Monday, May 18, 2009

Foreclosures Skyrocket - Help Doesn't

(NOTE: For reasons that are obvious to most of us, the majority of the financial information published, in print or by broadcast, has been about the economy in general, the mortgage crisis and the "fix" to it, the looming credit card disaster, or the stock market's on-going saga. Consequently, nearly all of the postings to deal with these issues. Other legal matters have not been forgotten)
We have all heard about the various federal plans to help homeowners keep their homes. Unfortunately, nearly all of the programs have had little impact to date, which has left borrowers who are in trouble at the mercy of the lenders/mortgage companies or the manager of the mortgage backed security ("MBS") that really owns the mortgage.

According to an article in the New York Times, published on May 14th, 55,000 homeowners have signed for assistance with one of the federal mortgage-relief programs. At first glance that may seem like a good response. Put into perspective though, in April there were 342,000 foreclosures. The point? The programs are not working. (see the chart from the New York Times above)

The Senate, without any support for the Senate Bill 61 from the White House to pass it, voted down legislation that would have made the mortgage lenders and the MBS managers pay attention and try to fix this country's biggest economic problem. The Bill would have given Bankruptcy judges the power to modify loans that were deemed unfair and predatory in nature. Lenders would have had to compromise or face the Courts. The Banking lobby killed it.

As long as the housing market continues to slide, and as long as foreclosures continue to climb, we will not see a major recovery in the general economy. One might argue that it is the 650,000 lost jobs last month that is the root cause of the recession (5,000,000+ jobs lost in the past 8 months). BUT, the crisis started when the mortgage market collapsed, loans that people could not afford adjusted, and the MBS that were being held nationally and internationally became worthless overnight. The MBS and CMBS (Commercial Mortgage Backed Securities), both of which are derivatives, represented trillions of dollars - yet the downfall of one "Bank", Lehman Brothers, began the chain reaction that has brought us to our knees.

There is little that can be done on the national political level, except for writing our elected representatives and asking that work for their constituents instead of the lobbyists. However, there are other steps that can be taken to help stricken borrowers.

The New York Federal Reserve Bank and the New York City Bar Assn. have set up a program to train lawyers to help victims of predatory lending practices, or the economy as it relates to home mortgages. The courses, offered at no cost to the participants provided each takes at least one pro bono (no fee based on the homeowners financial hardship) case in the next 12 months, will give the attorneys the knowledge to review all phases of the loan transaction to determine if the Lender/Broker/Originator took advantage of the Borrower, or if the Servicer is now committing violations of the Federal or State rules regarding collections, notices, foreclosure procedures, etc.

In Massachusetts, The Boston Bar Association has run similar type training, although not as comprehensive, as has The Mass Fair Housing Association in conjunction with the Hampden County Bar Assn ( western Mass) Foreclosure Task Force. Further, attorneys with experience in the field are handling those cases which come to them either on a pro bono basis, or if the borrower can pay, for a fee based on the ability to pay. The idea here is to do as much as we can to save houses.

At any given time, I have 5-8 predatory lending/hardship cases in process. The results are good so far, but each case takes a great deal of time, mainly on the telephone, on hold (listening to bad music). Each Lender and Servicer has different procedures that have to be followed; that is easy once you know what they are. The biggest issue is speaking to someone, on behalf of my client(s), who can make a decision or at least refer me to someone else who can do so. When I am doing a training course, I caution attorneys to just try to get their client(s) back to the place that the client really bargained for, and to have the attorney's fees paid by the Lender; not to try to get a big judgement against the Lender etc. The goal is to stop foreclosures and keep homes.

For example, I have a couple who Borrowed from Wells Fargo through a Broker, Direct Finance, whose representative (originator) promised a $1,200 per month payment, matching the existing loan. My clients were getting cash out of the closing to payoff credit card and medical debt. The closing where my clients actually signed all of the paperwork was a farce. The attorney that actually was the settlement agent (closing attorney - all of whom represent the Lender technically) was filling in for the Lender because the attorney that was supposed to do the work had a conflict in his schedule. The closing lasted 15-20 minutes. There was no way that the attorney could explain all of the documents and the terms of the loan to the borrowers in that time. In fact, the borrowers, my clients now, were just given paper after paper to sign - the attorney had another appointment.

When my clients finally received documents with the actual figures on them, the payment was $1,900 per month PLUS taxes and insurance, for a total of $2,200. This was $1,000 above what had been promised. My clients had been told that the rate would drop from the 7.75% they had, to 5.75 % which would make up the difference for the "cash out" portion of the refinance. Further, the Originator cannot be found - by me, the Broker, or the Lender. However he did the same thing, working for a different broker, to a couple to which he was referred by my clients. This indicates that there was a pattern and practice of fraud and deceit, at least by the originator and quite possibly by the Broker.

My sole job in the matter above is to make a deal so my clients can keep their home. We are not asking for punitive damages, or compensation for the stress, anxiety and "conscious suffering" my clients have been enduring since receiving a foreclosure notice. e simply want was my clients thought they were "buying", and my fees which a nominal in the context of the loan itself and the Lender's attorneys' fees.

If you are facing a foreclosure and the reason is not simply that you haven't paid the mortgage company, but could have, but is because of irregularities in the lending process or what you believe were problems, contact your State or local bar association for a referral to an attorney who is handling these type of cases. If you cannot find an attorney, feel free to contact us at the email address below, and we will try to get you a referral to competent counsel

Author's Copyright by Richard I. Isacoff, Esq., May 2009

1 comment:

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