Posts Tagged ‘Mortgage Fraud’
by Charles Hugh Smith
July 20, 2011
Housing has been propped up by Central State intervention. As that ends, Phase II of the retrace to pre-bubble valuations is at hand.
Has housing bottomed? Here is the sure-fire way to tell:
Stories titled “Has housing bottomed? Here’s how to tell” have vanished for lack of interest.
The absence of stories about the bottom in housing will mark the final nadir, because the real bottom can only be reached when everyone has abandoned housing as a pathway to easy money. Only when the public and investor class alike have completely lost interest in real estate as a “sure-fire” investment can the real trough be reached.
This destruction of long-held habits and beliefs takes a long time. The closest analogy might be the stock market in the last secular Bear market. Stocks topped out in 1966, though the economy lumbered on until 1969 before faltering. Stocks then meandered for 13 years of stagflation, losing 66% of their inflation adjusted value in 1966 by 1982.
People gave up on stocks. I call this loss of faith “when belief in the system fades:” note how household participation in stocks topped out in 1969, three years after the peak in the market. Participants clung to their belief in stocks for about four years after 1969, at which point participation cratered as they finally abandoned their faith in a “permanent Bull market.”
Household participation fell by two-thirds and remained low for years.
In August 2006, near the top of the housing bubble, I suggested a three-part scenario for the housing bust: it would take eight more years to play out, and the declines would occur in sharp downlegs following a phase-shift model.
Phase Transitions, Symmetry and Post-Bubble Declines (August 2, 2006)
Here is the chart I presented at that time as a possible time model:
Here we see the first phase shift decline and the Central State engineered “recovery,” which has now rolled over.
Here is CoreLogic’s snapshot of housing (via Calculated Risk). There is still a long way to go down before the market retraces the entire bubble.
The Federal Reserve has bet that housing valuations can be propped up by lowering the interest rate on mortgages. To the degree that a few fence-sitters might be tempted to take the plunge, lower rates have a modest follow-through–but the real determinant of housing is employment, which as we all know, has tanked.
Here’s the civilian employment ratio, which reflects the percentage of the labor force that has a job:
Perhaps even more telling is the per capita rate of employment:
By this broad measure, employment has declined to levels last seen thirty years ago. We can also look for clues to housing’s future by looking at wages, which have dropped steeply:
These charts pose a simple yet profound question: how can people buy a still-expensive house if they don’t have a job, or their income is plummeting?
The proximate triggers for the next phase-shift down include a decline in Central State intervention in the housing market and a return to official “recession” as the “soft patch” turns into a quagmire.
In an era where “market sentiment” swings wildly from day to day and the nation awaits every quarterly report from Apple as the “definitive” bellwether not just on stocks but the entire Galactic Mood, then the notion that trends can take years to play out doesn’t sit well with our impatient demands for a “bottom.” But long-term trends take years to play out, whether we like it or not.
Read the entire article HERE.
By Carla Fried
Mar 31, 2011
Between the recent report that sales of new homes hit a record low in February and this week’s news that 19 of the 20 largest metro areas tracked by the Standard & Poor’s/Case-Shiller home price index saw a price slump in January, it hasn’t exactly been a stellar few weeks for the housing market. And yet another data dump tracking foreclosed and distressed homes that have yet to hit the markets – what’s known as “shadow inventory” – suggests things are not likely to get a whole lot better for a long time.
Supply Sigh Economics
More robust economic growth, a pickup in job creation (and wage growth), and a renewed desire by banks to actually write mortgages are all central pieces of any housing rebound. Job growth last month was indeed stronger than in past months, and a new survey of CEOs finds them increasingly upbeat about hiring. But even if those green shoots emerge, it may take a whole lot longer to see any pickup in home values given the alarming backlog of homes currently on the market, as well as homes that may soon be for sale.
In terms of homes for sale, we have three inventory tracks to keep an eye on:
* The official inventory: 3.5 million homes. The National Association of Realtors says the current inventory of existing homes that are listed for sale would take 8.6 months to work down at the current sales pace. In “normal” times, the inventory backlog is more in the vicinity of six months.
* The unofficial shadow inventory: 1.8 million homes. According to research firm CoreLogic, there’s another 1.8 million homes sitting in shadow inventory. These are homes that don’t yet show up in NAR’s Multiple Listing Service as being for sale, but that are likely to hit the market at some point. They include homes that banks have already foreclosed on but have yet to put up for sale, homes that are somewhere in the foreclosure process, and homes in which owners are at least 90 days late on their mortgage payments. CoreLogic estimates that those 1.8 million homes represents an additional 9 months of potential supply given the pace of how bank-owned property and pending foreclosures make their way to market.
* The severely underwater inventory: 2 million. CoreLogic uses this category to refer to homeowners that are at least 50 percent underwater on their mortgages. Now there’s nothing that says homeowners with negative equity will in fact walk away from their mortgages. But it’s reasonable to presume that short of a quick turnaround in home values or a settlement between the state attorneys general and lenders that leads to substantial loan modifications, a significant chunk of these homes will end up on the market in the coming months or years.
