FORECLOSURE NEWS AND VIDEO 2013

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Foreclosed 'Zombie' Homes

Exceed 300,000 Properties: Study

ORLANDO, Fla., March 28 (Reuters) - A national survey found 301,874 "zombie" properties dotting the U.S. landscape in which homeowners in foreclosure have moved out, leaving vacant property susceptible to vandalism and degradation.  Florida tops the list of zombie properties with 90,556 vacant homes in foreclosure, according to a foreclosure inventory released on Thursday by RealtyTrac, a real estate information company in Irvine, California.  Illinois and California ranked a distant second and third with 31,668 and 28,821 zombie properties respectively on the list.  The number of homes overall in foreclosure or bank-owned rose by 9 percent to 1.5 million properties nationally in the first quarter of 2013 compared to a year ago, according to RealtyTrac.  Another 10.9 million homeowners nationwide remain at risk because they owe more than their property is worth, according to company vice president Daren Blomquist.  RealtyTrac for the first time analyzed data on zombie properties after a Reuters' special report in January examined the special problem of zombie titles, Blomquist said.  Reuters revealed the plight of people who walked away from their homes not realizing that their names remained on the deed and that they were financially liable for taxes and other bills related to the abandoned property.  In some cases, homeowners vacated after receiving a notice from the bank of a planned foreclosure sale, only to find out later the bank never followed through.  Zombie properties can be easy to spot as they deteriorate into neighborhood eyesores and havens for criminal activity.  While Florida leads in volume of zombie properties, Kentucky, with less than 1,000 zombie properties, leads in percentage, with zombies representing 54 percent of its total foreclosure inventory, Blomquist said.  Zombies in Washington, Indiana, Nevada and Oregon also constitute 50 percent or more of the properties in foreclosure, according to the report.  Blomquist said the number of zombie properties could be higher than represented in the RealtyTrac report, which used a conservative methodology.  In Florida, for example, the company does not count any property that has been in foreclosure longer than the state average of 853 days and for which there has been no significant recent activity. The report also does not take into account cases in which a bank chose not to follow through on a foreclosure judgment, leaving the property in limbo.  Blomquist said the long average time to complete a foreclosure case in Florida likely contributes to the high number of zombie properties, as people give up hope over time and walk away.  Blomquist said the findings overall show a housing recovery is under way but not yet deeply rooted.  "I think the empty foreclosures is less of a long-term threat but it certainly is affecting individual communities and neighborhoods," Blomquist said.  According to the Reuters special report, municipalities are left to deal with the mess when people move out after receiving a notice of a planned foreclosure sale that the bank then cancels.  Some spend public funds on securing, cleaning and stabilizing houses that generate no tax revenue. Others let the houses rot.  Unsuspecting homeowners have had their wages garnished, their credit destroyed and their tax refunds seized. They've opened their mail to find bills for back taxes, graffiti-scrubbing services, demolition crews, trash removal, gutter repair, exterior cleaning and lawn clipping.  In some cities, people with zombie titles can be sentenced to probation, with the threat of jail if they don't bring their houses into compliance.

ORLANDO, Fla.,  - A national survey found 301,874 "zombie" properties dotting the U.S. landscape in which homeowners in foreclosure have moved out, leaving vacant property susceptible to vandalism and degradation.

Florida tops the list of zombie properties with 90,556 vacant homes in foreclosure, according to a foreclosure inventory released on Thursday by RealtyTrac, a real estate information company in Irvine, California.

Illinois and California ranked a distant second and third with 31,668 and 28,821 zombie properties respectively on the list.

The number of homes overall in foreclosure or bank-owned rose by 9 percent to 1.5 million properties nationally in the first quarter of 2013 compared to a year ago, according to RealtyTrac.

Another 10.9 million homeowners nationwide remain at risk because they owe more than their property is worth, according to company vice president Daren Blomquist.

RealtyTrac for the first time analyzed data on zombie properties after a Reuters' special report in January examined the special problem of zombie titles, Blomquist said.

Reuters revealed the plight of people who walked away from their homes not realizing that their names remained on the deed and that they were financially liable for taxes and other bills related to the abandoned property.

In some cases, homeowners vacated after receiving a notice from the bank of a planned foreclosure sale, only to find out later the bank never followed through.

Zombie properties can be easy to spot as they deteriorate into neighborhood eyesores and havens for criminal activity.

While Florida leads in volume of zombie properties, Kentucky, with less than 1,000 zombie properties, leads in percentage, with zombies representing 54 percent of its total foreclosure inventory, Blomquist said.

Zombies in Washington, Indiana, Nevada and Oregon also constitute 50 percent or more of the properties in foreclosure, according to the report.

Blomquist said the number of zombie properties could be higher than represented in the RealtyTrac report, which used a conservative methodology.

In Florida, for example, the company does not count any property that has been in foreclosure longer than the state average of 853 days and for which there has been no significant recent activity. The report also does not take into account cases in which a bank chose not to follow through on a foreclosure judgment, leaving the property in limbo.

Blomquist said the long average time to complete a foreclosure case in Florida likely contributes to the high number of zombie properties, as people give up hope over time and walk away.

Blomquist said the findings overall show a housing recovery is under way but not yet deeply rooted.

"I think the empty foreclosures is less of a long-term threat but it certainly is affecting individual communities and neighborhoods," Blomquist said.

According to the Reuters special report, municipalities are left to deal with the mess when people move out after receiving a notice of a planned foreclosure sale that the bank then cancels.

Some spend public funds on securing, cleaning and stabilizing houses that generate no tax revenue. Others let the houses rot.

Unsuspecting homeowners have had their wages garnished, their credit destroyed and their tax refunds seized. They've opened their mail to find bills for back taxes, graffiti-scrubbing services, demolition crews, trash removal, gutter repair, exterior cleaning and lawn clipping.

In some cities, people with zombie titles can be sentenced to probation, with the threat of jail if they don't bring their houses into compliance.


Foreclosure legislation

invites bank fraud

 New legislation — House Bill 87 and Senate Bill 1666 — which backers say will clear the backlog of foreclosure cases in Florida actually will create more problems by putting speed ahead of justice.

