Automatic Loan Mods?

Just Like The Lottery

Believe it or not, one bank has actually started offering automatic loan mods. No more reams of paperwork delving into intimate financial records of borrowers [treated more like beggars], no more waiting for six months, eight months and even more than a year to get an answer from the haughty banks. Finally, one bank, JP Morgan Chase, is automatically writing loan mod contracts for its underwater borrowers.

Chase Bank

Yes, it’s true. Some Chase customers are getting loans mods, offering rate reductions, principal reductions or both–all without having to file the onerous paperwork. In one case cited by CNN Money, Chase surprised a Darrington, Wash. couple, who had tried, without success, to effect a loan mod with the very same bank, with a loan mod reducing their interest rate from 6.5% to 2.8% for five years and then a fixed 3.19% for the remaining 18 years of their loan, saving them $229 a month. For this couple, still suffering with job loss as well as an underwater house, it was just like winning the lottery.

Why Would Chase Offer Automatic Loan Mods?

Bank Trick

Why would Chase be doing this? Is this a trick?

It’s not a trick. In fact, in accordance with the $25-billion mortgage settlement agreed to a few months ago by 49 out of 50 attorneys general, discussed in a previous post, Chase’s share of the payout burden is $4.2 billion.  Because banks get “extra credit” for acting quickly and making their mods during the first year, Chase  bit the bullet and decided to go ahead and make loan mod offers to thousands of underwater borrowers. In the past, contacting all these homeowners has proven difficult if not impossible. Many homeowners are so inundated with financial woes they no longer read their mail or answer the phone. Many underwater homeowners move out, anticipating a foreclosure.

Borrowers who receive the loan mod offers must, of course, sign the new contracts which typically would run for 5 years and then, most important, start making the new payments which are usually hundreds of dollars less than the previous amounts. Between March and June 2012, Chase claims that it has completed 3,086 loan mods,  $359 million’s  worth.

But, Isn’t The Housing Crisis Over By Now?

To understand how deep-seated this problem is despite the good news we’ve been hearing about home prices rising,  look at what Chase, just one of the five major banks involved, says it still has to do: another 11,500 loan mods. I say, “Bravo,” to Chase for undertaking to honor the settlement. It is too bad, though, that the banks had to be forced by litigation to treat their borrowers like human beings. Makes you wonder what else we could get the banks to cough up if the federal government would just hold their feet to the fire just a teensy, weensy bit?

Ultimate Help For Homeowners: Mortgage Litigation

Over the past three years while writing this blog, I have combed every source I came across for avenues that could possibly help homeowners keep their homes, reduce their payments or avoid foreclosure. I have written about loan modifications, federal loan modifications, loan restructuring, short payoffs and forensic loan analysis, trying to see if any of these cold provide a solution to the housing crisis we are facing. In the end, though some of these helped some individuals a bit, nothing has actually made much of a difference.

Ultimately, I have come to believe, banks are not going to help homeowners because it is not in their financial interest. Because of TARP and really for PR purposes, banks have done a few loan mods, helped a few homeowners avoid foreclosure and participated in a few forums to help individual property owners. In the aggregate, though, their efforts have been puny in the face of massive numbers of underwater homes. Their public pronouncements about their interest in remedying the situation have clearly been hypocritical in light of the little they have done.

Banks have become the most hated institutions in America and for good reason.


Quite some time ago, I came to the conclusion that only massive legal force would give homeowners any leverage in dealing with banks. Forensic loan audits seemed for a while to provide this. Legal firms analyzed individual loans uncovering in the process RESPA violations, fraud, and numerous questionable actions in almost every loan done since around 2002. The attorney would then send this information to regulating agencies and to the fraudulent bank, expecting some repentant reaction.
But, when faced by an individual attorney representing an individual homeowners, each bank’s response was, “So what? What do you intend to do about it?” Since lawsuits are very expensive, the banks were aware individuals behind in their mortgage payments were highly unlikely to file suit.

What To Do?

Finally, we may have some recourse. It seems that across the country many attorneys have been filing suit against banks for their fraudulent actions and, little by little, the database of suits has been growing. At this point, more than three years into the crisis, attorneys have banded together to file on behalf of individual homeowners and, if a suit against that individual’s bank already exists, to add him to the list of plaintiffs.
This seems the only way to go. Joining such a suit costs money, of course, and no results can be guaranteed, but to me it seems like the best solution so far.
Here are some of the benefits of mortgage litigation.

