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Mortgage Investors Join Outcry Against Banks

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Coordinated Strategies Emerging

[By Karen Weise ProPublica: Oct. 18, 2010, 1:18 p.m.]

Homeowners, and at times the government, have long complained that banks and other companies that service mortgages aren’t good at their job of collecting monthly payments, modifying loans and processing foreclosures. Now, a new cast of characters are piling on the criticism: the servicer’s own clients, the investors that actually own the mortgages.

The Servicers

Servicers handle the day-to-day of working with homeowners on behalf of the investors, who bought bundled mortgages from Wall Street. But investors are now threatening servicers with legal action. Just like homeowners, investors are frustrated by the poor job in modifying loans that servicers have been doing. They also say servicers are looking out for themselves, not investors’ interests as their contracts typically require.

For example, Investor Bill Frey, who runs the securities firm Greenwich Financial Services, says servicers view investors as “a Thanksgiving turkey to be carved up and shared among them-selves.” Investors can range from foreign governments and hedge funds to college endowments and pension funds. During the housing bubble, they gobbled up AAA-rated bonds created by pools of mortgages. Now that defaults and foreclosure are mounting, investors argue that flaws in how loans are serviced are costing them billions of dollars.

They say servicers have often dragged out foreclosures to rack up fees and refused to reduce second mortgages to make modifications sustainable. Investors often prefer modifications to foreclosures. But for modifications that won’t ultimately prevent a homeowner from defaulting, investors still prefer quick foreclosures so they can recoup their money and move on.

Of Terminal In-Decision

“Terminal indecision is not good,” says Frey. “If it can be fixed, fix it. If it can’t, nix it.”

Servicers have been slow [1] to modify mortgages—something we’ve written [1] about many times [2] — and when they do modify loans, homeowners are still saddled with other debt from second mortgages and home equity lines. Even after modifications under the government’s program, homeowners typically still must spend almost two-thirds of their income to pay off their mortgage and other loans, like credit cards or second mortgages.

Emerging Paperwork Scandal

The current mortgage paperwork scandal [3] adds more fuel [4] to the fire as major servicers have halted foreclosures because of potential paperwork irregularities around the country. Concerns are also growing that banks may not have properly transferred loans into the mortgage pools in the first place. “This deficient approach undermines the integrity and the operational framework of the housing finance and mortgage system as it exists today,” the Association of Mortgage Investors wrote [5] in a press release.

(For more on the growing scandal, check out our recent explanation of the main players involved.)

The Mortgage Bankers Association, which represents most major servicers, did not respond to ProPublica’s request for comment.

Legal Strategies

Investors from across the country have been coordinating legal strategies for over a year ago, with the effort ramping up in early spring, according to Frey. Since then, more and more investors have formed a loose consortium, gaining momentum “like a snowball going downhill,” he says. In the last month alone, the group added other investors that own an additional $100 billion in mortgage bonds.

They have not filed any suits yet, Frey says, because the group is first trying to grow even more. Also, since each investor group has different, nonmortgage business with the banks, some investors have conflicting interests in how to proceed, he says. The consortium now represents investors that own more than $600 billion in mortgage securities, which is around a third of the entire mortgage securitization market. The group includes 65 major mortgage investors; Bloomberg reported that large investment companies including Black Rock, PIMCO and Fortress are part of the effort, as are the quasi-governmental Fannie Mae and the Federal Home Loan Banks, which both own private securitized loans.

Coordinating investors is no easy task, since the mortgage bonds were sliced and diced to be sold off to investors around the world. To assert legal rights, investors must coordinate to prove that they collectively represent a certain percentage of each mortgage pool, or in some cases, a certain percentage of each slice of each mortgage pool. (The Wall Street Journal [6] and Bloomberg [7] both describe how Texas-based attorney Talcott Franklin is coordinating a clearinghouse to keep track of the various investments.)

Once investors have standing in each pool, they have the legal right to pressure servicers and trustees to improve or face litigation. The group says they have the legal authority to act in over 2,300 deals.