The backlog is blamed on homeowners allegedly dragging their feet. In reality, banks have been the cause because of federal directives to pursue loss-mitigation alternatives or by voluntarily slowing down the process to explore settlement options in the interests of both parties and the market.

However long it takes to conclude a foreclosure in Florida, given the unprecedented magnitude of the fraud, forgery and abuses to which banks have admitted, we should exempt this category of civil court cases from “time to complete” requirements.

We should not make public policy decisions based on unverified, incorrect and misleading information, particularly when the data are provided by the same industry that admitted wrongdoing.

The next problem behind any push for foreclosure reform is that the real-estate market is improving. Prices have rebounded in Florida because, in part, inventories of foreclosed homes are being managed by the banks and homeowners.

Short sales and negotiated resolutions of foreclosure cases yield higher returns than faster foreclosures, but these settlements would disappear under the proposed legislation.

The big winners would be institutional buyers. When they buy properties in bulk, they exclude Realtors who profit from short sales and from other end user transactions. Instead of supporting the legislation, Florida’s Realtors should be following California’s lead and opposing all actions to speed foreclosures.

Foreclosure-legislation proponents have also convinced homeowner associations to support their bills by arguing that this legislation will help them. It’s true that the so-called, “show cause” provisions of both bills would allow any lien holder to show cause as to why a final judgment of foreclosure should not be entered. But if the plaintiff chose not to file any of the evidence needed to obtain a foreclosure judgment, a court could not enter a judgment.

Associations already can demand status conferences and existing law allows judges to force a plaintiff to move a case forward. Also, associations already can move their own cases to judgment, and pending legislation will allow them to move their cases much more quickly.

Since 2012, the market for third-party investors to purchase association liens at foreclosure auctions has been robust. Investors pay the $4,000 to $20,000 in HOA liens, take title to the property and rent it out before a bank forecloses. This market will be eliminated, and associations will be stuck with large inventories of unpaid lien cases, making things even worse.

It is undisputed that those responsible for the foreclosure crisis are the financial institutions that filed these cases, as admitted in two recently signed federal settlements. These settlements should lead to more protections, not lowered standards. The full magnitude of bank wrongdoing has not been fully revealed, and even more will be swept under the rug.


Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2013/03/22/3299899/foreclosure-legislation-invites.html#storylink=cpy

Mortgage Settlement Helping Homeowners and Exceeding Expectations   

Americans are starting to feel a sense of hope about our economy for the first time in half a decade -- and a big reason is the rebound in the housing market. It certainly hasn't always been this way. It was only a few years ago when we learned that many of the same financial institutions responsible for causing the housing crisis -- through predatory loans and exploding adjustable rate mortgages (ARMs) -- were actually making it worse by foreclosing on homeowners without verifying paperwork, losing documents, and failing to provide even the most basic assistance that might have helped families save their homes.

That was why one year ago, we took action, through a historic, bipartisan settlement between the Federal government, 49 state attorneys general and the five largest mortgage servicers -- the second largest consumer relief settlement in the nation's history. As a result, between March and December over 550,000 homeowners received nearly $46 billion in overall consumer relief, with homeowners receiving roughly $82,000 in benefits on average.

At a moment when Americans have been looking for Washington to put partisanship aside to deliver results, the most recent report from the National Mortgage Servicers Settlement's Independent Monitor indicates that families and struggling homeowners can get what they are promised when we work in a bipartisan way.

The cash payments, consumer relief and servicing standards imposed by that settlement are bearing fruit. State attorneys general across the nation have allocated more than $300 million for housing counseling and legal aid to help borrowers avoid foreclosure. The report also demonstrates significant progress on the broadest and most robust principal reduction program in our nation's history. Because of the settlement, banks have provided more than $22.5 billion in completed and trial principal reduction that helps borrowers stay in their homes, lowering the monthly payments on more than 266,000 loans and reducing struggling homeowners' loan balances by more than $84,000 on average.

The settlement has already far surpassed our initial expectations of total consumer relief and will likely grow to more than $50 billion. When we began the settlement negotiations, many critics claimed that large-scale principal reduction could not work or families would purposely default to unfairly receive a modification. Those predictions have been proven wrong. Indeed, the principal reduction provided through the settlement has made a real, significant and lasting difference for thousands of struggling homeowners.

The settlement has helped single mothers like Vanessa Fair in Chicago who has four foster children and fell behind on her adjustable rate mortgage because of medical issues. She worked with a HUD-approved housing counseling agency and is now current on her mortgage and in a trial modification that will reduce her principal by $40,000.

Another single mother, Maria Garcia, fell behind on her mortgage when she was laid off in 2009. Concerned about her three children growing up in an unsafe neighborhood, she worked with a housing counseling agency and not only is she current on her mortgage again, she has received a permanent modification that has reduced her loan balance by $120,000. Maria credits the Mortgage Settlement with helping her family keep their home.

And yet, despite many stories like Vanessa's and Maria's nationwide, some remain unconvinced that the settlement is really making a difference or that banks are beginning to meet their obligations. Still others have criticized the settlement based on inaccurate assumptions about the data or the settlement terms.

For example, a number of recent articles inaccurately state that short sales are the equivalent of foreclosures and that the bulk of relief provided under the settlement thus far comes from short sales. Neither of those statements is true. It is important to note that principal reduction modifications, not short sales, are the bulk of the relief provided by the settlement. Short sales represent less than 43 percent of the total assistance provided and have decreased as a share of relief in every Monitor's report since August 2012. Furthermore, the settlement requires that, regardless of what a snapshot of relief looks like at the time a report is published, ultimately at least 60 percent of the servicer's credits must come from principal reduction, and at least half of that must be for first lien principal reduction.

The increase in short sales, combined with the settlement's requirements that borrowers be properly evaluated for modifications, is a positive, not a negative sign. Short sales are helpful for borrowers who need to leave their underwater home or those who cannot make sustainable payments, even on a modified loan. When we negotiated this settlement, too many borrowers in those circumstances were forced into foreclosures and were left with a deficiency balance when a short sale would have been better for them, their neighborhood, and the loan's investor.