  • A lawsuit is filed-a judge decides the merits of a case, not the banks
  • If it goes to trial, banks know that juries now universally favor homeowners
  • This is not a loan modification–the banks do not control the outcome

Possible Outcomes

If the attorney or legal firm accepts the case, the demand is always to completely tear up the note or mortgage on the property. While this is not always the outcome or even usually, the next demand is for the note to be re-written to 70% of current value of the property. Of course, another outcome is always that the homeowner and his attorney might lose the suit. That is possible but highly unlikely.

After December, The Avalanche?

Louis XIV of France, styled the Sun King, famously opined, “Apres moi, le deluge.”  After me, the flood. He was right, of course, for his excesses so infuriated the people that his successor was guillotined and his monarchy overthrown in the French Revolution.

SoCal Plunge In Foreclosure Filings

Something similar seems to be brewing in Southern California and maybe even nationwide as lenders ratchet up their foreclosure filings after the “robo-signing” lull. Though foreclosures dropped dramatically in SoCal this fall, so, too, did all home sales. The reasons seem to be many: the end of the home buyer tax credit, stubbornly high unemployment and the generally still-moribund economy. In fact, sales are down a full 16% from November of 2009. This at the same time foreclosure filings fell 14% from the previous November after a 22% decline in October for a two-month total 36% decline. Nationwide, the filings fell 21%.

December is traditionally a slow month in real estate as consumers focus on retail buying, parties and holiday travel plans. Typically, though, also in December  smart investors are out there snapping up last-minute bargains of the now-extremely motivated sellers still on the market. Competition is almost always much less, to put it mildly, and sellers are determined to close out their books for year’s end.  This year seems to be different as even investors are holding back.

That may be because the huge drop in  foreclosure filings this fall has ominous repercussions for home prices in the new year. With the foreclosure freeze over, informed observers now expect to see the banks ratchet up their foreclosures with a vengeance, restarting filings begun in October and November and barreling ahead with new ones in January. Executives from RealtyTrac, a real estate data collection firm, speculate that the housing recovery could be set back three months, if not more, as the foreclosures pile up. In fact, we can expect ” an avalanche” of foreclosures shortly.

SoCal Home Prices

The most immediate effect of an avalanche of foreclosed properties on the market will be to further depress prices in Southern California which had started a slight upward movement. Los Angeles County home prices had dropped 1.2% over November 2009 to a median of $325,000. Riverside and San Bernardino Counties, the hardest hit by the bursting of the real estate bubble, lost 2.5% and 5.0% respectively to medians of $195,000 and $152,000. But, that is a huge improvement over the 30% and 40% drops of previous years. Other SoCal counties actually gained in value. Orange County eked out a .6% improvement for a $435,000 median home price. San Diego topped the charts with a 3.1% improvement over last year to a median of  $335,000 with Ventura County just behind at 2.7% uptick to a median of $375,000.

Future: More Underwater Homes

These hard-earned gains will soon be lost as the promised avalanche of foreclosures hits the market. Perhaps sales will pick up as buyers and investors are lured back into the game. But, bargain-hunting fun aside,  another price drop for already distressed homeowners will plunge yet more homeowners underwater.  That, in turn, spirals down into more foreclosures and more equity loss in future.

Like Louis XIV, banks see this as well as anyone, yet still refuse to modify loans in any serious way. Like Louis, they see, but, obviously, don’t give a damn as long as they get their bonuses. Short-term is the only term.

Loan Modification Update

I keep swearing never again  to post about loan modifications and,yet, here I go again. Here are a few tidbits about HAMP, the government-sponsored plan and other loan mods.

Nearly 22 % of mortgages modified non-HAMP , regular bank mods done without government help, redefaulted. At the same time,  under the government’s Home Affordable Modification Program, known as HAMP, only 11% have fallen two months behind in payments, according to a banking regulators’ report issued Friday.   The reason for the gap is pretty clear, regulators said. HAMP modifications reduce a borrowers’ monthly payment by an average of $608, while bank modifications lower it only by $307. “There is a correlation between sustainability of payment and the reduction in the payment,” said Joe Evers, deputy comptroller at the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, which put out the report along with the Office of Thrift Supervision. That’s banker goboldeygook meaning–bigger reductions in payments mean more homeowners can and will make those payments.