Investors say servicers must reduce or cancel second mortgages entirely before adjusting the primary loan, since that follows the legal pecking order of how loans should be paid off. But investors say servicers have are dragging their feet in reducing second mortgages to protect their own books, since the largest servicers — Bank of America, Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo — also own almost 60 percent of the $1 trillion second lien market.

Bank

Congressional Oversight Panel

A Congressional Oversight Panel concluded in April that there is “tension” between Treasury’s goal of supporting reductions to second mortgages and Treasury’s interest in ensuring that writing down second liens doesn’t severely weaken banks’ balance sheets. The panel wrote than when a servicer owns the second lien, the “inexorable conflict of interest” will more likely lead to modifications on the first loan, “as it benefits the bank at the expense of the mortgage-backed security investors.”

We’ve previously reported [8] that mortgages servicers frequently tell homeowners that investors are the roadblock to loan modifications, even though few mortgage deals actually restrict modifications.

Servicers are also supposed to act like watchdogs and report back to investors when they identify loans they suspect didn’t meet the lending standards promised when the bonds were initially sold to investors. If the banks did misrepresent the quality of the loans initially, the banks would have to buy back the invalid mortgages from the investors. But in many cases, the servicers are subsidiaries of the banks that sold the bonds, which investors say helps explain why servicers have been dragging their feet. Bloomberg noted [7] an analyst’s report that said mortgage repurchases could total over $179 billion.

Original Link: http://www.propublica.org/article/investors-join-outcry-against-mortgage-servicers

Assessment

According to an investor letter cited [6] in the Wall Street Journal, in some mortgage pools that have high default rates, the banks have not repurchased any loans when the servicers are subsidiaries of the banks that sold the bonds. Investors say this is all no small matter. Since the country’s mortgage market is heavily dependent on government support right now, they insist servicers make good on their contracts before start buying loans and supporting the mortgage market again.

Related Articles:

  1. http://www.propublica.org/article/mod-program-falling-short-of-govts-vague-goals
  2. http://www.propublica.org/article/loan-mod-profiles-runaround
  3. http://www.propublica.org/blog/item/biggest-banks-ensnared-as-foreclosure-paperwork-problem-broadens
  4. http://www.businessweek.com/news/2010-10-13/document-flaws-may-lead-investors-to-fight-mbs-deals.html
  5. http://www.propublica.org/documents/item/association-of-mortgage-investors-press-release-oct.-1-2010
  6. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704814204575508143329644732.html
  7. http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2010-09-23/mortgage-investors-target-banks-using-texas-lawyer-s-novel-clearing-house.html
  8. http://www.propublica.org/article/when-denying-loan-mods-loan-servicers-often-blame-investors-wrongly

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Texas Mortgage Firm Survives and Thrives Despite Repeat Sanctions

The Allied Home Mortgage Capital Caper

By Charles Ornstein and Tracy Weber, ProPublica July 2, 12:24 a.m.

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As his competitors imploded one by one, Jim Hodge, the folksy founder of Allied Home Mortgage Capital [1], touted his sprawling Houston firm as a survivor.

Not only was Allied still standing, Hodge told employees in a company newsletter in December, it was thriving. “The good news,” Hodge wrote, “is that even though we are all having to work harder, most branches are making lots of money.”

But an examination of Hodge’s mortgage company by ProPublica found that its prosperity has come at a price for dozens of customers who claim Allied brokers have put their homes at risk, lied to them or improperly siphoned money from their deals.

The firm has left behind a trail of alleged misconduct and piecemeal government sanctions spanning at least 18 states [2] and seven years. Yet Allied chugs along unimpeded, aided by access to the government-backed Federal Housing Administration [3] loan program.

Over the past year, the FBI and federal prosecutors have made mortgage fraud a priority, filing criminal charges across the country. Regulators, such as the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development [4], also say they are getting tough. But Allied’s [5] history shows how even repeat offenders can fall through gaps in the fragmented safety net meant to protect mortgage borrowers.

