May 2011


In March of this year, I reported on the newly introduced Bank of America Cooperative Short Sale Program.  As noted in that post, the two key elements of this new program are the relocation fee of $2500 paid to the sellers, and the timeline.  Instead of waiting for the short sale seller to find a buyer, this program was designed so that a seller could submit all paperwork in advance and be approved prior to a purchase offer.  According to Bank of America, by approving the property value and seller hardship up front, this would decrease the amount of time needed to process the actual sale and approve the buyer once an offer is presented to the bank.  At that time, the bank indicated this would shorten that approval timeframe to about 10 days.

So when my negotiator called last Friday to let me know that Bank of America had determined that one of my files might be eligible for a Cooperative Short Sale, my first thought was, “Great!”  I figured that we’d be able to get this closed quickly as we already have a strong buyer, and my sellers would receive $2500 to help with moving costs.

I then asked about any down-side to my sellers accepting the Cooperative Short Sale versus a traditional B of A short sale, and my negotiator’s response was surprising.  She said that in her experience, (and she has been a full-time short sale negotiator for several years), the Bank of America Cooperative Program takes about 6-8 weeks LONGER than their regular short sales.  Longer???  The normal B of A processing time is 6-8 weeks, and now participation in this program would essentially double that?  According to my negotiator, the reason it takes longer is because there is a more intense review of all seller financials – probably needed to justify the $2500 relocation payment.

My first thought as a Realtor protecting my seller’s interests, is that participating in this program could double the chances of a buyer to walk!  It is hard enough to keep buyers waiting 6-8 weeks for an approval, but to extend that period for another 2 months is asking for trouble!  I have also heard it rumored that by performing a more intense financial review B of A is actually looking to see who has sufficient assets to target with a deficiency judgment.  I don’t have any evidence to support this, but it could pose a potential risk if there is any question as to whether or not the seller’s loan is protected under the state’s anti-deficiency laws.

I presented the choice to my sellers who quickly decided that the risk of losing their buyers was not worth a $2500 gamble.  Who knows?  Their file might have been processed quickly, but on the other hand we might have ended-up back at square one looking for a new buyer.  It is definitely a choice that each seller will have to make based on their unique situation.  If anyone out there has experience with this B of A program, I’d love to hear from you!

On May 24th, The New York Times ran an article in their Opinion section that revealed a nasty, little-known truth about loan servicing that I find outrageous.

As most homeowners know, your mortgage is probably not owned or serviced by the bank or company from whom you originally borrowed.  Not only was your loan probably sold in the secondary market, but it is likely that it is serviced by an entirely different company than the bank or company you actually owe. 

Loan servicing refers to the tasks associated with collecting your monthly payment, paying the investor, and often times, managing payments for insurance and property taxes.  These servicers are also responsible for sending out notices associated with delinquencies, collection activities, and if needed managing defaults.  In return, the servicer is paid a percentage of the principal amount owed, usually 12.5 – 50 basis points (1bp = 0.01%).  Additionally, the flat servicing fee may be augmented with a variety of incentives, all designed to create additional cash flow from each loan on the books.  The total value of these fees and incentives are noted on the servicer’s balance sheet as MSRs – Mortgage Servicing Rights.

Now here is the kicker:  Banks make more from the fees and charges associated with managing a defaulted loan and foreclosure than they can make on a loan modification!  Surprised?  No wonder so few modifications are approved; the servicers have their MSRs to protect! 

The only winners in this game are the servicers.  Not only do the homeowners seeking a modification lose, but so do the banks and investors who will foot the high cost of foreclosures and carrying REOs. 

Luckily, there are others that find this behavior unacceptable.  Democrats Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island and Sherrod Brown of Ohio have introduced Senate bills to establish standards for the loan servicing industry.  The proposed laws and regulations are designed to prevent banks from putting their financial interests above those of everyone else.

Here are 3 suggested new rules: 

1)      Homeowners would be evaluated for loan modification before ANY foreclosure activity, or related fee is initiated.

2)      Lender analysis used to approve or reject loan modifications would be standardized and public.

3)      Should a lender fail to offer a modification when analysis indicates that one is warranted the lender would be blocked from proceeding with foreclosure.

Whether it is the result of a Senate Bill, or actions by the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, someone needs to rein-in the greed of the loan servicing industry and give borrowers a much-needed break.

The short answer is “No” and “Maybe”.  When faced with the prospect of losing their home to foreclosure, many people are willing to try most anything to halt the process and save their home.  Bankruptcy however, is probably not the answer.

