In this time of depressing and maddening news about banks and their infuriating indifference to the suffering of underwater homeowners, it’s refreshing to know that some of us are not taking their shenanigans lying down. Here’s a story I found about one homeowner who decided to FIGHT BACK! Will he win? Only time will tell…
Why Wells Fargo Became the Target of Foreclosure
According to The Philadelphia Inquirer and retold by Casey Bond of GoBankingRates.com, it all started when music producer Patrick Rodgers, who purchased a $180,000 home in 2002, was suddenly notified last year by Wells Fargo that he needed to insure the property for $1 million. The bank demanded he insure the full replacement value of the home, not the purchase price, to prevent a total loss should devastating damage occur. Rodgers didn’t believe his home was worth that much and refused.
When Rodgers declined to up his coverage and was presented with forced-placement insurance instead, he wrote to Wells Fargo demanding further explanation. In fact, he wrote four times over the course of a year with no response.
The Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act
After some research, he learned that the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (RESPA) of 1974 requires that mortgage lenders acknowledge written requests within 20 business days. They are subject to damages or penalties if they fail to respond. So, when his written requests for more information were ignored, Patrick Rogers took Wells Fargo to court.
The court ruled in favor of Rodgers and he received a $1,173 judgment against Wells Fargo. However, the bank didn’t pay up, so Rodgers began foreclosure proceedings against local office Wells Fargo office.
March 4, 2011 is the date scheduled for a sheriff’s sale of the contents of Wells Fargo Home Mortgage office to cover the judgment and additional court and sheriff’s costs, though it’s likely Wells Fargo will pay a settlement to end the dispute before the sale happens.
In a late-breaking addenda to this story, Rodgers and the bank did,indeed, come to an agreement as mentioned in the Philadelphia Inquirer. Both sides declined to offer details, but Rogers said the bank had agreed to pay down his mortgage to the extend equal to the time and effort he had expended in his quest against the bank and, further, the bank agreed that his home insurance should equal his most recent appraisal at $255,000.
How You Can Learn from Rodgers
Technically, Patrick Rodgers didn’t really foreclose on Wells Fargo, but he brings an important issue to light. As a responsible, employed homeowner who felt his mortgage lender was taking advantage of him, Rodgers didn’t sit back and allow it to happen. He researched his rights and stood up against the bank, ultimately winning his case.
If you suspect your mortgage lender, or any other financial institution for that matter, is asking something questionable or even illegal of you, there are laws in place to protect you. It’s up to you to know what they are, but you don’t have to feel like your situation is hopeless or unchangeable. It’s not if you’re serious about changing it.
It’s pretty clear that banks are much better off financially with short sales as opposed to foreclosures. Then, why on earth are these crazy banks making them so complicated?
Typically, banks require reams of paperwork for homeowners who wish to do a short sale on their properties instead of heading directly into foreclosure. Primary among the tax returns, financial statements, bank statements, pay stubs, W2s, and such is the hardship letter, delineating reasons why the homeowner can no longer make the payments and so is requesting that the mortgage holder accept less than what is owed on the property and call it good.
Some banks have already recognized the futility, stupidity, hypocrisy, call it what you will, of this method and are no longer requiring mountains of paperwork and are, in effect, streamlining the whole process. Wachovia, now defunct, but operated by Wells Fargo Bank, announced quite some time ago that it would no longer require any paperwork other than the listing from the homeowner wishing to do a short sale along with a buyer’s offer. Most marvelous of all, Wachovia actually makes a decision and accepts or rejects the offer within 5 business days or tries to. Contrast this with Bank of America’s [aka Countrywide] 3 to 4 months.
Wachovia’s way makes sense, doesn’t it? It recognized that homeowners who are underwater to the tune of 50% or hundreds of thousands of dollars are not going to make the payments whether they are able to or not. They would need to be financial morons to stay in that situation. So, why force or punish the poor homeowner who is nevertheless giving up his home or his investment and require all this useless paperwork?
