Foreclosure in California

Whether you’re facing an involuntary foreclosure or considering a strategic default, here is what you need to know about the process and time line for foreclosure in California.

 

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I’m currently working with a sweet young couple looking to buy their first home here in San Diego.  Yesterday we found one that seems to have most everything they’re looking for, so we sat down to talk about writing an offer.  Prior to showing them homes of course, I made sure they were pre-approved at the price point of our search.

Discussing the offer and reviewing the confidential remarks on the MLS listing sheet, I ran into the words that make my blood boil, “Offer MUST include a pre-approval by Bank of America loan officer Bill Jones.”  This makes me crazy!  Here in San Diego it appears that Bank of America and Chase require a pre-approval by one of their assigned loan officers on all of their REOs.

My buyer looked at me like I was nuts.  “Why do they need another pre-approval when I just went through the whole process at my credit union?”  He is a VA buyer and has a perfectly good pre-approval from Navy Federal Credit Union, so why in the world does he need one from B of A?  I didn’t have a very good answer for him.

I also handle some REO listings and I understand that the banks don’t want to waste time with an unqualified buyer, and that they are trying to build loan business.  But, rather than create obstacles to offers, wouldn’t it make more sense for the listing agent to request an additional pre-approval ONLY if the original one seemed a bit sketchy?  Or, if they really want the business, how about offering an incentive like a free appraisal or point reduction?

When it’s time to write an offer, I want to move quickly – not waste a couple of days chasing down more paperwork!

A survey released on Monday shows that nationally, nearly half of all home sales in March involved distressed properties; either foreclosed homes or short sales.  This is the second highest level seen in the past 12 months.   And while this might not seem like good news, the statistics actually provide a glimmer of hope. 

The Housing Pulse Tracking Survey reported that short sales rose from 17.0% of total sales in February to 19.6% in March, and at the same time REO sales fell from 14.9% to 12.0%.  this is an all-time high for short sales.

So why is this a good thing?   Short sales, though not as speedy as we would like, are resolved much more quickly than foreclosures.  An REO can sit empty on the market for months, often falling into disrepair.  REOs are used as comparables by appraisers and thus drag down neighborhood property values.  Smaller numbers of REOs would be a positive sign for improved home values in the months ahead.

Additionally, from the point of view of an individual, a short sale is usually preferable in terms of both short and long-term impact.    A few of the advantages include the fact that a short sale does not have near the negative impact on a borrower’s credit score as a foreclosure;  there is no set time limit that disallows a borrower from buying again, and a short sale is not reported on a credit report for 7 years, as is a foreclosure.

If you have any questions about short sales, or any other real estate questions, please don’t hesitate to give me a call at 619-846-9249.

If you’ve ever wondered why we’re drowning in REO properties, it could be that banks are stupid.  No, I shouldn’t say that.  Let’s rephrase that more politely to read, “People in banks who make decisions about liquidating foreclosed properties perhaps lack any trace of common sense.”   See if you agree.

Last night I received an email from the asset manager in charge of one of my foreclosure listings.  In case you aren’t familiar with the lingo, the asset manager is often an employee of a third party company that is assigned bulk REOs by a bank.  It is his/her job to hire a Realtor to market the individual properties, act as an intermediary between the Realtor with the listing and the bank, and get the properties sold as quickly as possible for the most money. It is a stressful, high-pressure job.

I like the asset manager on this deal, and so far we’ve worked well together.  I’ve been waiting though for her to open escrow on a sale they approved early last week….an all cash offer of over $300K on a home that needs more than $50K in repairs.  The buyer is ready to close, and I can’t understand the hold-up.  So my asset manager sends me the following email, “We have an issue on this one. The offer is $80 under what I can accept. And no I am not kidding. Is the buyer willing to come up $80?”

$80 dollars????  Are you kidding me?  On a $300K all cash deal?  Geez! I’ll write the check myself!  Let’s just get it done!  So this is what we’re dealing with….a system that is so screwed-up that the person in charge of unloading foreclosed homes doesn’t have the authority to waive $80 bucks!  Sigh.  It’s going to be a long road back to a ‘normal’ real estate market…..

In an underwhelming report issued this week by Field Asset Services, the company revealed that people would rather buy a foreclosure that has new paint, carpet and appliances than a foreclosed home that has not been spruced-up.  Really?

