Kamala Harris Comes Through: CA Out Of Big Banks Deal!

kamala harris, attorney general of california

Kamala Harris Is My Hero, Too

This is terrific news: Kamala Harris, California’s Attorney General, has heard the people of this state, suffering under the worst mortgage and real estate crisis since the Great Depression. She has opted out of the proposed settlement of the 50 states Attorneys General with the Big Banks. That settlement, rumored to be about $25 billion, is really small potatoes and would have been a disastrous conclusion of their investigation.  $25 billion would barely settle the monetary issues for California alone, not to mention the other 49 states. In addition, the banks are seeking to limit all their legal liability in return for the meager settlement. Despite the support of the Obama administration,hoping to end financial uncertainty with this settlement, Harris has decided that California will pursue a separate investigation and, if possible, make a separate settlement with the Big Banks.

Other States Are Reluctant To Sign

Harris follows in the footsteps of Eric Schneiderman of New York who has launched a wide-ranging investigation of the activities of the Big Banks which include Bank of America, Chase, Wells Fargo, Citigroup and Ally Financial.  Other states have also signaled their displeasure with the proposed deal which, if rumors are correct, allots a huge windfall to the Big Banks and a meager settlement to the states. Besides New  York and California, Delaware Massachusetts, Kentucky and Minnesota, along with our hard-hit neighbor, Nevada have all signaled intense dislike of the proposed deal.

California, already one of the worst foreclosure states in the nation, recently made headlines again when foreclosures jumped 55% in one month as BofA, a prime supplier of SoCal mortgages during the “bubble years” via Countrywide, prepared to “dump” more seized homes on an already-bloated real estate market. Stockton, CA is especially at risk for there, it is estimated, 1 in every 7 homes could be foreclosed in the near future. Likewise,  Nevada’s Las Vegas is suffering from an especially difficult and long-lasting crisis  as estimates say that 75% of Las Vegas homes are underwater and could potentially be foreclosed.

Fraudulent Mortgage Practices

As indicated in a previous post, some of the most notorious fraudulent practices of the Big Banks, such as robo-signing, continue despite their public exposure. Since California is a non-judicial state, meaning foreclosures do not have to be approved by a judge or, indeed, by anyone, fraudulent foreclosures are harder to spot. Judicial states, in general, are the ones which have brought such practices to light. Given the huge number of foreclosures in California, though, it stands to reason that large numbers of these were not legitimate.  Victims of such practices should have the help of the state’s top lawyer, the attorney general, to help them seek redress. Except in rare cases, it is prohibitively expensive for individuals to launch suits against Big Banks. That should not give the Big Banks carte blanche to commit wholesale fraud against California mortgagees.

What Does This Mean For Distressed Homeowners?

The most likely scenario now with both New York and California posing uncomfortable questions to the Big Banks while launching probing investigations into mortgage abuse is that the 50-state deal will collapse. The Big Banks will have to live with  uncertainty. Will they be brought to the bar for their crimes? How much will it cost them? Will heads roll? And the Big Question for Big Banks: will profits suffer? will stock prices dive? Few have much sympathy left for the banks, so, aside from Timothy Geitner and Henry Paulson, few will really care.

big banks bailout cartoon

The outcome for the distressed and already-foreclosed-upon homeowner, though is a different story. With multiple ongoing investigations, quick relief in the form of monetary settlements is not in the cards.  It is really, though, to everyone’s advantage to dig deeper into this morass of abuse. If the fraud is papered over, then, equally obviously, it will happen again. If the banks made trillions by fraud and nobody cares to demonstrate the modus operandi, then they will continue to  behave in the same way. Showing the crime and punishing the criminal:  That is the basis of our judicial system and it is a vital necessity in this case.

Some of the more flagrant practices are already known, publicized, and yet continuing. Big Banks could regulate themselves in order to regain public confidence. This is, apparently, what was expected of them after the 2008 bailout which seems to have been offered with no strings whatsoever.  Did they regulate themselves?  For those imprisoned in Siberian ice caves for the past 4 years, the Big Banks went right back to business as usual. Congress needs to regulate our messed-up financial sector. The sooner, the better if we are ever to get out of this nightmare.

Housing Takes Another Hit

Just when we think it’s getting better, the news comes out that we are in for a double-dip in housing prices. Last year in 2010 things were starting to look up in many municipalities as sales were brisk and housing prices were even starting to inch up again. This year, though, the situation has turned from hopeful to grim. Now it appears that the price increases of last year were mainly due to the home buyers’ housing credit extended by the U.S. Congress to buoy the market. Buoy it they did, but now we’re in for a let-down. In September of 2010 as the last of the home buyer credit buyers closed on their properties, housing started to slide. Of course, it’s natural for sales of homes to slide  after Halloween and throughout the winter, especially in cold-weather states, but this year’s slide began earlier and lasted longer.

