It was just announced that the Obama Administration is making some significant changes to the Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP). I noted 3 key points:

1. Homeowners who are struggling financially will be eligible for a 2nd evaluation with a less stringent debt-to-income ratio.
2. The program will be extended to include investor owned properties that are used as rentals.

And ….(drum roll)…

3. The  Administration will triple incentives for lenders who write down principal balances for underwater homeowners, AND they are extending this principal reduction incentive to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac!

It’s this last item that has me excited as I’ve been a proponent of principal reduction for a long time, as noted in my blog post back in 2010. What impact all of this will have of course depends on how quickly the new rules can be put into effect and how well all participating lenders adhere to the new guidelines.

All that being said, I’ll take any good loan modification news that we can get!

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What is a Loan Modification?

Watch this short video to learn the truth about mortgage loan modifications.

Thanks to my wonderful and talented video producer husband, I’ve just launched the first in a series of short videos designed to help educate consumers on a variety of real estate topics.

The first in the series discusses your 8 options if you can’t pay your mortgage. Would love to hear your comments!

And please don’t hesitate to contact me for a free, confidential consultation. 619-846-9249.

As I’ve mentioned more than once, I’m no Economics genius. So I was pleasantly surprised to read the October 12th NY Times article by Martin S Feldstein, a Harvard professor of Economics and former chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors. It appears that Professor Feldstein and I agree that the only way to stop the drop in home values is by principal reduction.

The professor points out that for most Americans, their homes are their primary source of wealth. Since the housing bubble burst in 2006, Americans have lost $9 trillion or 40% of their wealth. This sharp decline in wealth means less consumer spending, fewer jobs and a stalled economic recovery.

Today, nearly 15 million homeowners owe more than their homes are worth and of this group about half of the mortgages exceed the value by more than 30%. The professor maintains that housing prices continue to fall because millions of homeowners are defaulting on their mortgages and the sale of the foreclosed properties drive down prices. Because most mortgages are non recourse loans, underwater borrowers have a strong incentive to simply walk away.

Professor Feldstein suggests that instead of throwing tax dollars at ineffective programs aimed at reducing interest rates, the government should address the real problem which is that the amount of the mortgage debt exceeds the value of the home.

Here is a summary of his idea: The government would reduce mortgage principal to 110% of the home value. The cost for doing this would be split between the government and the banks. This would help about 11 million of the 15 million underwater homes at a cost of under $350 billion. Considering the millions of mortgages held by Fannie and Freddie, the government would in essence be paying itself.

This would of course be a voluntary program. In exchange for the principal write-down, the borrower would agree that the new mortgage was a full recourse loan and the government could go after other assets if he defaulted on the loan.

I think it sounds fair, as everyone makes a sacrifice and we put the brakes on strategic default. It is a huge one-time cost, but continuing to allow housing prices to fall could risk another, even more costly recession. And speaking for my short sale clients, I know that most would have gladly signed up for a principal reduction if it meant saving their home.

What do you think?

If I’ve sounded a bit like a broken record over the last 10 months, it’s because I strongly believe that principal reductions are an import key to ending the housing crisis.  People who are struggling to make payments on an upside down mortgage are more likely to avoid default if they are paying on a mortgage based on 2011 home values.  Fewer defaults mean more stable values and ultimately an end to the real estate crash.  And apparently some of the banks now agree.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Bank of America is finally bringing principal reduction modifications to the bargaining table.  For months now, B of A and the nation’s other four largest servicers have been in discussion with state and federal officials in an attempt to settle charges of inappropriate activities in connection with foreclosure proceedings.  Investigations last September revealed that several servicers used illegal affidavits and faulty paperwork in their foreclosure practices, and the banks are now hoping to settle and avoid any further liability.

The state attorneys general have pushed for principal reduction as part of the settlement, but until recently the banks have refused.  The private negotiations have been going on for months, and the June 15th target for resolution has come and gone.  As a means of kicking the discussion into high gear, B of A has now offered principal reductions as a bargaining chip, and the other banks are expected to follow.

Of course, Bank of America is not offering principal reductions because they actually care about keeping people in their homes, but rather because they hope to make the problems caused by sloppy and illegal foreclosure practices go away.  But in any case, the end result could be the answer to the prayers of many homeowners facing default.

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For those of us in the industry, it hardly comes as any surprise that Bank of America has failed to help thousands of Americans receive a permanent loan modification through the Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP).  And it now looks like they might have some explaining to do:  A judge has denied the bank’s request to dismiss a case involving tens of thousands of homeowners who claim they were refused help through the HAMP program.

As you remember, HAMP uses federal funds to help struggling homeowners.   Under the program, Bank of America is required to provide foreclosure alternatives and permanent loan modifications to eligible homeowners.

However, according to Steve Berman, managing partner of Hagens Berman, the firm representing the homeowners. Bank of America has refused to permanently modify the loans of thousands of borrowers, even after successfully completing a Trial Period Plan (TPP).  “The vast majority tell us the same thing: Bank of America claims to have lost their paperwork, failed to return phone calls, made false claims about the status of their loan and even taken actions toward foreclosure without informing homeowners of their options,”  said Berman.

In the lawsuit, Berman seeks to prove that Bank of America “intentionally postpones homeowners’ requests to modify mortgages, depriving borrowers of federal bailout funds that could save them from foreclosure.”

“The bank ends up reaping the financial benefits provided by taxpayer dollars financing TARP-funds and also collects higher fees and interest rates associated with stressed home loans,” Berman added.

The case will be limited to homeowners who entered a TPP, but were denied a permanent modification.  Judge Rya Zobel also ruled that homeowners in nine state, including California could pursue claims in their states where consumer protection laws are stronger. 

So if you’re a homeowner in the middle of trying to get a HAMPmodification form B of A, the outlook is not encouraging.  The federal government has cut-off HAMPfunds to Bank of America until they make improvements in how they administer the program, which could mean more foreclosures and short sales on the horizon for Bank of America borrowers.

A recent study by analytics company CoreLogic reported that nearly 25% of all mortgage borrowers owe more than their home is worth.  The aggregate amount of negative equity in the U.S. was a whopping $750 billion at the end of last year.   This lost equity prevents homeowners from refinancing or moving, and according to the report, is the “dominant factor” driving the real estate market.

If you’re among the millions who are paying each month for negative equity, you probably have some questions about your options.  To help address this issue, I’m offering a FREE workshop here in San Diego covering the following:

  • Should I wait for home values to increase?  What is the future of San Diego real estate?
  • What about a loan modification?  What programs are available, how do I qualify, and how many loan modifications are actually approved?
  • If I can’t afford my payments, what are my options?
  • What is involved in the foreclosure process?  How long can I stay in my home? How will it affect my credit?
  • Will filing Bankruptcy save my home?
  • What is a strategic default?  What are the risks?
  • What is a Deed in Lieu of Foreclosure?
  • Is a short sale better than foreclosure?  What is the process? What is a HAFA short sale?
  • What about deficiency judgments and 1099s?  When can I qualify to buy again?

Saturday, June 25th  10:00 – 11:30 a.m. 

San Diego County Library, 4S Ranch

10433 Reserve Dr, San Diego, CA 92127

There is no fee or obligation for attendance, but space is limited.  Advance registration is required.  Homeowners will receive comprehensive workshop materials.

Call 1-888-464-1820 x104 to Register Today

As mentioned previously, I’m not an accountant or lawyer and you should always consult the appropriate professional before making any major decision about your home.