Now Consider

  • Allied has the highest serious delinquency rate [2] among the top 20 FHA loan originators from June 2008 through May.
  • Nine states have sanctioned the firm in the last 18 months for such violations as using unlicensed brokers and misleading a borrower.
  • Federal agencies have cited or settled with Allied or an affiliate at least six times since 2003 for overcharging clients, underpaying workers or other offenses.
  • At least five lenders have sued, claiming Allied tricked them into funding loans for unqualified buyers by falsifying documents and submitting grossly inflated appraisals, among other allegations.

“Everything is just a nightmare for me,” said Cheryl Stewart, who is suing Allied alleging that its Hammond, La., office misrepresented her income to qualify her for a loan, then deposited money from her closing into the branch manager’s bank account. Stewart said she is on the brink of losing her home as a result. Allied has successfully argued that the case should be moved out of state court and into arbitration.

Despite these repeated complaints, no single agency is investigating the sweep of the company’s actions and whether they represent a pattern or, as Hodge maintains, are to be expected for a company of Allied’s size. It bills itself as the nation’s biggest privately held mortgage broker-banker with some 200 branches.

William Black, an associate professor of economics and law at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, said Allied’s record exemplifies the failings of a regulatory system that has teeth but seldom bites.

“It’s a wonderful example of the overall crisis,” said Black, who has testified before Congress about financial fraud. “What would it take before somebody would take serious action?”

Federal housing officials would not discuss Allied’s performance or their own negative audits of the firm. But after a recent review, the FHA has recommended that the Mortgagee Review Board take action against Allied. The board can fine companies or revoke their access to the FHA market, which has caused firms to close.

Drs. Home

Secret Service Investigations

Separately, the Secret Service, which conducts criminal investigations for the Treasury Department and Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., confirmed that it is looking into allegations of fraud and wrongdoing at Allied’s now-shuttered branch in Hammond.

Although Allied is dwarfed by Wells Fargo, Bank of America, Quicken Loans and JPMorgan Chase, the nation’s largest mortgage firms, it remains a big player in FHA-insured loans.

In the last two years, Allied Home Mortgage Capital originated more FHA mortgages than all but 15 of the more than 10,000 firms that handled such loans. Since 2005, it has processed nearly 40,000 FHA loans worth nearly $5.85 billion, according to the FHA. Those loans now account for at least 70% of Allied’s business, Hodge said.

Allied differs from most other FHA players in that it is both a broker and a lender. It has an affiliated company with a nearly identical name that has been the lender on about 30% of its FHA loans in the last two years.

Since the collapse of the subprime market, the volume of FHA-insured loans has boomed, rising from about 5% of all home loans in 2007 to 20% in 2009. When these loans fail, an insurance fund supported by FHA borrowers picks up the tab.

Both as a broker and a lender, Allied’s rate of seriously delinquent loans is nearly 60% higher than the national average for the past two years. And the FHA paid out more than $500 million from 2005 to 2009 for claims on defaulted loans brokered by Allied, statistics show.

In an interview, Hodge said the delinquency rates reflect more on the lenders that funded the loans than on his brokers.

The $500 million in claims FHA paid out, he said, were covered in part by insurance premiums paid by Allied borrowers — who largely do not default. “They didn’t have a complete loss of a half a billion,” he said.

Hodge said the problems experienced at some of Allied’s branches should not tarnish his firm’s overall record. “If you look at the volume that we did or do,” he said, “it’s not significant.”

Broken Trust

Sal and Ashley DePaula said they had more reason than most people to trust their broker: The manager of Allied’s Hammond branch was a tenant in one of their rental houses.

Over the course of 2006 and 2007, Allied’s staff helped them sell that property to an acquaintance of the manager and refinance several others.

It wasn’t until months later, the DePaulas allege, that they realized they’d become pawns in a scam.

The buyer of the property the couple sold for $93,000, had actually paid $47,000 more than that, according to a lawsuit in state court by the couple and documents they provided. The cash ended up in the account of Shane Smith, the branch manager, a wire-transfer record shows.