Compounding the problem was the “robo-signing” scandal which halted foreclosures for several months last fall. Regular sales and short sales continued to pile up as inventory on a stagnant market, then the banks resumed their foreclosures. Foreclosures hit at perhaps a more rapid rate as banks rushed to close out their books at the end of the year. Now, at the end of February, here in Southern California we have not only a huge inventory, but I would even characterize it as a glut of properties clogging up the market.

Another issue adding to the misery is the difficulty borrowers are having obtaining financing. After the bailout, as we all know, banks, instead of spreading the wealth around as was intended, instead simply stopped lending.  Belatedly  realizing their folly during the bubble years, banks, always ponderously slow and bureaucratic, finally reacted–by clamping down on lending! Too late, banks. It has been estimated that half the population now has bad credit due to the recession in one form another, either a short sale, foreclosure, bankruptcy, late payments on credit cards  or, at a minimum, too much debt.  Lenders now will not lend to these people

For an analysis of what the near future holds for lending, check out my Pasadena Short Sale Blog. Hint: it’s another downer.

All of these factors have played a part in the current housing glut and consequent stasis. The inevitable result will be–yet lower prices as banks, short sellers and those who must sell for one reason or another, all compete with one another for the few buyers out there.  Already this year, analysts have indicated that the scant 2.25% gain in L.A. housing last year has been wiped out. Some experts are predicting that we are in for another dip of approximately 15%. I am not in the prognostication business, but I can say that it’s not looking good.

Already from 2006-2008 many cities in five states, California, Nevada, Arizona and Florida and Michigan, according to Federal Housing Finance Agency data, have lost significant value in housing. Starting with Stockton, which lost 75% of its housing value in those two years, the dreadful list continues with Modesto at negative 73%, Vallejo negative 64%, Salinas at negative 60%. These are horrible numbers. Imagine losing 75% of the value of your home in just two years through no fault of your own!

The roll of California cities continues with Riverside-San Berdo-Ontario tied with Bakersfield  at negative 47%, Fresno at negative 45%, Sacramento area at 44%, Oxnard-Thousand Oaks at 41%, Santa-Barbara-Santa Maria-Goleta tied with Santa Rosa at negative 40%. The l ist goes on-Oakland area -38%, Santa Ana-Anaheim-Irvine -36%,LA-Long Beach-Glendale -32, San Luis Obispo-Paso Robles -29% and even Santa Cruz-Watsonville lost 29% in two years.

That just us. Of course, Vegas lost 54% of its value in those years and is still hemorrhaging. Reno-Sparks lost 41%; Phoenix-Mesa-Glendale was down 31% and is still falling. Then, like California only worse because it has a less diversified economy, is Florida which was and still is a disaster zone. Cape Coral-Fort Myers lost 60% of its value, followed by Naples-Marco Island at 54%  negative, Ft. Lauderdale -45%, West Palm Beach-Boca Raton down 45% and on and on.

That was the story three years ago. Much as we would like to say it’s getting better, really, it’s not over yet.

 

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.

November 2010 Housing Inventory Snapshot

Sales in Southern California counties are slowing. While this is normal for this time of year as most of the population is occupied with holiday preparations and parties, the amount of real estate inventory continues to grow. The rise in inventory will, in turn, lead to a further decline in home values as home sellers, including banks, attempt to price their properties competitively.

This is the latest real estate info for Southern California counties. Compare to one month ago here. Time on the market is lengthening and prices are dropping–again…

Inept Banks Plunge Foreclosure Process Into Chaos

In yet another consequence of the “bubble years” when zero-down mortgages went to almost anyone, now the foreclosure crisis is itself in crisis.

Bank of America, largest holder of US home mortgages, has declared a moratorium on foreclosures. Other large lenders, GMAC, Chase, have stopped foreclosures in 23 states, but  all large lenders are expected to follow suit shortly and declare a total moratorium across the country.  Initially, California was not involved, though immediately Jerry Brown the attorney general who is also running for governor of the state, pledged to scrutinize the banks’ foreclosure processes.

The reason for the moratorium is the revelation of the “robo-signing” of foreclosure affidavits without even looking at the contents. This has opened the banks to claims of massive fraud.

What does this mean for my  home? Will the auction go through?

If you with a  BofA or Countrywide loan  were expecting an auction any day now, that auction has been postponed indefinitely.  As mentioned here previously, from start to foreclosure, the process has been taking over one year due to the slow pace set by the banks. Now, add to that an indefinite moratorium period. The consensus seems to be the time will be 60 to 90 days. I would bet that most, if not all, foreclosures will begin again only in the new year.

How long will I be able to stay in my property without paying the mortgage?

At this point, no one knows what is going to happen next. Most likely, BofA for now and perhaps other banks will use the period of the moratorium, no matter how long it lasts, to clear out their huge,clogged pipelines of homes which have already been foreclosed upon and remain in some part of the sale or pre-sale process.  With the pipeline cleared, once the moratorium is lifted, foreclosures should resume at a brisk clip.

I haven’t paid my mortgage on my home for 6  months and I have a Notice of Default. Does this mean I won’t get a foreclosure on my record?