Let me first say that I’m not an attorney, and do not intend this as legal advice.  If you are considering bankruptcy, please consult an attorney before taking any action.

Personal bankruptcy is generally filed under Chapter 7 or Chapter 13.  Under Chapter 7 most of your unsecured debt (such as credit card debt) is permanently discharged, while Chapter 13 allows you to reorganize your debt with your creditors and develop a plan to pay-off your debts over a specific period of time.  If you qualify and file personal bankruptcy under either Chapter 7 or 13, an automatic stay is put on all your creditors, including a lender that might be pursuing foreclosure.   However, this is only a temporary halt to the foreclosure process.

As mentioned above, filing Chapter 7 does not discharge your secured debts.  A mortgage is a secured debt and the collateral is your home.  If you do not pay, your lender has the right to take back the security you offered in exchange for the money advanced as a mortgage.  So filing a Chapter 7 will not save your home from foreclosure.  At any time before your unsecured debts are discharged, the court can allow your lender’s request for “relief from the automatic stay” and the foreclosure can proceed.  After discharge, the foreclosing lender is free to continue the process.

Filing Chapter 13 however may allow you to save your home from foreclosure.  In a Chapter 13 bankruptcy you are allowed to make arrangements with your creditors for repayment of debts owed, including your mortgage.  However, this is generally allowed by the courts only when you have a stable source of income that will allow you to make all payments as agreed for the entire repayment period.  There are many factors that determine if filing for protection under Chapter 13 will allow you to keep your home. The only way you will know if this will work in your particular situation is to consult an attorney.

It is also important to note that a bankruptcy will remain on your credit report for 10 years after date of filing. If this doesn’t seem like a viable solution, please read more about other options to avoid foreclosure.

First steps are often small and hesitant, but generally precede a more confident stride.  We can hope so.  Apparently U.S.households took a baby step out of financial distress during the first quarter of this year, according to the numbers released yesterday by CredAbility.  The non-profit counseling agency said its Consumer Distress Index hit its highest score in two and a half years, indicating that household financial distress is beginning to ease.

The index measures financial distress in five categories:  employment, housing, credit, household budgets, and net worth.  Average American households are queried and scored on a 100 point scale – the higher the score, the lower the level of financial woes with a score below 70 indicating financial distress.  So a score of 68.15 doesn’t sound like a lot to cheer about, but that is up from a score of 67.2 in the last quarter of 2010.

“I believe a new trend is emerging,” said Mark Cole,COOof the Atlanta-based counseling organization. “Our index has increased by four points in the last five quarters, an indication that the averageU.S.household is getting financially healthier [and] that the majority of consumers are on the right track.”

The positive direction of the index is credited to increased employment rates, but it was no surprise to me that the category dragging down the overall score continues to be housing.  The housing score in fact dropped in the first quarter of this year, indicating that mortgage delinquencies are still a major problem for American households.

So pay attention banks;  if you want us all out there spending money and using credit you’ve got to cut loose the ball and chain holding back our baby steps.  The quicker you cut your mortgage losses, the sooner we’ll all reap the rewards of moving up and out of the distress zone.  Principal reduction, anyone?

During a town hall meeting last Thursday inWashington,D.C. the President took a comment from a woman in the audience who explained that her loan modification expires in January, 2012.   Despite having excellent credit, she can’t refinance because she owes more than the house is worth.  Without a new loan mod, or principal reduction she will not be able to make her payments and could lose her home.

The President agreed that the banks need to take a more aggressive role in protecting homeowners.  He commented to the banks, “We were there for you when you got in trouble, then you’ve got to be there for the American people when they’re having a tough time.”  (I think he just forgot to add the part about the banks creating this problem in the first place.)

“We want to see if we can get longer-term loan modifications. And in some cases, principle reduction, which will be good for the person who owns the home, but it’ll also be good for the banks over the long term,” President Obama said.  “You know what,” Obama continued, “speaking to the banks…you’re going to be better off if somebody’s still paying on their mortgage than if they get foreclosed on and you end up not only having to go through all those legal processes, but you also end up…selling the home at a fire sale price.”

Excuse me, but isn’t that stating the obvious?  Is there anything new here?  Under the current government Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP), borrowers may receive a modification that is valid for 5 years, and under some non-HAMP programs the modification period is as short as 2 years.  But then what?  Like the woman in the town hall meeting who was fortunate enough to even get a loan mod, what happens when it expires? 

President Obama concluded by adding that his administration is working with banks to expand loan modifications.  “We’re going to be talking to the banks. And I mean, on a regular basis,” he said.