Then, after a tornado hit one of the DePaulas’ refinanced rental homes in 2008, they learned they’d never been signed up for the insurance Allied said it had arranged — even though they’d paid for it every month. The couple said they expect to spend more than $36,000 on repairs.

“Had somebody robbed me and stole $50 out of my purse, they would be in jail,” said Ashley DePaula, who said she is “bitter” that no one has been punished.

Last year, the couple learned that Allied had put another borrower’s name on Sal DePaula’s retirement account statement and submitted it in a loan qualification packet.

That other borrower, Louisiana state criminal investigator Terry Apple, said he only realized he was part of an alleged scam when ProPublica showed him a copy of the statement.

“I’m now finding out that I’m just a small part of a very large puzzle,” Apple said.

At least four lawsuits, including one by the DePaulas, have been filed against Allied over the conduct of its Hammond branch. Other borrowers, some of whom are mentioned in legal filings, allege they, too, were defrauded but can’t afford to sue.

“You know how your body can be quivering?” said Franklin Morgan, 62, a disabled Vietnam veteran who faces losing his home. “That’s what my body’s been doing every day.”

In towering stacks of legal documents, attorneys allege that the Hammond office deceived their clients from 2005 through 2007 by misrepresenting loan terms, falsifying records, failing to pay off prior mortgages and diverting hundreds of thousands of dollars. A title lawyer who worked closely with the Allied branch also stands accused — and has been sued by Allied.

The alleged victims include friends and relatives of Allied staff and the birth mother of the assistant manager’s adopted daughter. That assistant manager’s past — including an arrest warrant for allegedly stealing $24,000 from a previous employer — has come to light.

The lawsuits are proceeding, but Ashley DePaula says Allied has offered a small settlement that has not been finalized.

In an interview, Hodge conceded that “serious fraud” had taken place at the branch, which closed in 2008. He also acknowledged personally hiring branch manager Smith even though Smith previously had lost a home to foreclosure and declared personal bankruptcy. Smith and his attorney could not be reached for comment.

Hodge said the Allied corporate office does not appear to be a target of any criminal probe.

“I don’t know all the details,” he said. “It’s a pretty bizarre situation.”

Row Homes

Customers’ Stories

Around the country, other Allied borrowers tell similar tales.

Pete Pauley, pictured with his wife Mary Ellen, sued Allied in W. Va. state court alleging that a broker misled him about a low-interest loan in 2004.

In Charleston, W.Va., businessman Pete Pauley sued Allied in state court alleging that a Weirton, W.Va., broker misled him into signing for a low-interest loan in 2004 whose rate began rapidly rising after one month.

As part of the loan approval process, the branch submitted a letter from a local accountant verifying Pauley’s ownership of his company. That accountant later testified he didn’t know Pauley or write the letter.

Pauley, who runs an oil and gas company, said the experience was humiliating. He and his wife, Mary Ellen, a nurse, learned of other complaints.

Four other couples alleged similar betrayals by another Weirton loan officer, the sister of Pauley’s broker.

Allied settled for $240,000, Pauley said. But Hodge said Allied did so only after the judge strongly encouraged it.

“We ended up buying that guy a house,” he said.

Allied also settled with the other four couples. In addition, it agreed to pay $12,000 in education and restitution costs after the West Virginia attorney general found it had misled borrowers about their loans.

Lenders, too, have felt aggrieved. AmericaHomeKey sold loans brokered by Allied to a secondary investor. After four borrowers failed to make even the first payments on their loans, the investor demanded the lender make good.

AmericaHomeKey then sued Allied in Harris County, Texas, alleging that it had misrepresented the self-employment status of three of the borrowers and failed to check out other basic facts.

“Clearly, these borrowers lacked the financial means and/or the intent to make the payments on these mortgage loans,” the lawsuit said.

Allied disputes the allegations and will defend itself “with vigor,” Hodge said.