There have also been recent press accounts indicating that banks are eligible to receive credit for activities that are not, in fact, creditworthy. These examples include banks forgiving a homeowner's second lien while foreclosing on the first they also hold. In fact, as the settlement makes clear, and Joe Smith, the independent Settlement Monitor confirms, he will not give any credit for a modification that does not provide a tangible benefit to a homeowner.

Approximately $1.5 billion of the funds recovered in the national settlement are being used to compensate borrowers who lost their home to foreclosure during the period of January 1, 2008 to December 31, 2011. Checks to borrowers who submitted claim forms are expected to be mailed by the mid-summer. However, this money is not, nor was it ever, intended to fully compensate families who were wrongfully foreclosed upon. That is why the settlement has carefully preserved those borrowers' rights to seek additional restitution.

The job's not done -- and we will continue to watch the banks like hawks to ensure they live up to their obligations as they complete their consumer relief requirements and we measure their progress on implementing new and improved servicing standards.

No settlement by itself can turn the housing market around or right all wrongs. But by failing to accurately describe the results, recent reporting does a disservice to the more than 550,000 homeowners and their communities who have benefited from the settlement.

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Foreclosure filings in Colorado metro counties drop 43 percent

Foreclosure filings in Colorado metro counties were down 43.6 percent during February 2013, falling year over year to the lowest level recorded in any month since the Colorado Division of Housing began collecting monthly totals.

According to a report released Wednesday by the Colorado Division of Housing, foreclosure filings in Colorado metropolitan counties dropped from 2,056 in February 2012 to 1,160 in February 2013.

At the same time, foreclosure auction sales in Colorado's metropolitan counties were down 41.9 percent in February 2013 compared to February 2012, falling from 1,248 to 725 .

Foreclosure filings are the initial filings that begin a foreclosure process, and foreclosure auction sales totals are the total

number of foreclosures that have been sold at auction at the end of the foreclosure process.

"There are few ways to describe this other than as a big drop off in foreclosure filings," said Ryan McMaken, an economist for the Colorado Division of Housing. "It's getting easier to sell a house to get out of trouble. Low mortgage rates and low inventory continue to be big factors."

Comparing foreclosures through February this year to the same period last year, the counties with the largest drops in foreclosure filings were Douglas and Larimer counties, where filings decreased by 44.5 percent and 41.2 percent respectively.

Broomfield County, on the other hand, reported a 6.1 percent increase in foreclosure filings over the same period. It was the only county surveyed to report an increase in foreclosure filings.

All of the 12 counties surveyed showed decreases in foreclosure auction sales during the first two months of 2013 when compared to the same period in 2012. The counties with the largest decreases in foreclosure auction sales, year over year, were Douglas and Jefferson counties, where auction sales decreased by 46.3 percent and 41.0 percent, respectively.

The smallest decreases for the period were found in El Paso and Pueblo counties where auction sales fell 1.9 percent and 20.1 percent, respectively.

The county with the highest rate of foreclosure sales during February was Mesa County, with 1,022 households per foreclosure sale. Pueblo County came in second with 1,351 households per foreclosure sale.

The lowest rate was found in Boulder County, where there were 6,383 households per foreclosure sale.


Foreclosure bill clears
Fla. Senate panel


TALLAHASSEE, Fla.
— For the second year in a row, Florida lawmakers on Wednesday debated a proposal to speed up the state's residential mortgage foreclosure process and make it fairer to homeowners.

But critics on the panel and in the audience, including former Lt. Gov. Jeff Kottkamp, raised alarms about a provision that would allow notices of sale of foreclosed homes to be published only on the Internet.

Advocates for newspapers and senior citizens, among others, said that would reduce the chance of such notices being seen.

Nonetheless, the Senate's Banking and Insurance committee cleared the bill (SB 1666) by an 8-2 vote.

The collapse in the real estate market that began in 2008 resulted in millions of foreclosures across the country. Those cases quickly swamped an already overworked court system. Florida still has about a quarter of the nation's foreclosures, according to surveys.

More problems arose when it was learned that paperwork in many foreclosures was the product of "robo-signers," people hired to sign documents in assembly-line fashion, often without knowing what's in them. Such documents included affidavits that a bank actually owns the mortgage on a property being foreclosed when the original paperwork can't be found. Many cases of mistaken and outright fraudulent filings were then found.

Sen. Gwen Margolis, a Miami Democrat, expressed surprise about the Internet-only provision to the bill's sponsor, Sen. Jack Latvala, a Republican from Clearwater.

She wanted to know why he wasn't "willing to compromise on ... issues that are important to the people and really have created quite a stir here today."

Latvala responded that he'd continue to work on it, insisting more people use the Internet than read newspapers. But, referring to newspapers, he added, "Do we need to ... keep an industry alive that's having problems? Is that our place? I don't know."

Latvala's bill, among other things, also includes provisions for:

- Reducing the statute of limitations, or amount of time, for banks to go after foreclosed homeowners on deficiency judgments from five years to one year. Deficiencies are the difference between the money obtained from selling a foreclosed home and what the original homeowner still owes on it.

- Requiring banks to prove in more detail that they own the mortgage or explain why they can't prove ownership.

- Creating a process for others besides mortgage-holders to ask the court to speed up foreclosure cases.

- Creating legal protections for people who buy foreclosed homes in good faith, not knowing of defaulted mortgages or problems with titles.

- Allowing senior, or semi-retired, judges to also hear foreclosure matters for at least the next three years to relieve the backlog, estimated at 371,000 cases. Those judges will be paid $350 per day.

Other opponents of the bill said a faster process will trample on the rights of homeowners already being hounded by banks and their attorneys.

Booker T. Perry retired after 25 years as a firefighter in Central Florida, only to have to go through a foreclosure and divorce at the same time. At one point, his bank - unknown to him at the time - was wrongly sending his paperwork to his wife's divorce lawyer.

Under this bill, he said, there'll be less time to catch mistakes. And "if there are flaws," Perry said, "the case shouldn't move forward."

The Senate bill next stops at the Judiciary committee. A companion bill is in the House


Wall Street Institutions Behind Home Price Surges In Markets Like Phoenix

It’s no secret that Wall Street has been bullish on real estate. Housing stocks have surged over the past year, many teetering on the edge of overbought, and billionaire investors like Warren Buffett have been exceedingly vocal about the investment opportunities brick and mortar properties have represented. Private equity and hedge fund firms have been sinking billions into single family rentals, buying distressed homes off of banks’ balance sheets in discounted bulk.