Field Asset Services is a Texas based company that provides cleaning and rehab services to banks and companies holding REO properties.  In an independent study during the first half of 2010, 17,252 properties were tracked across 13 states.  The homes that were not rehabilitated were on the market for an average of 222 days while those that were rehabbed sold in 69 days.

The benefits are obvious.  Not only do banks cut their expenses associated with holding a property but neighborhood values are also improved by reducing the number of vacant homes.  It is also more likely that the home will be sold for more and bought by someone who is going to live in it versus an investor looking for a flip.  Everyone wins.

So at a cost of only $4000 – $8000 for the average rehab, why aren’t more banks willing to put some lipstick on the pig?  I wish I knew the answer to that one!  I was assigned a foreclosure listing back in September.  In early December, the bank finally got around to asking me for quotes to rehab the place.  I supplied 2 quotes at roughly $4200 each…..and I’m still waiting.   They won’t let me list the condo in the MLS, and won’t let me sell it to an investor…..because they’re still trying to decide if fixing the place is worth it!  Crazy!  And people wonder why there is a glut of REOs on the market?  I say slap on the make-up and get ‘em movin’!

For the first time in over 6 weeks interest rates for 15 and 30-year fixed mortgages rose…not much mind you, but they did increase.  15 year rates rose from an average of 3.62 to 3.74 percent, and the 30 year rate increased from an average of 4.21 to 4.34 percent.

According to the Mortgage Bankers Association we also saw a sharp drop in the number of applications submitted for the week ending October 15th, down by 10.5 percent from the previous week.  Refinance applications were down 11.2 percent and applications for home purchases were down 6.7 percent.

Now I’m no economics wiz, but even I can tell you that this is not good.  The MBA attributed the drop in applications to the slightly higher rates, but more importantly to public apprehension and confusion surrounding the mismanagement of foreclosure paper work by some banks and servicers.  So at a time when we have an increased number of foreclosures and short sales hitting the market, we have potential buyers of distressed properties pushing back, fearful that there could be issues in the transaction that would give them less than clear title.  And, oh yeah, let’s throw in a rate increase.

So once again, it appears that the banks are doing nothing to get us out of the mess they created….but of course, it’s not all bad for most of them.  Wells Fargo turned a profit of $3.35 billion for Q3, up from $3.24 billion a year ago.  I’m sure that warms the hearts of everyone who lost their home last quarter.

Numbers were released today for the month of September that show that foreclosures and inventories of bank-owned properties are on the rise in Washington, Oregon, Nevada, Arizona, and California.  The report was issued by ForeclosureRadar, a company that tracks every foreclosure in the five western states and provides auction updates.  Although several bank and loan servicers have announced that they are suspending foreclosures while investigating internal procedures, ForeclosureRadar analysts have yet to see any impact of this suspension on the numbers.

So the report is reminding us that nothing is getting any better, and in fact it’s getting worse.  Last month in California, the number of foreclosed properties that sold declined by 15.6% while inventories of bank-owned homes increased by 5.3%. And according to ForeclosureRadar’s CEO, Sean O’Toole, “…the reality is that far more homeowners are behind on their mortgage payments than are even in foreclosure.”  To me, this spells a further increase in the number of short sales and foreclosures, with no end in sight.

However, in the middle of this disheartening news, Mr. O’Toole voiced the only logical response to the real estate crisis that I’ve heard all year. “The clear problem in the housing market today is not foreclosures, but negative equity; and as long as the focus remains on the symptom rather than the disease we will see little progress towards real solutions and this crisis will drag on for years to come.”

Finally!  Someone gets it!  Negative equity is the real problem that needs to be addressed.  As I mentioned in my earlier post about the FHA principal reduction program, reducing the principal owed to be more in line with current values is the best and quickest way to curtail the growing number of strategic defaults.  Most people who have bought a home, want to keep their home…..but it has to make financial sense, especially in today’s struggling economy.  Reducing the principal amount owed not only makes the mortgage payment more affordable, it provides an incentive to stay and pay.

So from my perspective, until the banks and investors decide that taking a loss through principal reduction is preferable to taking a loss through foreclosure, our housing market will continue to disintegrate.  How many more foreclosures and short sales will it take before the banks are ready to listen?