More About Strategic Short Sales

Banks do it, so why not the rest of us? That is the message not only from the famous liberal Grey Lady, the New York Times, cited in a previous post,  but now also from the notoriously conservative Wall Street Journal in an opinion piece that has the right all atwitter.

What’s that, you ask? Both papers now, from the right and the left and really the middle, are proposing that homeowners wise up and get out of their upside-down mortgages. In short, both are advocating the strategic or voluntary short sale

To go further, in my view, if the  nation is to survive this crisis, it’s very possible that short sales will soon be seen as not only the financially reasonable way out but also the most patriotic way out. Why’s that?

Recent figures indicate that 3.5% of all mortgages are already in the foreclosure process. That’s, of course, on top of the massive numbers of foreclosures that have already taken place. Add to those in the process another 9.7% of all mortgages which are now 90 days or more late and that’s an impressive 14% of all mortgages looking down the barrel of foreclosure. And, that’s not the end of it. An estimated 25% to 30% of mortgages in this country are upside down as homeowners owe more than their homes are now worth. That number is predicted to climb to over 40% in the near future.

What is the fastest way out of this mess? Obviously, the best way would be for the banks holding the mortgages to reduce them down to present value of the homes or at least somewhere close to the present value. Homeowners stay in their homes; banks keep collecting the mortgage payments.  Banks are reluctant to do this. In fact, despite the government’s HAMP program offering significant incentives for banks to modify loans, banks effectively refused by merely tweaking loans or outright refusing to touch them.

Now, the U.S. Treasury has come out with a new program which went into effect March 1, 2010. Called HAFA [Home Affordable Foreclosure Alternatives]. the program is a blueprint or set of guidelines for banks on how to process short sales. Designed to expedite the excruciatingly slow process in place to date at most banks [you know who you are, Countrywide], this may finally break the logjam of distressed mortgages that is threatening the very stability of our country’s economy.

For anyone considering a short sale, strategic or otherwise, as a way out of a personal financial morass, this may be the best time to get underway. If you are considering such a move, call me and I’ll be glad to give you what advice I can.

Paperwork and the Short Sale

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!

Obama’s Housing Plan: Problems for California

Obama’s recently announced Housing Stabilization Plan is good as far as it goes, and it goes $25 billion worth. California will get a good chunk of that taxpayer dough, but many homeowners here will not be able to benefit from the plan.

Refinancing becomes an option for some because Obama’s plan allows for refis up to 105% of equity. Say you owe $300,000 on your home. You could borrow up to$315,000. That’s a better deal than the normal 80% of equity allowed for a refi, but it’s hardly going to help much in California where prices have tumbled 25% to 50% or even 70%, depending on the area,   in a bit over a year.   Plus, of course, anyone who refinances must have the income to qualify.

Then, there’s the loan modification option, also sweetened considerably by Obama’s plan. For one, borrowers who have struggled to stay current are now eligible for loan mods as well as those who have missed payments. Here’s the problem, though, if you want a loan mod, you need to show income and unemployment is not acceptable. With California’s zooming unemployment rate, many who need loan mods won’t be able to get them for lack of income. Across the country, nearly 12% of homeowners are in arrears on their mortgages or already in foreclosure. This is a disaster not only for the homeowners, but for all of us . In California, the latest figures show 13% in arrears or in foreclosure as compared to, say, Florida where 20% are in that position. .

Besides job loss, another huge factor is loss of value. Estimates of homes  with  negative equity vary, but it’s around  12 million homeowners, about 25% of all homeowners in the U.S. either now owe more than their homes are worth or are within 5% of being so. Almost 2 million Californians are in that unfortunate situation with about 300,000 in the L. A. area. A research firm, First American CoreLogic, estimates that 723,000 California mortgages are in “severe” negative equity with loan amounts 125% or more of the home’s value. That’s about one-third of the country’s 2.2 million such loans.

house-in-watersmall

Other states have greater percentages of loans in trouble, but smaller populations and so fewer loans. Nevada, for instance, has 330,000 underwater loans, very similar to the L.A. area, but that represents an astounding 55.1% of all loans in Nevada. Michigan, economically sick for a long time, has 459,000 such loans or 40% of all loans in the state. Arizona has 31% of its loans underwater or 407,000. Florida, far more populous, has 30% of its loans in negative territory, but that’s 1, 284,000 loans. California, as mentioned, has 1, 900,000 or 29.5% of its loans underwater. Thus  the Big Four which  account for almost half of all the foreclosures in the nation. Rounding out the top ten are Georgia [23%, 335,000], Ohio [23%, 435,000] Colorado [21.5%, 225,000], New Hampshire [20%, 33,560] and Virginia [19.6%, 219,282].

Obama’s plan will help California, but, clearly, with our gigantic population so many cannot be allowed to go under. Obama and company need to come up with more creative ways to help California’s underwater homeowners.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]