Now it turns out those Wall Street bulls have been helping fuel the home price surge in some of the hottest housing markets across the U.S.

The March MarketPulse report from CoreLogic examines the rise of institutional investors and the effects they are having on distressed inventory. The analysis, compiled by CoreLogic deputy chief economist Sam Khater, looked at 16 major U.S. housing markets where bank-owned inventory (REOs) have been relatively high since the housing bubble burst. He assessed whether local activity was comprised of mom-and-pop individual investors or institutional investors, defined as either entities that have purchased five-plus properties a year under the same name or under an incorporated name.

Here’s what Khater found: institutional investors have been targeting specific markets and then accelerating purchases of REOs in those markets, driving down distressed inventories and leading to notable increases in REO prices that have in turn led to larger market upticks. Institutional investors have focused buying efforts strongly on south and southwestern cities that were hit hardest by the foreclosure crisis. The cities where investors activity has been particularly robust in the past year are Atlanta, Ga., Detroit, Mich., Las Vegas, Nev., Phoenix, Ariz., and Calif.’s Los Angeles, Riverside and Sacramento.

Interestingly, many of these areas have welcomed notable year-over-year price increases as well — though none quite as much as Phoenix, which welcomed a nearly 23% uptick in prices throughout 2012, amid reports of frenzied bidding wars. The share of institutional investors in the desert metropolis was 16% in 2011; it jumped to 26% in 2012. Not surprisingly inventory levels plummeted as demand increased, putting upward pressure on prices that have created a ripple effect. Explains Khater:

“In Q4 2012, Phoenix REO prices were 37% higher than a year ago, followed by Las Vegas (30%) and several California markets. All six markets with rising shares of institutional investors experienced double-digit increases and were among the top nine for REO price appreciation

'More importantly, the ripple effects are greatly impacting the broader market. Lower-end home prices in markets with rising shares of institutional investors are up 15% from a year ago, compared to only 6% for the remaining markets.”

Institutions are most active in five states: Florida, Georgia, Arizona, Nevada and California. Interestingly the metro area that welcomed the most institutional activity in 2012 was Miami, Fla., with firms funding 30% of all sales. Single-family home prices for the Miami metro area rose about 11% in 2012 (including distressed homes), according to CoreLogic.

Institutional investors accounted for 21% of all sales in Charlotte, N.C., 19% in Las Vegas, and 18% in Orlando.

Major investment firms have been setting aside billions of dollars for large scale acquisitions in single family housing since the downturn, with activity jumping in 2012 as analysts called a market bottom. The strategy: snap up dozens, hundreds, even thousands, of distressed homes, fix them up and rent them out for robust returns. JPMorgan Chase recently estimated that institutional investors had amassed a combined $10 billion for single family rentals.

It makes sense. Home prices fell to historic lows following the bubble’s burst and bank-owned homes (REOs) trade at prices further depressed. (Nationally, foreclosed homes sold at an average discount of 20% in January, according to the National Association of Realtors.) Meanwhile, the rental market has climbed for the past several years, rising about 4% nationally in 2012, according to NAR, even as new multifamily construction returns. NAR and others expect rates to rise by about 4% per year for the next several years.

JPMorgan Chase, which also offers its wealthiest clients the opportunity to invest directly in a rental portfolio of about 5,000 homes, says its clients can expect annual returns as high as 8%, according to Bloomberg. Colony Capital, a real estate equity company privately owned by billionaire Thomas Barrack, has allocated $2 billion for investments nationwide. It plans to sink more than $150 million per month this year into rental homes, including an anticipated 1,000 units in South Florida, after snapping up 5,000 across the country in 2012.

Waypoint Homes expects to own 10,000 homes by year’s end; it has already amassed upward of 3,300 properties. Other investors include BlackRock, which is making housing plays both stateside and in the E.U., Apollo Global Management, Och-Ziff Capital Management Group, KKR& Co, and Oaktree Capital Group — to name a few.

Even Buffett’s Berkshire Hathway has been building out a residential real estate brand called Berkshire Hathaway Home Services that it plans to franchise with joint venture partner Brookfield Asset Management this year. The venture has amassed the loan portfolio of bankrupt Residential Capital, acquired realty firms like Prudential Real Estate and Real Living Real Estate, and bought out several construction companies like brick maker Jenkins Brick.

By far the biggest player in this arena is private equity giant Blackstone Group.  “Blackstone is now the largest owner of individual houses in the United States,” asserted Stephen Schwarzman, chief executive and chairman of Blackstone Group, on CNBC recently. “We’ve purchased about $3 billion of houses that had been foreclosed and we are fixing them up.” The private equity billionaire also noted that it’s a new business for the company, which plans to hang onto the rental properties for the long term.

Still, for all of the money Wall Street firms are plowing in single family rentals — and all of the impact it is having on home prices –their stakes are still relatively small. While BlackStone has committed to amassing 15,000 properties in 2013, individual investors purchased a staggering 600,000 properties through financing in 2012.

Federal regulator stands by his principles on principal reduction

WASHINGTON — A little-known career bureaucrat temporarily filling a key government job has emerged as the person with the most impact on the nation's battered housing market — and is rapidly making enemies.

As the regulator over Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which own or back 60% of the nation's mortgages, Edward J. DeMarco is considered by a growing number of people to be the single biggest obstacle to the housing market recovery for opposing the use of a major foreclosure prevention measure.

DeMarco, interim director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency, won't instruct the government-owned companies to lower loan principals for distressed homeowners, as many banks nationwide have been doing.

Kamala D. Harris, attorney general for California, the nation's largest distressed real estate market, and many congressional Democrats want DeMarco replaced. Some have been especially sharp in their criticism.

"Here's some random idiot who ends up in charge of this agency, who is doing actual damage to the housing industry and my constituents," said Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-San Jose). "He is intransigent, incompetent and should be removed."

Republicans don't agree that writing down loan principals would be worth the additional risk to taxpayers, but some also have been critical of DeMarco for not fully embracing their attempts to shut down Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac quickly or for not doing more to reduce executive pay.