Well, I bet that has the banks shaking in their boots!  “Talking on a regular basis”, what does that mean and how is that going to change anything?  If we are ever going to see an end to the real estate depression that continues to drag down our economy we need an effective plan, not lip-service.  Someone needs to lean on the banks to make permanent, meaningful modifications that include (as I’ve been saying for over a year), principal reduction.  Come on Mr. President….you’ve shown you’ve got the muscle.  Let’s see some action!

For most people, buying a home is the largest purchase we ever make, and chances are it was largely an emotional decision.   There was something about the view, the trees, or the kitchen appliances; something spoke to us and we were ready to buy.  Over time, that emotional attachment increases as we put our personal stamp on the house and make it our home.  No wonder that the idea of losing a home through foreclosure can be emotionally shattering.

Grieving for the loss of a home and what it means to you and your family can be very upsetting.  Too often however, I see people avoid dealing with the reality of their financial situation simply because it is too painful to even contemplate.  These are the folks that ignore the letters and phone calls from their lenders and just pray that somehow it all goes away or that they win the lottery.

If any of this touches a nerve, it might be time to take a hard look at your situation.   Try to put aside the memories of holidays in your home, and ask yourself a few simple questions:

  1. Are you behind on your mortgage payments?  What about your property taxes, insurance and HOA dues?  Are you allowing maintenance items to accumulate because you can’t afford to fix things?
  2. Has your bank notified you and provided options to help?  Have you received a Notice of Default?
  3. Do you owe more than your house is currently worth?  Is the negative equity greater than 20%?
  4. Has your household income dropped in the last two years?  Are you dipping into your savings or other assets to make ends meet?  Do you doubt that your income will improve in the next 3-6 months?

If you answered “Yes” to one or more of these questions, it’s time to take action.  As difficult as it might be to face the reality of your situation, it is far less emotionally stressful to act now while you still have options and are still in control.  As soon as you miss a mortgage payment, the clock starts ticking on a countdown to foreclosure.  Wait too long to act and your options disappear.

If you live in San Diego County and are ready to discuss all the various options available, please give me a call for a no-obligation, confidential consultation.

Marti Kilby

Broker Associate, REALTOR

DRELicense # 01474222

619-846-9249

marti@kilby.com

No secret, actually.  The success of your short sale all comes down to your listing agent.  Really.  Negotiating a short sale is one of the most challenging jobs in real estate today. An agent representing a short sale client is responsible for helping them get out from under a huge financial burden and save their credit, and responsible to the new buyers for closing the deal in a reasonable length of time.   Without the right agent representing your interests it’s easy for the deal to fall apart and your home go to foreclosure. 

Here are some important questions to ask a perspective agent before listing your home as a short sale: 

1)      What is their short sale experience and what percentage of attempted sales have they successfully closed?  This is not the time to hire an inexperienced agent as short sales are an intricate process that requires an understanding of lender procedures and requirements.

2)      Do they do their own negotiation, or do they work with a professional negotiator?  An experienced, professional negotiator may be a real plus as that leaves the agent with more time to focus on marketing your home and finding a qualified buyer.  Also, a professional negotiator will have established relationships with a greater number of lenders which can often help expedite approvals.

3)      Will the agent pre-qualify you for the short sale?  Although the lender will have the final word, an agent should be familiar with all required documentation and be able to pre-qualify you for a short sale.  If economic hardship cannot be proven it is unlikely that the bank will approve a short sale.  They should also be able to let you know if you might be eligible for HAFA.

4)      How will the agent determine the list price of your home?   Listing your home too low may get you a quick offer, but it’s likely the bank will counter and you may lose your buyer.  Remember, the bank needs to recoup as much of the loan amount as the market will bear.

5)      What is the process?  An agent should be able to explain the entire process and timeline and describe exactly how and when you will be updated on progress.  They should also be able to provide information about the pros and cons of moving early in the process or staying in your home until closing.

6)      How will they market your home?  Over 90% of buyers begin their home buying search online.  Make sure your agent can provide an extensive online presence for your listing.

7)      What is the outcome that you can expect?  The agent should be able to discuss the potential outcomes including 1099s and deficiency judgments. They should also make recommendations to you about seeking the advice of other professionals, such as a lawyer and accountant.

8)      And finally, can they provide you with references of past short sale clients?   Hearing from a satisfied client can go a long way to easing your concerns.

A short sale is a complicated transaction, but it needn’t be stressful.  Please don’t hesitate to contact me with your questions or concerns.  I have a 100% short sale success track record and look forward to hearing from you.

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