Under HAMP, eligible borrowers can have their monthly payments lowered to 31% of their pre-tax income as long as its more profitable for the bank to modify the loan than to foreclose. The federal government pays servicers an incentive to participate in the program.  Also, proprietary bank modifications are outpacing HAMP adjustments by more than 2-to-1. Many troubled homeowners are falling out of the government program and 44.5% of them are receiving bank modifications. Housing counselors have been wary of proprietary modifications, mainly because there is not a lot of information about them. They caution homeowners to make sure they understand the terms of the adjustment. A Chase spokesman said HAMP is always the first program the bank considers for troubled borrowers “because it lowers the payment more than most other programs.” If they don’t qualify for
HAMP, they are reviewed for a proprietary modification.

If you are interested in a DIY loan mod kit, give me a call at 626-641-0346.  If you are considering a short sale, give me a call at 626-641-0346,

News From the Housing Trenches

Good News and Bad News

The latest housing figures are now in with mixed results.  The good news is that the number of seriously delinquent loans is down to a bit less than 10% of all loans, so it does look that with short sales, loan mods and, perhaps also, the home buyers’ tax credit, the combined efforts of the federal government, lenders and home owners are finally having an impact.

But, another bit of statistical news is troubling. After a solid year of declines, the first-time mortgage delinquency rate has gone up. The most likely cause is, of course, the continuing crisis we are facing in employment.  After months without work,  eventually resources run out and unemployed homeowners must face the inevitable and start missing mortgage payments.

Choices If You Are Unwilling or Unable to Make the Mortgage Payment

So, what are the resources available to homeowners with underwater mortgages and/or no jobs? Well, with time we now have some clarity about the choices open to us.

One choice is to try for a refinance under the government program. With this, homeowners can get up to 125% of their property’s value. The catch is  the homeowner needs a job to apply and in California, at least, usually even this amount is not enough to cover the shortfall in value.

Another option is to search for a loan mod.  These fall normally under HAMP , the federal government’s Home Affordable Modification Program. This and all loan mod programs have been spectacularly unsuccessful as indicated in several previous posts. Suffice it to say, that even those who actually succeeded in obtaining these loan mods are now back in default in record numbers. The main reason is that the average mortgage, tax and debt loan for such homeowners is around 65%–a recipe for failure.

So, that leaves short sales. Even there we now have two flavors of short sales-regular and HAFA. The difference is that particpants in HAFA, the government-backed plan, must have first applied for a loan mod under HAMP. Having done that, though, such HAFA short sellers are guaranteed no deficiency judgment after the sale  by the participating lenders.  HAFA short sellers also get $3000 at close of escrow to help them move.

Which Is the Best Choice?

Short sales in my view are the way to go. Homeowners do eventually lose their homes, but statistically, that is taking quite a long time. The average homeowner in foreclosure is now an incredible, unbelievable 461 days behind in his payments. That is, short sellers are living  rent-free for months or even more than a year-on average. The stigma of short selling is now mostly gone. Those who short sale their homes can expect to be accepted for a new loan in as little as 18 months, provided that is the only negative on the credit.

Save Money: Don’t Pay the Mortgage

Sounds awful, doesn’t it? Contrary to the frugal rules your parents taught you or maybe your grandparents. Well, the Great Depression was a long time ago and we’ve come a long way, baby. No more do trivial items like mortgage contracts bother us because, well, the other partner in the contract, the banks, are showing how little they care for us.

I’ve discussed loan mods ad nauseam in this blog. The fact is for most borrowers either the bank refuses to offer one for a variety of reasons [too much income, not enough income, current in payments] or the loan mod proffered after months of paper-pushing is too draconian for the homeowners who soon fall into arrears again.

What’s the solution?

As mentioned in a recent NY Times article, in practice passive resistance rules . Homeowners simply stop paying on their underwater mortgages. Now, living “rent-free”, they take  whatever money they have and pay down bills, eke out an existence, put it away for the post- foreclosure rent deposit  or do whatever they have to do to make ends meet.

What about the foreclosure?