For his part, DeMarco warned in an interview that writing down loan amounts is no panacea and that, regardless, "there's no free lunch."

DeMarco has his admirers in Congress and elsewhere, and he said he has no intention of bowing to outside pressures or leaving his post, which he has held since mid-2009.

"He's the bravest guy in D.C." for steadfastly resisting the call for write-downs, said Jaret Seiberg, a senior policy analyst with financial services firm Guggenheim Partners. "Agree with him or disagree with him, you've got to respect him."

For months, Obama administration officials, lawmakers and others have pushed DeMarco to direct the companies to reduce the amount owed on mortgages held by delinquent, underwater homeowners. Many economists have said that those principal reductions could stem the tide of foreclosures.

Such a move could jolt the market because Fannie and Freddie play such a major part in the roughly $10-trillion mortgage market. Yet DeMarco has said his priority is protecting the $188 billion of taxpayer money that has been pumped into the companies since the government seized them in 2008.

Despite his opposition to write-downs, DeMarco said he is considering new incentives from the administration that could make it less costly for Fannie and Freddie to reduce loan amounts. The incentives include increased financial aid to mortgage owners that agree to lower principal owed on home loans.

"We all recognize this is a very challenged environment for the country and there's been a whole lot of hurt out there. We want to do the right thing," DeMarco said. "But we're also mindful that there's no free lunch here, that there are people who have to pay this bill."

So far, DeMarco has argued that principal reductions would reduce the value of bad mortgages owned by Fannie and Freddie by about $100 billion, increasing losses on the huge taxpayer investments in the companies.

A wide-scale program also could encourage homeowners who have been making their payments to fall behind intentionally so they could get a reduction on their mortgages, he said.

DeMarco has insisted that there are more effective — and less costly — ways to help struggling homeowners, such as reducing interest rates. Fannie and Freddie already are doing that.

He's also concerned that principal reductions could benefit large banks by making it more likely that the second mortgages they hold would be paid off by underwater homeowners, while taxpayers still would be on the hook for any losses on the first mortgages.

But many analysts said that most borrowers who owe more than their homes are worth don't have second mortgages and that those who do would find that those lenders too may be required to share in the loss.

DeMarco's opposition to principal reductions has sparked calls for his firing. But it is very difficult for a president to remove the head of an independent agency. And Republicans have blocked Obama's attempts to appoint a new director, who must be confirmed by the Senate.

"We're kind of stuck with him," said Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), who has met with DeMarco several times to plead for a change in policy. "The president is stuck, the Congress is stuck and folks who are going through foreclosure, they are stuck."

In the face of intense pressure, DeMarco said he's committed to staying in the job.

"My career's been devoted to an array of government jobs in which doing the right thing ... for the country and the taxpayer has been central to my oath of office and to the work that I have done," he said.

DeMarco, 52, who holds a doctorate in economics, has been a Washington bureaucrat for about 25 years with stops at the Government Accountability Office, Treasury Department and Social Security Administration.

In 2006, he became deputy director of the Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight, which morphed into the FHFA.

"He's really a devoted public servant," said the housing agency's former director, James Lockhart. "In many ways, he's the most experienced person in the government on these issues."

When Lockhart, a political appointee of President George W. Bush, left the FHFA in August 2009, DeMarco became acting director. But DeMarco, a civil servant, lacks the backing of the Obama administration, which makes the job more difficult, Lockhart said.

Lockhart said there is a role for principal reductions to help the housing market, but he said he understands DeMarco's concerns. So do many congressional Republicans.

"If you start doing write-downs, the loss to taxpayers will be even greater," said Rep. Scott Garrett (R-N.J.), who chairs a House subcommittee that oversees Fannie and Freddie. "He's in a very tough situation, and I think he's handling it as well as anybody could."

DeMarco said he's only trying to follow the law, which requires him to "preserve and conserve" the assets of the companies. If members of Congress believe principal reductions are a priority, they should change the law, he said.

But given the bitter partisan divide in an election year, Democrats said they would never be able to get such legislation passed. Obama could try to use a recess appointment to replace DeMarco, but analysts said he's unlikely to do that after the controversy surrounding his recess appointments in January.

Instead, administration officials are working with congressional Democrats to try to change DeMarco's mind.

"If somebody were to write a book about this situation 20 years from now," Cummings said, "they'll write that here was a man who could have made a difference and didn't."

9 state attorneys general want housing official DeMarco replaced

WASHINGTON -- Attorneys general from California and eight other states on Monday publicly urged President Obama to replace Edward J. DeMarco, the controversial acting regulator for housing finance giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

The state officials criticized DeMarco, who heads the Federal Housing Finance Agency, for his steadfast refusal to allow government-owned Fannie and Freddie to reduce principal on mortgages it backs to help struggling homeowners avoid foreclosure.

"Unfortunately, under the leadership of Acting FHFA Director Edward DeMarco, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac remain an obstacle to progress by refusing to adopt policies that will help maximize relief for homeowners," the attorneys general wrote in a letter to Obama and congressional leaders.

"In particular, FHFA's refusal to adjust its policies to allow for principal forgiveness and forbearance stands as a major impediment to addressing the foreclosure crisis," the letter said.

Fannie and Freddie own or back 60% of the nation's mortgages.

The letter came amid reports Obama might be ready to nominate a replacement. Among the candidates mentioned are Rep. Melvin Watt (D-N.C.) and Phyllis Caldwell, a former Treasury official who worked on housing issues.

California Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris, who has been pushing for DeMarco's replacement for more than a year, was among the attorneys general, all Democrats, who signed the letter organized by New York's Eric Schneiderman and Massachusetts' Martha Coakley.

"The time has come for the President and Congress to work together to install a new, permanent leader at FHFA that will be a partner, not an impediment, in the national effort to comprehensively address the foreclosure crisis," Schneiderman said.

The attorneys general said that principal reductions by five large banks have been a key component to a nationwide settlement of foreclosure abuse allegations.

"When loan modifications employ principal write-downs as necessary to create an affordable modified loan, countless more families will avoid unnecessary foreclosure," the letter said

DeMarco, a career bureaucrat who been the acting head of FHFA since 2009, has infuriated many Democrats by not allowing Fannie and Freddie to reduce the amount of principal owed by distressed homeowners.

