other large institutions like JPMorgan Chase and GMAC Mortgage have been criticized for pursuing foreclosures without the proper paperwork or with signatures by so-called robo-signers.
 
But on Wall Street, the worry is that efforts to force the banks to buy back defaulted mortgages could actually be a longer and more expensive fight for the industry. Some analysts estimate the eventual cost could total tens of billions of dollars, and that worry pushed down shares of the big banks sharply last month.
 
Indeed, Bank of America’s chief executive, Brian T. Moynihan, has signaled that the threat of forced buybacks will not be resolved quickly — or cheaply.
 
“It’s loan by loan, and we have the resources to deploy in that kind of review,” he said last month, during a conference call to discuss the bank’s financial results for the third quarter. “We’d love never to talk about this again and put it behind us, but the right answer is to fight for it.”
 
Despite the disclosures, bank stocks rallied for the second day in a row. Bank of America shares closed up 23 cents, at $12.36, while Citigroup rose 16 cents, to $4.49, and Wells Fargo jumped $1.76, to $29.22.
 
By NELSON D. SCHWARTZ
For more: http://nyti.ms/aQgZUD
When Michael Gazzarato took a job that required him to sign hundreds of affidavits in a single day, he had one demand for his employer: a much better pen.
 
Lisa Krantz for The New York Times
Linda Almonte of San Antonio has filed a wrongful termination suit against JPMorgan Chase, where she flagged defects in a portfolio of debt Chase was trying to sell.
 
Luke Sharrett/The New York Times
In July, the Federal Trade Commission, led by Jon Leibowitz, issued a report critical of the debt-collection system, saying banks were selling account information that can be riddled with errors.
“They tried to get me to do it with a Bic, and I wasn’t going — I wasn’t having it,” he said. “It was bad when I had to use the plastic Papermate-type pen. It was a nightmare.”
 
The complaint could have come from any of the autograph marathoners in the recent mortgage foreclosure mess. But Mr. Gazzarato was speaking at a deposition in a 2007 lawsuit against Asset Acceptance, a company that buys consumer debts and then tries to collect.
 
His job was to sign affidavits, swearing that he had personally reviewed and verified the records of debtors — a time-consuming task when done correctly.
 
Sound familiar?
 
Banks have been under siege in recent weeks for widespread corner-cutting in the rush to process delinquent mortgages. The accusations have stirred outrage and set off investigations by attorneys general across the country, prompting several leading banks to temporarily cease foreclosures.
 
But lawyers who defend consumers in debt-collection cases say the banks did not invent the headless, assembly-line approach to financial paperwork. Debt buyers, they say, have been doing it for years.
 
“The difference is that in the case of debt buyers, the abuses are much worse,” says Richard Rubin, a consumer lawyer in Santa Fe, N.M.
 
“At least when it comes to mortgages, the banks have the right address, everyone agrees about the interest rate. But with debt buyers, the debt has been passed through so many hands, often over so many years, that a lot of time, these companies are pursuing the wrong person, or the charges have no lawful basis.”
 
The debt in these cases — typically from credit cards, auto loans, utility bills and so on — is sold by finance companies and banks in a vast secondary market, bundled in huge portfolios, for pennies on the dollar. Debt buyers often hire collectors to commence a campaign of insistent letters and regular phone calls. Or, in a tactic that is becoming increasingly popular, they sue.
 
Nobody knows how many debt-collection affidavits are filed each year, but a report by the nonprofit Legal Aid Society found that in New York City alone more than 450,000 were filed by debt buyers, from January 2006 to July 2008, yielding more than $1.1 billion in judgments and settlements.
 
Problems with this torrent of litigation are legion, according to the Federal Trade Commission, led by Jon Leibowitz. The agency issued a report on the subject, “Repairing a Broken System,” in July. In some instances, banks are selling account information that is riddled with errors.
 
More often, essential background information simply is not acquired by debt buyers, in large part because that data adds to the price of each account. But court rules state that anyone submitting an affidavit to a court against a debtor must have proof of that claim — proper documentation of a debt’s origins, history and amount.
 
Without that information it is hard to imagine how any company could meet the legal standard of due diligence, particularly while churning out thousands and thousands of affidavits a week.
 
Analysts say that affidavit-signers at debt-buying companies appear to have little choice but to take at face value the few facts typically provided to them — often little more than basic account information on a computer screen.
 
That was made vividly clear during the deposition last year of Jay Mills, an employee of a subsidiary of SquareTwo Financial (then known as Collect America), a debt-buying company in Denver.
 
“So,” asked Dale Irwin, the plaintiff’s lawyer, using shorthand for Collect America, “if you see on the screen that the moon is made of green cheese, you trust that CACH has investigated that and has determined that in fact, the moon is made of green cheese?”
 
“Yes,” Mr. Mills replied.
 
Given the volume of affidavits, even perfunctory research seems impossible. Cherie Thomas, who works for Asta Funding, a debt buyer in Englewood Cliffs, N.J., said in a 2007 deposition that she had signed 2,000 affidavits a day. With a half-hour for lunch and two brief breaks, that’s roughly one affidavit every 13 seconds.
 
By DAVID SEGAL
 
For more: http://nyti.ms/9TxTra
 

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