In South Carolina, Charleston title attorney Elizabeth Stuckey Murphy testified in a deposition that she became so concerned about possible fraud at Allied’s Goose Creek branch that she complained to the FHA and law enforcement agencies in 2005.

The branch manager, Murphy claimed in a letter to authorities, had padded closing statements with invoices for contracting work by her husband that was never performed — nearly $30,000 in one case alone.

In a deposition two years later, Murphy was asked about her complaint to the FHA hotline. “To date,” she said, “I haven’t received any response.”

Frequent Troubles

Every year since 2003, Allied has landed in trouble somewhere.

It’s a streak that began with twin wallops from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development totaling $420,000 in settlements — a significant sum for the agency. HUD oversees the FHA program, which insures mortgages for buyers who can’t afford big down payments.

In all, regulators and attorneys general in at least 18 states have acted against the firm or its brokers. Most of the matters have been settled without any admission of wrongdoing by Allied.

Washington state banned a former broker in Allied’s Spokane office after he was convicted of 10 felonies for stealing Allied clients’ money and laundering it. Arizona denied a broker’s license to a firm owned by Allied’s Tucson branch manager because she had previously been convicted of embezzling from a bank.

State regulators say they must limit their actions to what happens within their borders. Federal officials say they don’t generally look into state actions unless a mortgage company’s conduct may also violate federal rules.

Assessment

Although HUD and FHA have recently stepped up oversight of the mortgage industry, they have long had tools to police it. Using data collected on every loan, housing officials can statistically track whether mortgage firms are putting borrowers into FHA loans they can’t or don’t pay on. According to this data, Allied for several years has had a serious delinquency rate well above the national average. And, over the last two years at one Houston branch, some borrowers mustered only a few payments or none at all. The serious delinquency rate within one year of closing was 12%, compared with 4.2% nationwide.

Gary Lacefield, a former HUD investigator, said the numbers are an obvious red flag about Allied that regulators should have acted upon. “I see no reason,” he said, “why they shouldn’t have been hammered.”

Note: ProPublica director of research Lisa Schwartz contributed to this story. USA TODAY editors assisted in preparing it for publication.

http://www.propublica.org/article/texas-allied-home-mortgage-capital-thrives-despite-sanctions

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Disorganization at Banks

Causing Mistaken Foreclosures

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By Paul Kiel, ProPublica – May 4, 2010 9:20 pm EDT

Millions of people face losing their homes in the continuing foreclosure crisis, but homeowners often have more than the struggling economy and slumping house prices to worry about: Disorganization within the big banks that service mortgages has made a bad problem worse.

ProPublica is matching local journalists with homeowners having trouble getting loan mods.

Are you a homeowner with a story to tell?
Are you a reporter and want to cover it?

Sometimes the communication breakdown within the banks is so complete that it leads to premature or mistaken foreclosures. Some homeowners, with the help of an attorney or housing counselor, have eventually been able to reverse a foreclosure. Others have lost their homes.

“We believe in many cases people are losing their homes when they should not have,” said Kevin Stein, associate director of the California Reinvestment Coalition, which counts dozens of nonprofits that work with homeowners among its members.

In the worst breakdowns, banks — and other companies that service loans — actually work at cross-purposes, with one arm of the company foreclosing on the home while the other offers help. Servicers say such mistakes are rare and result from the high volume of defaults and foreclosures.

The problems happen even among servicers participating in the administration’s $75 billion foreclosure-prevention program [1]. Servicers operating under the year-old program are forbidden from auctioning someone’s home while a modification decision is pending. It happens anyway.

Consumer advocates say the lapses continue because they go unpunished. “We’ve had too much of the carrot, and we need a stick,” Stein says. The Treasury Department has yet to penalize a servicer for breaking the program’s rules. The program provides federal subsidies to encourage modifications.

Treasury officials overseeing the program say they’re aware of the problems and have moved to fix them. But some states are going further to protect homeowners, with recent rules that stop the foreclosure process if the homeowner requests a modification.

