Federal Housing Chief Supports California Bill of Rights

The series of bills backed Attorney General Kamala Harris to help avoid future foreclosure abuses have found a new supporter in federal housing chief, Shaun Donovan.

The so-called California Bill of Rights “would restrict practices such as foreclosing on homeowners as they try to negotiate a loan modification and mandate that banks designate a single person to work with troubled borrowers,” as reported by the Los Angeles Times.

The financial-industry and business trade groups have opposed the bills, arguing that while the national mortgage settlement’s terms are temporary and apply to only five banks, the bills’ changes would be permanent and universal. In fact, the proposed California Bill of Rights provides longer term protection for homeowners where the national mortgage settlement expires.

Those who oppose the bills also object to giving borrowers the right to sue to block foreclosures or recover losses when banks violate the law in more than just a trivial way. We feel strongly that banks should not be able to take advantage of distressed homeowners and ignore their rights in any way during the foreclosure process. The national mortgage settlement does not acknowledge individual borrowers whose lenders violate the new safeguards but the proposed California Bill of Rights provides a remedy to that.

Foreclosures hold steady

The imminent wave of foreclosures has still yet to strike with new numbers out from Lender Processing Services, Inc. showing that March foreclosures have stayed steady. The new data from LPS also shows that are still down from March 2011.

69,000 foreclosures were completed in March, compared to 85,000 in March 2011 and 66,000 foreclosures in February 2012.

The Los Angeles Times reports: “About 1.4 million homes, or 3.4% of all homes with a mortgage, were at some stage in the foreclosure process last month, the same as in February but down slightly compared with 1.5 million in March 2011, Santa Ana research firm CoreLogic said.”

The rate of foreclosures has slowed since last year during accusations of faulty practices and improper paperwork by lenders. Experts have predicted that foreclosures are expected to rise again since the  national settlement was reached in February. However, there has been little uptick in the number of foreclosures which could be a result of the national mortgage settlement that pushes lenders to work with troubled borrowers to avoid foreclosure.

Scam Alert: Mortgage Foreclosure Scams on the Rise

April 24, 2012 Leave a comment

Homeowners beware: the number of reported mortgage foreclosure scams has increased 60 percent so far in 2012, according to the Homeownership Preservation Foundation.

The Huffington Post reports that scammers are exploiting the recent increase in government programs such as the recent national mortgage settlement.

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has warned that scammers claim to be government officials involved in the settlement and try to obtain personal financial information from homeowners seeking assistance.

As foreclosures are expected to rise again in the coming months, homeowners are need to be cautious when seeking debt relief and are reminded to do their research when hiring assistance with the loan modification process.

The California Homeowners Bill of Rights

April 20, 2012 Leave a comment

California Attorney General Kamala Harris has been working since earlier this year on a package of bills to help protect homeowners from foreclosure and wrongful foreclosure practices by banks.

The so-called California Homeowners Bill of Rights was to be put to vote by the California Assembly’s Senate Banking and Finance Committee on Monday. However, Chairman Mike Eng (D-Monterey Park) of the Assembly Banking and Finance Committee asked that debate be postponed for a week in an effort to amend the bills so a compromise could be reached during negotiations with consumer groups and mortgage bankers.

In a press release issued by the Office of the Attorney General, the provisions of the bills were outlined and were aimed at making sure that homeowners are not put on a so-called dual-track process that allows banks to continue a foreclosure process at the same time they are negotiating possible loan modifications.

According to the Huffington Post,

“Other provisions in the bundle require banks to provide homeowners with a single point of contact during the loan modification process and levy a $25 fee on banks every time they register a default. Proceeds from the default fee would then go into a pool of money funding mortgage fraud investigations.”

While some of the provisions outlined in the proposed Bill of Rights overlap with the national mortgage settlement, the settlement expires in three years and Harris wants the rules to extend into perpetuity.

Harris has support from many political leaders on the proposed Bill of Rights, including San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee, as well as dozens of consumer, fair-lending and economic justice organizations, but faces opposition by mortgage bankers, bankers, credit unions and the financial industry.

Short Sales Surpass Foreclosures

April 18, 2012 Leave a comment

For the first time, the number of short sales has surpassed foreclosures according to Lender Processing Services Inc. (LPS).Specifically, short sales outnumbered foreclosures in states with some of the largest shares of homes facing foreclosure, including California.

LPS reports that as of January 2012, short sales accounted for 23.9 of home purchases, compared with 19.7 percent for sales of foreclosed homes. This in comparison to January 2011 data that shows only 16.3 percent of transactions were short sales and 24.9 percent involved foreclosures.

According to Bloomberg, short sale transactions typically fetch a higher price for banks than sales of homes that have gone through foreclosure which is major reason why banks have become more agreeable to selling houses for less than the amount owed on their mortgages

This rise in short sales is likely a result of several new government initiatives.

For example, the Federal Housing Finance Agency ordered loan servicers to respond to all short-sale offers within 30 days, and approve or reject them within 60 days – an effort to short the process that can typically take months longer.

Additionally, banks including Wells Fargo & Co. (WFC) and JPMorgan Chase & Co. (JPM) have started providing incentives for homeowners to short sell in an effort to avoid foreclosure.

If you are interested in learning more about short sales check out this blog post for 5 Things You Should Know About Short Sales.

New Rules to Fight Foreclosure

April 16, 2012 Leave a comment

Last week, Congress mandated changes in the rules covering the mortgage servicing industry.

According to the Associated Press, “The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau‘s proposed rules would require mortgage servicers to give all borrowers standardized monthly statements and warn borrowers about interest rate or insurance change.”

The proposed rules also require the mortgage servicers to make “good-faith efforts” to contact borrowers at risk of foreclosure and give them options to avoid losing their homes and also include stipulations for improving record-keeping and providing foreclosure counseling to those who need it.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which supervises U.S. payday lenders, mortgage companies and private student lenders and also can write rules to supervise big lending companies and institute fines, will formally propose the rules this summer and finalize them by January 2013.

Principal Reductions: A Cure to the Crisis?

April 12, 2012 Leave a comment

After much debate, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac will decide by the end of this month whether they will allow principal reductions on mortgages they back.

Fannie and Freddie have resisted calls to write down the balances on the loans in their portfolio, saying it would be too costly for taxpayers as the mortgage giants are government-controlled companies, regulated by The Federal Housing Finance Agency.

At the core of the debate is Ed DeMarco, acting director for the agency, who has said principal reductions would amount to an expensive taxpayer bailout of troubled homeowners. According to CNNMoney.com, the agency had originally decided against allowing principal reductions after internal studies showed that alternatives such as adjusting monthly payments or forbearing principal were more cost effective.

The Obama administration, however, has tripled the incentives it will pay to Fannie and Freddie for reducing principal under the Home Affordable Mortgage Program, or HAMP and has forced the agency to reconsider.

As reported on CNNMoney.com, Fannie and Freddie have about 3 million loans that are seriously underwater, according to company filings. But three-quarters of these homeowners are current on their payments and may not qualify.

The number of eligible underwater Fannie and Freddie loans could range from a few hundred thousand up to 750,000, according to estimates – a fraction of the total 11 million underwater borrowers in the U.S.

However, there is still debate on if this will fix the housing crisis.

While some economists state that this could be helpful in aiding the crisis, some experts still fear that allowing principal reduction will open a new wave of strategic defaults, where homeowners decide to stop paying their mortgages in order to benefit from modification programs.

Plus, at the end of the day, taxpayers will still be paying for principal reductions – whether taxpayer money comes from HAMP or from the open line of bailouts Treasury provides to Fannie and Freddie.