Let’s just face it. With about 24% of loans nationwide underwater, millions of homeowners, clogging up the system with all this useless and unnecessary pasperwork looks more like punishment for the homeowner than anything really needed to make the transaction happen. Listen up, big banks, let’s hear it for Wachovia!
So much for all the “good” news coming out of D.C. Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan Chase, B of A are all happy campers with their billions in profits, while the rest of us lose our jobs and watch our state sink into bankruptcy. No one ever mentions that, besides the TARP money since repaid, Goldman Sachs got $12 Billion from AIG to cover hedge fund losses. And, of course, where did AIG get the dough to cover its insurance policies? Why, funny you should ask, that also came from tax payers…So, it’s kind of an endless circle of taxpayer funds creating “wealth” for these jokers while the rest of us starve. That’s capitalism, right?
But, back to real estate…What does all this have to do with real estate. Plenty, as it turns out. Chase and B of A are, of course, banks, now, in fact, the biggest banks in the country. That means they also control a majority of the mortgage loans and how the rising default rate is to be handled. In case you hadn’t heard, default rates are up and rising. Could that have anything to do with the also rising unemployment rate now over 10% in 30 states and 12.6% in California last time I checked. Here, even the “good” state jobs are now at risk and going down the tubes faster than your 5-year-old at Raging Waters.
With no job or prospect of a job, when underemployed or working only part-time or sporadically, home owners can’t cover their mortgage payments. Add to that, the factor of plunging prices. It’s estimated that by now, after more than a year of record foreclosures and drops in home values, 27% of all California home owners are under water, that is, they owe more than their homes are worth. Of course, the smart ones are short selling their homes. It’s hard to give up the old homestead and all the work and money put into it, but once the underwater mark hits 30% loss of equity, it really makes more sense to let it go. It will be years before that equity returns given the numbers involved.
What about the refi program discussed in a previous post? For some, that might be an option. It’s no help if you’ve lost your job. You won’t qualify. If you still have a job and can afford the payments, this is an option. Though, notice–you still owe the money your home is no longer worth. You do pobably have a better rate and more managable payments, but, the debt is still there.
What about the loan mod program also discussed in a previous post? Well, there we’re back to these big banks, Chase, B of A, Wells Fargo and all the rest. These banks do most of the loans in the country, so borrowers have to apply to these banks to get loan mods. Obama’s Homeowners’ Stabilization program, announced amidst much hopeful optimism in March, has proved less than effective, shall we say. Chase trumpets that it has modified 138,000 loans since April. That sounds reasonably good, but the program was supposed to modify more than 4 million in 3 years…Not much of a start, so far…
Then, there’s B of A which says it’s done 45,000 loan mods since April. That’s for the ENTIRE COUNTRY. Think about this: California ALONE had 135,431 notices of default [NODs] send out from January through March of this year. B of A and its newest acquisition, failed California-based Countrywide, probably account for at least 30% of those loans or 40,000 loans. So, B of A is basically DOING NOTHING to help at this time of NATIONAL CRISIS. And, remember 27% of California homeowners are under water and so need to have their loans modified. How many actual borrowers would that be? I don’t know, but we have 35 million people, so that’s got to be in excess of 1 million loans….Nationwide, in the first quarter 1.8 million homeowners fell more than 60 days behind on their loans, 15% more than the prior quarter [Q4 08]. To repeat: this is a NATIONAL CRISIS.
What is going to happen next? Is B of A going to change its corporate culture and start helping homeowners? Not bloody likely. Digging deeper into the trough of public money is more apt to be that bank’s continuing attitude. Just try to do loan mods with Countrywide and B of A or short sales. They take forever–4 months is the minimum; there is no maximum time. The paperwork demanded is just stunning. B of A NEVER, to my knowledge, forgives even one penny of any under water loan balance as some banks actually are doing. Its idea of what it owes to the common good is EXACTLY ZILCH, NOTHING, NADA.