Many homeowners, seeing no other option, have gone to court to reclaim their homes. At least 50 homeowners have recently filed lawsuits alleging the servicer foreclosed with a loan mod request pending or even while they were on a payment plan.

Homeowners have long waits for help

In good times, banks and other servicers — Bank of America is the biggest, followed by Chase and Wells Fargo — were known mainly to homeowners simply as where they sent their monthly mortgage payments. But the companies have been deluged over the past couple of years by requests for help from millions of struggling homeowners.

Homeowners commonly wait six months for an answer on a loan mod application. The federal program for encouraging loan mods includes a three-month trial period, after which servicers are supposed to decide whether to make the modifications permanent. But some homeowners have waited as long as 10 months [2] for a final answer.

Communication breakdowns occur because of the way the servicers are structured. One division typically deals with modifications and another with foreclosures. Servicers also hire a local trustee or attorney to actually pursue foreclosure.

“Often they just simply don’t communicate with each other,” said Laurie Maggiano, the Treasury official in charge of setting policy for the modification program. Such problems were particularly bad last summer, in the first few months of the program, she said. “Basically, you have the right hand at the mortgage company not knowing what the left hand is doing,” said Mark Pearce, North Carolina’s deputy commissioner of banks. Communication glitches and mistakes are “systemic, more than anecdotal” among mortgage servicers, he said.

“We’ve had cases where we’ve informed the mortgage company that they’re about to foreclose on someone.” The experience for the homeowner, he said, can be “Kafkaesque.”

“We’re all human, and the servicers are overworked and trying their best,” said Vicki Vidal, of the Mortgage Bankers Association. She said foreclosure errors are rare, particularly if struggling homeowners are prompt in contacting their servicer.

The Human Face

Frances Gomez, of Tempe, Ariz., lived in her house for over 30 years. Three years ago, she refinanced it with Countrywide, now part of Bank of America, for nearly $300,000. The home’s value has declined dramatically, said Gomez, who put some of the money from the refinancing into her hair salon.

Last year, the recession forced her to close her shop. Gomez fell behind on her mortgage, and after striking out with a company that promised to work with Bank of America to get her a loan mod, she learned in December that her home was scheduled for foreclosure.

So Gomez applied herself. She twice succeeded in getting Bank of America to postpone the sale date and said she was assured it would not happen until her application was reviewed. Gomez had opened a smaller salon and understood there was a good chance she would qualify.

She was still waiting in March when a Realtor, representing the new owner of her home, showed up. Her house had sold at auction — for less than half of what Gomez owed. “They don’t give you an opportunity,” she said. “They just go and do it with no warning.”

It’s not supposed to work that way.

Federal Programs

Under the federal program, which requires servicers to follow a set of guidelines for modifications, servicers must give borrowers a written denial before foreclosing. When Gomez called Bank of America about the sale, she said she was told there was a mistake but nothing could be done. She did get a denial notice [3] — some three weeks after the house was sold and just days before she was evicted.

“I just want people to know what they’re doing,” Gomez, now living with family members, said.

After being contacted by ProPublica, Bank of America reviewed Gomez’s case. Bank spokesman Rick Simon acknowledged that Gomez might not have been told her house would be sold and that the bank made a mistake in denying Gomez, because it did not take into account the income from her new salon business. Simon said a Bank of America representative would seek to negotiate with the new owner of Gomez’s house to see if the sale could be unwound.

Simon said the bank regrets when such mistakes happen due to the “very high volume” of cases and that any errors in Gomez’s case were “inadvertent.”

Timeline: How Michael Hill Almost Lost His Home [4]

Even avoiding a mistaken sale can also be a stressful process.

One day in February, a man approached Ron Bermudez of Emeryville, Calif., in front of his house and told him his home would be sold in a few hours. This came as a shock to Bermudez; Bank of America had told him weeks prior that he’d been approved for a trial modification and the papers would soon arrive. He made a panicked phone call to an attorney, who was able to make sure there was no auction.