Obama administration officials unsuccessfully have pushed DeMarco to let Fannie and Freddie reduce principal on mortgages.

DeMarco said that such a move could cost taxpayers money in the bailouts of Fannie and Freddie and also could worsen the housing market by encouraging people to fall behind on their payments to get principal reductions.

Many Republicans have cheered DeMarco's stand, saying it is protecting the approximately $132 billion in federal money that Fannie and Freddie owe to taxpayers after the companies were seized in 2008.

Because of that Republican support for DeMarco, it would be difficult for the White House to get Senate confirmation for a nominee to replace him.

A White House spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.


Foreclosure Activity Trends Down

Indicating a revival of the housing market, the foreclosure market report – released by RealtyTrac – revealed that the overall foreclosure activity in Feb 2013 showed a downward trend on-year-over year basis. As per this leading online marketplace of foreclosure properties, foreclosure filings plunged 25% from Feb 2012 but increased 2% from Jan 2013. This brought the aggregate number of properties receiving default, auction or repossession notices to 154,281.

Foreclosure starts – default notices issued and foreclosure auctions (depending on the state’s foreclosure procedure) – declined 25% from Feb 2012 but rose 10% from Jan 2013 to 71,488 properties in the reported month. Bank repossessions (REOs) plunged 29% from the prior-year month and 11% from the last month to 45,038 properties. This was the lowest level since Sep 2007.

The top 10 states with the highest foreclosure rates were Fla., Nev., Ill., Ohio, Wash., Md., Ariz., Ga., Utah and Mich.

Moreover, the drop in overall foreclosure activity was a result of the switching of mortgage servicers and the government to other options to prevent foreclosures. Yet, the dip is expected to be at an uneven pace, as processes that are being used in handling these vary from state to state.

Foreclosure activity is expected to rise in the judicial states as the states have substantial backlogs to clear. Further, as the major lenders – JPMorgan Chase & Co. ( JPM - Analyst Report ) , Bank of America Corporation ( BAC - Analyst Report ) , Citigroup Inc. ( C - Analyst Report ) , Ally Financial Inc. and Wells Fargo & Company ( WFC - Analyst Report ) – adjust to the new rules set under the National Mortgage Settlement as well as several other state laws, foreclosure activity is bound to rise in the following months.

Yet, we believe that the stabilizing housing sector is likely to aid homeowners to avoid foreclosures in the near term. Also, the rate at which properties are entering the foreclosure procedure is expected to trend down gradually, lifting the housing prices going forward. Moreover, the housing market will get an opportunity to regain a strong foothold if there are sufficient buyers for these properties.


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posted Mar 15, 2013, 3:22 PM by VIKEN Z KOKOZIAN   [ updated Apr 4, 2013, 6:56 PM ]

Foreclosure Inferno Contained, but Dangerous Flare-ups Still Popping Up: RealtyTrac
MARCH-15-2013 FIGHT-THE-BANK-FORECLOSURE-DEFENCE

Foreclosure activity blipped up slightly in February but continues to recede on a year over year basis.  RealtyTrac, the Irvine California firm that tracks legal filings for the process, reported this morning that default notices, scheduled auctions, and bank repossessions or foreclosure sales were reported on 154,281 U.S. properties in February, one in every 849 U.S. housing units.  This was an increase of 2 percent from January but was 25 percent below the level in February 2012.

 "At a high level the U.S. foreclosure inferno has been effectively contained and should be reduced to a slow burn in the next two years," said Daren Blomquist, vice president at RealtyTrac. "But dangerous foreclosure flare-ups are still popping up in states where foreclosures have been delayed by a lengthy court process or by new legislation making it more difficult to foreclose outside of the court system. Foreclosure starts have been steadily building in those states over the last several months and likely will end up as bank repossessions or short sales later this year.

 "These new foreclosure hot spots include states like Washington, where seven straight months of rising foreclosure activity pushed the state's foreclosure rate to fifth highest nationwide -the highest it's ever been in our report - and Maryland, where eight straight months of rising foreclosure activity placed the state's foreclosure rate among the top 10 nationwide for the first time since July 2010," Blomquist noted.

Foreclosure starts jumped 10 percent in February after three straight months in which they declined but were 25 percent below starts one year earlier.  Bank repossessions were down 11 percent month-over-month to the lowest level since September 2007 and were 29 percent lower than one year earlier.

As Blomquist noted, the foreclosure story in the U.S. is now a state-by-state one and the list of troubled states are not necessarily the usual suspects from the last seven years.  There were huge annual jumps in foreclosure starts in perpetually troubled Nevada (up 334 percent), New York (139 percent) and New Jersey (70 percent) but Maryland which is not a familiar name on RealtyTrac reports was up 319 percent year over year.

Ohio is another state with emerging problems.  Overall foreclosure activity increased by 26 percent in February and was up 12 percent from the previous year and the state is now in fourth place nationally.  Activity there has increased on an annual basis in 11 of the last 13 months. 

Washington State saw its seventh straight month of increased activity on an annual basis.  There were 4,362 filings in the state, one in every 656 housing units, in February, a 123 percent increase from February 2012 and, as noted, the state is now fifth in the nation for foreclosure activity. 

In other states the foreclosure epidemic is merely continuing. Florida posted the nation's highest state foreclosure rate for the sixth consecutive month in February, reporting one in every 282 housing units with a foreclosure filing during the month.  In Nevada, with foreclosure starts at a 17-month high the state remained the second highest state for overall filings for the fifth month in a row following nearly five years in the top spot.  One in every 320 units in the state had a filing in February.

Despite the third straight month-over-month decrease in foreclosure activity, Illinois posted the nation's third foreclosure rate for the second month in a row. A total of 12,671 Illinois properties, one in every 417, had a foreclosure filing in February, down 10 percent from the previous month and down 5 percent from February 2012.

There were improvements in bank repossessions in 32 state compared to a year ago with big improvements in Oregon (down 78 percent), Massachusetts (down 69 percent), Nevada (down 59 percent), Georgia (down 58 percent), and California (down 49 percent).