So, those foreclosures, kept off the market by useless cycling of paperwork in rejected refis and loan mods, will come onto the market, especially here in California. Last summer, foreclosure sales statewide hit a high of 26,500 a month. Before this year is out, we may well beat that record. I am one of many real estate brokers who supply lenders with estimates of value or broker price opinions [bpo] and I can say, anecdotally, that I am very busy, often doing 3, 4 or even 5 every day. If I am that busy, so are the others who do this work. That means so many foreclosures looming…
It seems I’ve developed a bad case of bankophobia lately. Clients are screaming about their miserable experiences trying to refi. Experts like William K. Black on Bill Moyer’s Journal, a formner regulator, reveal the Big Bankers are actually fraudsters and they know it. Almost everything I’m reading about the bailout of these pernicius institutions is making steam come out my ears.
Really, I am a naturally optimistic person. I rarely think ill of anyone without, of course, proof positive. I do exempt Bernie Madoff, naturally; he’s pretty clearly nothing but a thief. Then, there’s Ken Lewis, CEO of Bank of America–he’s a regular snake. Not only does he grab all the dough he can get from the tax payers, but he turns around, giving billions in bonuses to his cronies all the while trying to pull the rug out from regular working Americans who might try to level the playing fied by joining a union. That really steams me! These–hogs is the only term I can think for them–can never have enough for themselves, but they put up every barrier they can think of to prevent others from even having a steady income or a potential retirement. Maybe we should bring back the guillotine…Just kidding. Then, there’s John Thain, lately CEO of Merrill Lynch, who gave out billions to his cronies with the connivance of Ken Lewis just before B of A took over his company.
This whole affair is sickening. The little that the present administration is doing for actual citizens includes The Making Home Affordable Plan offering 105% refis. These loans are now available and even some in the Southland could take advantage of the now amazingly low rates to do a refi. Don’t bet on it because these very same banks who received bailout money apparently don’t want you to get any advantage whatsoever. Sounds to be like Ken Lewisism gone amok. Here’s just a few examples of how hard they are making it.
First, many banks are applying super-tough appraisal conditions so homes don’t qualify.” Nope–we see your home as worth $310,000, not $312,000 so you don’y qualify. Next.” Then, there’s the private mortgage insurance premium sticking point. Got PMI? Lenders like Wells Fargo and Countrywide won’t touch your refi. Together, they probably have half the loans in the country. Maybe later…they say.
If you have PMI with MGIC and it’s one of the biggest, if not the biggest PMI company, then you must refi with your current lender. That’s MGIC’s rule, not the program’s. Don’t like your current lender? Tough tiddlywinks to you. MGIC owns you.
Loan fees–be sure to get a GFE–good faith estimate–in writing because some banks are making hay while the sun shines–what else is new?-and charging exorbitant fees. This is a federal law, so if you can’t or don’t get one right away, walk right on by no matter how good the deal seems. Because–it isn’t. This is one of the oldest tricks in the lending business: promise them everything, but never put it in writing.
Here’s another sticky wicket: HELOCs–equity lines of credit. Either the bank issuing the HELOC refuses to subordinate, though it’s already subordinate, or the new bank says, “Oops, with the new loan combined LTV [loan to value] is too high. Can’t do it.” This is a variation on the appraisal gambit.
Then, there’s credit. You don’t have a 740 FICO? You’re out. And, you better have a job because you will have to qualify and you will have to reveal your entire financial picture. These last are not so bad to mymind. Now, at least we’re returning to sanity and trying to lend only to qualified borrowers. Trouble is Obama’s program is supposed to be helping”potentially troubled” homeowners stay out of trouble.
Last but not least is the most infuriating and frustrating aspect of the whole process…Actually, this one has two intertwined parts. The first is the incredible voice maze you must navigate to talk to your bank. The unconscionable hold times we are all subject to these days. And, then, after waiting 45 minutes on hold, you get to speak to Joe Moron who tells you all kinds of false and crack-brain stuff–”You must be behind in your mortgage to do a refi”–Huh? “We’ve never heard of Obama’s plan. Making Home Affordable Plan? Never heard of it? We live on Planet Pluto.” Sometimes you get to chat with a dingbat in the Phillippines or maybe Bangalore–always nice, always out to lunch.
If all else fails–somehow–you get disconnected.
These are a few of the reasons I’ve developed a bad case of bankophobia.