Last November, Michael Hill of Lexington, S.C., finally got the call he’d been waiting for. Congratulations, a rep from JPMorgan Chase told him, your trial mortgage modification is approved. Hill’s monthly payment, around $900, would be nearly halved.

Except there was a problem. Chase had foreclosed on Hill’s home a month earlier, and his family was just days away from eviction.

“I listened to her and then I just said, ‘Well, that sounds good,’” recalled Hill, who is married and has two children. “‘Tell me how we’re going to do this, seeing as how you sold the house.’” That, he found out, was news to Chase.

Hill was able to avoid eviction — for now. Chase reversed the sale by paying the man who’d bought the home an extra $19,500 on top of the $86,000 [5] he’d paid at the auction.

After the mistaken foreclosure, he began the trial modification last December. He made those payments, but two months after his trial period was supposed to end, Hill is still waiting for a final answer from Chase.

The miscommunications have continued. He received a letter in January saying that he’d been approved for a permanent modification, but he was then told he’d received it in error.

His family remains partially packed, ready to move should the modification not go through. “I’m on pins and needles every time someone’s knocking on the door or calling,” he said.

Christine Holevas, a Chase spokeswoman, said that Chase had “agreed with Hill’s request to rescind the foreclosure” and was “now reviewing his loan for permanent modification.” She said Chase services “more than 10 million mortgages — the vast majority without a hitch.”

HOPE Hotline

To contest a foreclosure under the federal program, Maggiano, the Treasury official, said a homeowner should call the HOPE Hotline, 888-995-HOPE, a Treasury Department-endorsed hotline staffed by housing counselors. Those counselors can escalate the case if the servicer still won’t correct the problem, she said.

That escalation process has saved “a number” of homeowners from being wrongfully booted out of their homes, Maggiano said. Hill, the South Carolina homeowner, is an example of someone helped by the HOPE Hotline.

Of course, the homeowner must know about the hotline to call it. Gomez, the Arizona homeowner who lost her home to foreclosure, said she’d never heard of it.

Many homeowner advocates say the government’s effort has been largely ineffective at resolving problems with servicers.

“I uniformly hear from attorneys and counseling advocates on the ground that the HOPE Hotline simply parrots back what the servicers have said,” said Alys Cohen, an attorney with the National Consumer Law Center. Cohen said she’d voiced her concerns with Treasury officials, who indicated they’d make improvements.

Bank

New rules to offer more protection

Under the current rules for the federal program, servicers have been barred from conducting a foreclosure sale if the homeowner requested a modification, but are allowed to push along the process, even set a sale date. That allows them to foreclose more quickly if they determine the homeowner doesn’t qualify for a modification.

As a result, a homeowner might get a modification offer one day and a foreclosure notice the next. As of March, servicers were pursuing foreclosure on 1.8 million residences, according to LPS Applied Analytics.

Maggiano, the Treasury official, said that’s been confusing for homeowners. Some “just got discouraged and gave up.”

New rules issued by the Treasury in March say the servicer must first give the homeowner a shot at a modification before beginning the process that leads to foreclosure.

They also require the servicer to adopt new policies to prevent mishaps. For instance, the servicer will be required to provide a written certification to its attorney or trustee that the homeowner does not qualify for the federal program before the house can be sold.

Maggiano said the changes resulted from visits to the servicers’ offices last December that allowed Treasury officials to “much better understand (their) inner workings.”

The rules, however, don’t take effect until June. Nor do they apply to hundreds of thousands of homeowners seeking a modification for whom the process leading to foreclosure has already begun. And Treasury has yet to set any penalties for servicers who don’t follow the rules.

Maggiano said Treasury’s new rule struck a balance to help homeowners who were responsive to servicer communications to stay out of foreclosure while not introducing unnecessary delays for servicers. Some borrowers don’t respond at all to offers of help from the servicers until they’re faced with foreclosure, she said.

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States Differ

Some states, such as North Carolina, have recently gone further to delay moving toward foreclosure if a homeowner requests a modification. State regulators there passed a law that requires a servicer to halt the process if a homeowner requests a modification.