Although California foreclosure starts rebounded 47 percent in February from an 88-month low in January, overall foreclosure activity in the state was down from a year ago for the 15th straight month, dropping the foreclosure rate down to No. 13 nationwide. February was the first month since December 2006 where the California foreclosure rate was not ranked among the top 10 state foreclosure rates nationwide. 

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Banks have provided $45.8 billion in aid under mortgage settlement

posted Mar 15, 2013, 12:21 AM by VIKEN Z KOKOZIAN   [ updated Oct 28, 2013, 9:19 AM ]

WASHINGTON -- More than half a million consumers have received a total of $45.8 billion in aid from the five largest banks as part of a national mortgage settlement struck last year between big banks and state and federal officials, the monitor of the agreement reported Thursday.

California, which was hit hard by the housing collapse, has received the most aid of any state under the deal with the nation's largest mortgage servicers. About 175,000 consumers have received a total of $20.6 billion in principal reductions, short-sale relief and other assistance, according to California's monitor.

The figures are for assistance from March 1 through Dec. 31 and include trial reductions in mortgage payments that had not been converted into permanent modifications, according to the Office of Mortgage Settlement Oversight.

"I believe we have made progress, particularly as it relates to consumer relief, but I know from my regular conversations with advocates across the nation that the banks and I have much more work to do on behalf of borrowers," said Joseph A. Smith Jr., a former North Carolina banking commissioner who is serving as the deal's monitor.

The relief is part of a settlement that was struck a year ago by 49 state attorneys general, several federal agencies and the nation’s five largest mortgage servicers -- Bank of America Corp., JPMorgan Chase & Co., Wells Fargo & Co., Citigroup Inc. and Ally Financial Inc..

Under the $25-billion settlement, servicers were required to provide $20 billion in relief to consumers, with different types of relief getting different amounts of credit toward that figure. Because the servicers get less than a dollar's worth of credit for each dollar in relief, consumers have received more than $20 billion in relief. A separate $5 billion under the agreement went to states, primarily for foreclosure prevention programs.

The settlement resolved investigations into allegations the financial institutions had used flawed paperwork and other faulty practices to foreclose on homes.

Much of the aid to consumers has been through short sales. In California, about $8.8 billion of the aid received by consumers was through short sales. Nationally, it was about $20 billion.

So far only Ally, which has provided $257 million in relief, has met its obligation under the settlement, the monitor said.

The other four banks had much larger obligations. Bank of America had provided the most relief as of Dec. 31 -- $26.8 billion to 318,024 borrowers. BofA said Thursday it was on track to meet its obligations under the settlement by the end of March.

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Bank Of America's Mortgage Tab: $42B And Counting

posted Mar 15, 2013, 12:05 AM by VIKEN Z KOKOZIAN   [ updated Mar 15, 2013, 12:07 AM ]

Mistakes happen but when you’re a big bank with troubled mortgages on your books the mistakes are costly–in the form of billions of dollars.
No bank knows that better than Bank of America which has agreed to pay a jaw-dropping $42 billion, settling credit and mortgage-related legal battles in just the last three years.

Overall, the nation’s six biggest banks by assets including BofA, JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and MetLife have agreed to settle for at least $60 billion in credit crisis and mortgage-related settlements, according to data compiled by SNL Financial.

BofA’s $42 billion legal tab makes up 66% of the total amount the top six biggest banks have agreed to pay in 2010, 2011 and 2012. So, if you were wondering which bank bore the brunt of the mortgage and foreclosure fallout look no further than Bank of America. The biggest chunk of its settlements came in 2011 when it settled claims with Bank of New York Mellon Corp. as trustee for investors in private-label RMBS for $8.6 billion. That year it also agreed to pay $11.8 billion for its share in the National Mortgage Settlement.

The bank with the next biggest tab is Wells Fargo with $8.3 billion in settlements over the course of three years ending in 2012. 2011 was also Wells’ worst year for settlements due to the national mortgage settlement where it agreed to pay $5.3 billion. Wells has the market’s biggest share of mortgage business but was able to avoid much of the subprime problems its peers like BofA endured.

JPMorgan Chase is not far behind Wells with $7.8 billion in settlements. It paid $2.7 billion for its share of the national mortgage settlement in 2011 and the following year coughed up $2 billion to settle foreclosure abuse claims with regulators.

Citigroup’s $3.6 billion legal tab is the smallest among the big four retail banks with much of that going toward the national mortgage settlement where the bank agreed to pay $2.2 billion. In 2012, the bank also settled $590 million in Citigroup securities litigation in which investors claimed damages as a result of misrepresentations of Citigroup’s exposure to impaired CDOs.

The costs of settling these kinds of cases go beyond the actual settlement amounts. There are legal fees and expenses to consider too and now surprisingly Bank of America has been spending plenty. It’s annual legal fees have increased every year since 2009 from $1.14 billion to $1.43 billion in 2012. The most recent figure represents 2% of its total noninterest expense.

JPMorgan Chase is the only other bank whose legal fees exceeded $1 billion last year.

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Wells Fargo: California Leader in Predatory Lending

posted Mar 14, 2013, 11:47 PM by VIKEN Z KOKOZIAN

When it comes to foreclosing on Californians, it looks like Wells Fargo may take the prize. According to a report released today, Wells Fargo is responsible for more homes in the foreclosure pipeline in California than any other single lender.

Wells Fargo is servicing the most loans, but they are providing less principal reduction to struggling borrowers than either Bank of America and Chase – who themselves should be doing more! The recent report from the Monitor of the multi-state Attorneys General settlement with the five big mortgage servicers showed that Wells Fargo trails behind Bank of America and Chase when it comes to the amount of principal reduction given as part of first lien loan modifications.

This is the very same Wells Fargo that just had its most profitable year ever in 2012, with earnings of $19 billion.

The report, California in Crisis: How Wells Fargo’s Foreclosure Is Damaging Local Communities,  FIGHT-THE-BANK-LITIGATION, shows the harm coming to homeowners, communities and the economy unless Wells Fargo reverses its course and averts some or all of the impending foreclosures.

The report uses data from Foreclosure Radar to look at loans currently in the foreclosure pipeline in California – meaning loans that have a Notice of Default or Notice of Trustee Sale. Of the 65,466 loans in the foreclosure pipeline, close to 20% of them are serviced by Wells Fargo.