No, this means that,  if you have just done nothing so far, the BofA  moratorium is allowing you time to do a short sale and avoid the worst result for your credit. If you have an NOD, that means the process has started and the clock is ticking. Once the moratorium is lifted, whenever that is, you are just that much closer to foreclosure. You  may be one of the first foreclosures after the moratorium.

For help deciding or doing a  short sale, call me at 626-641-0346 or email Diane.

I haven’t paid, but I don’t have a Notice of Default. What about me?

It’s unclear at this point whether or not the banks will continue to issue NODs during the moratorium. No matter because at some point the moratorium will be over and the foreclosures will continue.  During this lull in the foreclosure activity, you have time to get going on a short sale.

How did all this happen?

Foreclosure Heat Map

As indicated in another post, really the incredible speed and complexity of the modern mortgage system are at the root of the issue. As explained in a Washington Post article, the situation is further complicated by the various reactions and legal opinions coming from many states. Some states which have not been especially hard hit appear to have adopted either more scrupulous attention to detail or some have even passed laws making it easier for banks to foreclose. Other states, especially the Big Four Foreclosure States, Florida,  California, Arizona and Nevada, faced with entire neighborhoods shuttered and communities gutted of population, have tried to stem the tide.

What is going to be the outcome?

BofA has already said it will resume foreclosures once its internal investigation is complete and has further stated that, so far, its internal investigation has revealed no irregularities.Banks are notoriously self-serving, though, so no one is relying too much on a self-test. Rumors are that Congress wants to hold hearings on the topic to see exactly what the banks are doing to validate the foreclosure process.

It’s evident that massive lawsuits may follow any hint of wrongdoing which could throw the entire real estate and financial sector into chaos.  Bad as the foreclosures are, the spectre of another TARP to bail out the banks again is just too horrible to contemplate. Let’s hope against hope  the banks have been following the proper procedures.

For help deciding or doing a short sale, call me at 626-641-0346 or email Diane.

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.

2009 End-of-Year Roundup: L.A. County Home Values

Image via Wikipedia

Say it ain’t so!! Sorry, but all those  rumors that home values are finally rising again are just silly rumors. Values are slipping less than before, but, countrywide, values continue to decline by about 1/2% per month.  As always, location is terrifically important. It matters greatly where your home is located or where you want to buy. Some areas are tanking while others are increasing slightly.

So, which is which? Do we want the good news or the bad news first? Let’s mix it up a bit. S0me local areas that continue to sink in value include Pomona down around 10% in all ZIPs to around a median of $200,000. El Monte took a pretty big hit dropping about 18% to a median of around $250,000 in all ZIPs. Remember the Station fire? Buyers apparently do as La Canada Flintridge values are down 27% to a median of $876,000. La Puente which has already lost huge value has sunk to a median of about $250,000 across all ZIPs. Trendy during the boom, both Highland Park, Eagle Rock are down substantially [18% and 32% respectively, to medians of $286,000 and $365,000].

So, is there any good news? Well, yes, some local areas are doing quite well, thank you very much. Glendora has slipped less than the county average to a median of $378,000 in 91740 down 2% while 91741 is down almost 7% to $470,000. LaVerne is down 4%, less than the county average to a median of  $420,000, though San Dimas has sunk 25% to a median of $378,000. Covina dropped by about the county average across its ZIPs to about $330,000.

But, there are a few standouts. Altadena has posted a healthy 23% gain over last year to a median of $517,000. Alhambra in 91801 and Monrovia are  up by about 1% to a median of $549,000 and $490,000 respectively. Alhambra’s other  ZIP is down about 1% to $426,000. But, buyers are also flocking to Arcadia, up 8.5% to $807,000 and up 17% to $970000 in 91007.

 

Then, there’s Pasadena also a winner overall. This is where buyers seem to want to live and they are driving up the prices. 91103 is up 5% to $405000, 91104 and 91107 are  up by whopping 23% and 26% to  medians of  $550,000 and $670,000, 91106 is up 1% to a median of about $1.1 mil–not bad! 91105 is the only Pasadena loser, down by a substantial 28% to $675,000.

What about trends? Any new trends across the county? It’s a bit early to say, but it looks as though more pricey areas, especially at the beach are starting to lose value. Palos Verdes is down 44% to a median $1.17 mil along with Rancho Palos Verde down 20% to $850,000. Manhattan Beach is down slightly to a median $1.139 mil. Malibu is down 36% to a median of $1.363 mil. 

Why might this be happening? Rich folks may be different from you and me, but they can count pretty well. Being underwater by $200,000, $300,000 orn $400,000 just doesn’t make economic sense even if you can afford the payments. Better to just walk on by, and that’s what many wealthy home owners are now doing. My big prediction? More will do the same in 2010 as prices continue to decline.  Buyers today, rich or moderate income, are all interested in only one thing: value for their money. Pasadena appears to offer that–at least for the time being–while Malibu does not.

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