Pearce, the North Carolina official, said the rule was prompted by the delays homeowners have been facing and puts the burden on the servicers to expeditiously review the request. “They’re in total control.”

Stopping the process not only removes the possibility of a sudden foreclosure, he said, but also stops the accumulation of fees, which build up and can add thousands to the homeowner’s debt as the servicer moves toward foreclosure.

In California, state Sen. Mark Leno, a Democrat from San Francisco, is pushing a bill that would do something similar. The servicers “should be working a lot harder to keep homeowners in their home,” he said.

Assessment

Original article: http://www.propublica.org/feature/disorganization-at-banks-causing-mistaken-foreclosures-050410

Conclusion

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Product Details  Product Details

Bank Deals Similar to Goldman Sach’s Gone Awry

Other Major Banks Participated, Too?

By Marian Wang, ProPublica – April 16, 2010 1:36 pm EDT

As you may have heard, or read on this ME-P, Goldman Sachs is being sued for fraud [1] by the Securities and Exchange Commission [2] for allegedly misleading investors about a deal that Goldman helped structure and sell. In the civil suit, the SEC specifically faulted Goldman for failing to disclose that a hedge fund was helping create the investment while betting big the deal would fail.

According to the SEC, Goldman Sachs knew about the hedge fund’s bets, knew it played a significant role in choosing the assets in the portfolio, and yet did not tell investors about it. (Goldman Sachs has called the SEC’s accusations “completely unfounded in law and fact.” And in another more detailed statement [3], it said it “did not structure a portfolio that was designed to lose money.”) 

[picapp align=”none” wrap=”false” link=”term=Goldman+Sachs&iid=8541566″ src=”0/4/f/8/The_Goldman_Sachs_7d6f.jpg?adImageId=12513388&imageId=8541566″ width=”380″ height=”568″ /]

In ProPublica

As we reported at ProPublica last week, many other major investment banks were doing a similar thing [4].

Investment banks including JPMorgan Chase [5], Merrill Lynch [6] (now part of Bank of America), Citigroup, Deutsche Bank and UBS also created CDOs that a hedge fund named Magnetar was both helping create and betting would fail. Those investment banks marketed and sold the CDOs to investors without disclosing Magnetar’s role or the hedge fund’s interests.

Here is a list of the banks that were involved [7] in Magnetar deals, along with links to many of the prospectuses on the deals, which skip over Magnetar’s role. In all, investment banks created at least 30 CDOs with Magnetar, worth roughly $40 billion overall. Goldman’s 25 Abacus CDOs — one of which is the basis of the SEC’s lawsuit — amounted to $10.9 billion [8].

One reporter Jake Bernstein explained the investment banks’ disclosure failures on Chicago Public Radio’s This American Life [9]:

On the Magnetar Hedge Fund

The role of Magnetar, both as equity investor and in their bets against the very CDOs they helped create were not disclosed in any way to investors in the written documents about the deals. Not the marketing materials, not the prospectuses, not in the hundreds of pages that an investor could get to see information about the deal was it disclosed that it was in fact Magnetar who’d helped create the deal, and who’d bet against.

That is, of course, along the lines of what the SEC is suing Goldman Sachs for now. The SEC’s suit also says CDOs like the ones Goldman built “contributed to the recent financial crisis by magnifying losses associated with the downturn in the United States housing market.”

Notably, the SEC did not sue the hedge fund [10] involved in Goldman’s Abacus deals — Paulson & Co. — or its manager, John Paulson. Instead, it’s going after Goldman. And as we pointed out in our reporting, there’s no evidence that what Magentar did was illegal [11].

Assessment

We’ve called the major banks involved in Magnetar CDO deals to see if they were concerned about similar lawsuits. Thus far, Bank of America, Citigroup, Deutsche, Wells Fargo (which bought Wachovia) and UBS have responded and have all declined our requests for comment. Here is Magnetar’s response [12] to our original reporting.

Conclusion

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