If Wells Fargo’s 11,616 distressed loans go through foreclosure, California will take a next $3.3 billion hit: Each home will lose approximately 22 percent of its value, for a total loss of approximately $1.07 billion; homes in the surrounding neighborhood will lose value as well, for an additional loss of about $2.2 billion; and government tax revenues will be cut by $20 million, as a result of the depreciation.

And not surprisingly, African American and Latino communities will be particularly hard-hit. The report includes maps for seven major cities showing minority density and dots for each of Wells Fargo’s distressed loans. In city after city, they are heavily clustered in neighborhoods with high African American and Latino populations.

“My community has been absolutely devastated by the foreclosure crisis, and I put a lot of the blame at the doorstep of Wells Fargo,” says FIGHT THE BANK FORECLOSURE DEFENSE “Wells Fargo’s heartless and unfair foreclosure practices are sending far more homes into foreclosure than is necessary.”

San Francisco Supervisor David Campos released a statement of support: “Our communities and our entire State are still reeling from the housing crisis, and will be for years to come. As this report shows, the numbers of homes still facing foreclosure is enormous. Principal reduction is clearly a critical strategy for saving homes and stabilizing the economy. Wells Fargo and the other major banks should be doing more of it.”

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Wells Fargo should commit to a broad principal reduction program.

This means that every homeowner facing hardship should be offered a loan modification, when Wells has the legal authority to do so. The modification should be based on an affordable debt-to-income ratio, achieved through a waterfall that prioritizes principal reduction and interest rate reductions. Junior liens must also be modified.

Wells Fargo should report data on its principal reduction, short sales, and foreclosures by race, income, and zip code.

Wells Fargo must be more transparent about its mortgage practices. The bank has an egregious history of harming California’s African American and Latino communities through predatory and discriminatory lending. To show the public that it has reformed, Wells Fargo must make this data available. The people of California need to know that Well Fargo is no longer discriminating against people of color and is fairly and equitably providing relief to homeowners and to the hardest hit communities.

Wells Fargo should immediately stop all foreclosures until the first two demands are met.

In the event that it takes a few months to set up a fully functioning principal reduction program, Wells Fargo needs to immediately stop all foreclosures. Wells Fargo has done enough harm. It’s time to stop. California deserves a break.

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Sen. Soto leads Democratic effort to resolve foreclosure crisis

posted Oct 14, 2009, 11:16 PM by VIKEN Z KOKOZIAN   [ updated Mar 14, 2013, 11:26 PM ]

TALLAHASSEE–An Orlando senator is leading Democratic legislators with bills to help those that are in danger of losing their home since Florida ranks No. 1 for foreclosures.

Sen. Darren Soto said the three bills would not solve the foreclosure crisis, but would make moves toward improving the situation.

The first bill (SB 1236) would make the $800 million left in the Hardest-Hit fund available to assist in-trouble homeowners that can currently not access the fund.

“We’re not talking about raising taxes, we’re not talking about cutting other programs, we’re just talking about allowing money that was supposed to be doing this for the past four years to finally be used for what it’s meant to be,” Soto said.

The second bill (SB 1226) has a House companion (HB 371) filed by Rep. Joe Saunders, D-Orlando, and would shorten the time to establish debt from five years to one year and also shorten the time for lenders to collect outstanding debt from twenty years to two years. This would spare “homeowners from collectors’ current license to haunt them for up to two decades,” a press release from Soto said.

The third bill in Soto’s army against the foreclosure crisis is SB 1218, which has a House companion (HB 1101) filed by Rep. Jose Rodriguez, D-Miami. The bills would allow the attorney general to go after collection firms that produce falsified foreclosure paperwork.

Republicans in the House and Senate have bills (SB 1666/HB 87) that would speed up the foreclosure process and would “railroad homeowners out of their houses,” Soto said.


Foreclosure rates up from January, down from last year

posted Oct 14, 2009, 11:11 PM by VIKEN Z KOKOZIAN   [ updated Oct 28, 2013, 9:17 AM ]

The U.S. housing market was hit with mixed foreclosure news Thursday.

In February, the number of homes going into foreclosure saw a slight increase from January, but was down from the same time last year, according to a monthly report from RealtyTrac, a real estate website that tracks foreclosures. Bank repossessions also declined to the lowest level in more than five years.

These rates are down from their peak in the fall of 2010, but are still much higher than they would be in a normal housing market, according to RealtyTrac.

“At the national level, we’re past the worst of the foreclosure crisis,” said Daren Blomquist, vice president of RealtyTrac. “But we’re not completely out of the woods.”

Foreclosure filings, which includes default notices, scheduled auctions and bank repossessions, ticked up 2 percent to 154,281 properties across the country from January, but that number is still down 25 percent from February 2012.

The report found that one in every 849 U.S. homes filed for foreclosure during the month.

After declining for three consecutive months, the number of U.S. foreclosure starts jumped 10 percent from January.

Still, though, it was down 25 percent from the same month in the previous year.

The number of bank repossessions of foreclosed homes, meanwhile, declined 11 percent from January and was down 29 percent from the same month in the previous year.

This pushed bank repossessions to their lowest level since September 2007, a sign that foreclosures are building up as more troubled owners stay in their homes, Mr. Blomquist said.

“If you’re a homeowner who’s not making your payments, the bank will not let you stay in your home forever. It may take them awhile to do so, but eventually, they’re getting around and starting that foreclosure process,” Mr. Blomquist said.

Florida once again was hit the hardest by foreclosures in February. The Sunshine State accounted for 31,726 foreclosure filings during the month, up 6 percent from January and one-fifth of the nation’s total. It also had the nation’s highest foreclosure rate for the sixth consecutive month with 1 in every 282 homes facing foreclosure, which is more than three times higher than the national average.

Cities such as Miami, Orlando, Ocala, Tampa and Palm Bay were the metro areas with the highest foreclosure rates.

Out West, Nevada also still is suffering from the foreclosure crisis. Foreclosures starts for the month increased 334 percent from the previous year. One in every 320 homes there posted a foreclosure filing in February. The state had the nation’s second highest foreclosure rate for the fifth consecutive month.

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