Don’t the banks swoop down and grab the house throwing its occupants into the streets? That’s what most of us think of when we think foreclosure, but the simple fact is the banks are swamped. In fact, today,  the average borrower in foreclosure has been delinquent for 438 days before actually being evicted, up from 251 days in January 2008, according to LPS Applied Analytics.

In my travels I’ve met plenty of homeowners who manage to stay in their homes rent free for months, even years. Not so long ago I talked to a man whose home in the Hollywood Hills had been in foreclosure for 24 months before the bank even threatened to evict him. He also had a guest house and had been collecting rent for the entire time. By law, his tenant was allowed to stay for another 60 to 90 days, though not rent-free.

More than 650,000 households had not paid in 18 months, LPS calculated earlier this year. With 19 percent of those homes, the lender had not even begun to take action to repossess the property — double the rate of a year earlier. In California, a non-judicial foreclosure state, the process can be fairly rapid, 3 months and 21 days from start to finish. That’s theoretically and legally possible, except, again, it rarely happens. In California, the average is now 415 days and lengthening every month. The reason is the overwhelming number of defaulting mortgages.

Even in short sales, the banks seem to be in no rush to consummate the transaction as borrowers forced to wait for 3 to 6 months have discovered. In the meantime, the homeowner lives rent free or collects rent from tenants Everyone lives in a kind of limbo knowing the ax will fall sometime and some would much rather just move out and get on with their lives and reconstructing their credit reports. For  many, it may not be  much, but it is some small revenge again the behemoth banks who took all that bailout money and turned a tidy profit while the nation’s homeowners bore the brunt. Yes, a small but satisfying revenge.

New Rules: Short Sales on Steroids

The new federal guidelines for short sales, called HAFA [Home Affordable Mortgage Alternative] came into being November, 2009 and just recently became operational. Most loan servicers and banks are now using HAFA.

What’s So Great About HAFA?

Really,  what’s the big deal? Everybody knows short sales are tedious, take forever and are a last resort for the homeowner, right? Not exactly–HAFA does streamline the process, shorten the time periods and provide significant incentive s for both short sellers and their banks. In short, it’s a win-win for all parties.

If you’re a homeowner considering a short sale, then,  it’s a fairly big deal, assuming that it works out as envisaged by the federal government.  Home sellers can get up to $3000 in relocation money from the transaction. That’s very helpful to distressed homeowners who may want to rent and need to pay a deposit. And, another very big deal is that homeowners would be guaranteed from their banks to have no deficiency judgments. Coupled with the 2007 law foregoing any tax on defaulted income, that leaves short sellers really free and clear once they close escrow on their underwater properties.

What Do the Banks Get Out of HAFA?

We have to ask why would the banks want to do this? What’s in it for them? Here, too, are some very positive reasons. Banks prefer short sales over foreclosures because banks save about 20% on average by doing the short sale. This program simplifies the process, streamlines it, and allows the mortgage servicers $1500 to cover administrative costs with an additional  $2000 to the investor who actually owns the loan.  Banks do better with this program. Altogether, sellers, servicers and investors are collecting $6000 on each HAFA transaction. Not too shabby.

Now the Big One: Who is Eligible?

If your principal residence qualified for a loan mod under HAMP [Home Affordable Modification Program]  and you can’t pay or have fallen behind you are eligible. If this is an investment property or rental, you are not eligible.  If your loan is FHA or VA, you are not eligible. Both FHA and VA have their own short sale programs with different rules.

Having applied for the HAMP program is crucial. If you applied and were rejected, you are eligible. If you entered a trial period and fell by the wayside, you are eligible. If you received a permanent loan mod under HAMP and have missed at least two payments, you are eligible.

Let’s say, you discover you probably are not eligible for HAMP or HAFA, what should you do? Don’t worry. The servicer will still do a short sale; it will simply not be using the HAFA guidelines. We’ve been doing what seems like zillions of short sales for the past three years, so the process there has become more streamlined as well. If you need help or want to do a short sale, make sure to call me at 626-641-0346. I can even help if you are outside of California.

Oh-one last thing-if you are an investor who would like to purchase a HAFA short sale then flip it, you must wait for 90 days.

Here’s the National Association of Realtors’ video on the topic

NAR on HAFA