Add it all up, and NAR’s 8.6 month official backlog triples to about two years or so.
To get a sense of where your housing market stands, take a look at CoreLogic’s comparison of each state’s tally of mortgages that are at least 90 days late to its current sales rate. The states with the most distressed housing inventory are New Jersey, Illinois, Maryland, and Florida, while those with the least distressed inventory are North Dakota, Alaska, Wyoming, and Montana.
Of course, even state-level data doesn’t capture what’s going on in your local area. If you’re looking to buy or sell, one important step at this juncture is to look beyond the official sales and inventory data, and try to get a sense of local shadow inventory. This is where a solid and straight-up real estate agent is going to be crucial. You don’t want sugarcoating; you need an honest assessment of what’s in your local pipeline.
The fact that your local market has a large shadow inventory doesn’t necessarily mean more steep price declines. But if there is indeed a big backlog of shadow inventory, it’s hard to make a case that home values will rebound any time soon given the large supply that needs to come to market and be absorbed.
If you’re looking to buy, a high shadow inventory is seemingly an argument to take your time looking, but keep all the moving pieces of this in mind. For example, even if you don’t have to worry about rising prices, what about mortgage rates? No one can predict where mortgage rates will be in six months or a year, but we do know that current rates are at historic lows. As for sellers, well, if you really want to sell and you find you are in an area with a lot of shadow inventory, waiting might not be in your best interests. Even if prices stabilize, working through that backlog could make it a while before prices start to climb again.
Read the entire article HERE.
By MICHAEL POWELL and GRETCHEN MORGENSON
New York Times
Published: March 5, 2011
FOR more than a decade, the American real estate market resembled an overstuffed novel, which is to say, it was an engrossing piece of fiction.
Mortgage brokers hip deep in profits handed out no-doc mortgages to people with fictional incomes. Wall Street shopped bundles of those loans to investors, no matter how unappetizing the details. And federal regulators gave sleepy nods.
That world largely collapsed under the weight of its improbabilities in 2008.
But a piece of that world survives on Library Street in Reston, Va., where an obscure business, the MERS Corporation, claims to hold title to roughly half of all the home mortgages in the nation — an astonishing 60 million loans.
Never heard of MERS? That’s fine with the mortgage banking industry—as MERS is starting to overheat and sputter. If its many detractors are correct, this private corporation, with a full-time staff of fewer than 50 employees, could turn out to be a very public problem for the mortgage industry.
Judges, lawmakers, lawyers and housing experts are raising piercing questions about MERS, which stands for Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems, whose private mortgage registry has all but replaced the nation’s public land ownership records. Most questions boil down to this:
How can MERS claim title to those mortgages, and foreclose on homeowners, when it has not invested a dollar in a single loan?
And, more fundamentally: Given the evidence that many banks have cut corners and made colossal foreclosure mistakes, does anyone know who owns what or owes what to whom anymore?
The answers have implications for all American homeowners, but particularly the millions struggling to save their homes from foreclosure. How the MERS story plays out could deal another blow to an ailing real estate market, even as the spring buying season gets under way.
MERS has distanced itself from the dubious behavior of some of its members, and the company itself has not been accused of wrongdoing. But the legal challenges to MERS, its practices and its records are mounting.
The Arkansas Supreme Court ruled last year that MERS could no longer file foreclosure proceedings there, because it does not actually make or service any loans. Last month in Utah, a local judge made the no-less-striking decision to let a homeowner rip up his mortgage and walk away debt-free. MERS had claimed ownership of the mortgage, but the judge did not recognize its legal standing.
“The state court is attracted like a moth to the flame to the legal owner, and that isn’t MERS,” says Walter T. Keane, the Salt Lake City lawyer who represented the homeowner in that case.
And, on Long Island, a federal bankruptcy judge ruled in February that MERS could no longer act as an “agent” for the owners of mortgage notes. He acknowledged that his decision could erode the foundation of the mortgage business.
But this, Judge Robert E Grossman said, was not his fault.
“This court does not accept the argument that because MERS may be involved with 50 percent of all residential mortgages in the country,” he wrote, “that is reason enough for this court to turn a blind eye to the fact that this process does not comply with the law.”
With MERS under scrutiny, its chief executive, R. K. Arnold, who had been with the company since its founding in 1995, resigned earlier this year.
A BIRTH certificate, a marriage license, a death certificate: these public documents note many life milestones.
For generations of Americans, public mortgage documents, often logged in longhand down at the county records office, provided a clear indication of homeownership.
But by the 1990s, the centuries-old system of land records was showing its age. Many county clerk’s offices looked like something out of Dickens, with mortgage papers stacked high. Some clerks had fallen two years behind in recording mortgages.
For a mortgage banking industry in a hurry, this represented money lost. Most banks no longer hold onto mortgages until loans are paid off. Instead, they sell the loans to Wall Street, which bundles them into investments through a process known as securitization.
MERS, industry executives hoped, would pull record-keeping into the Internet age, even as it privatized it. Streamlining record-keeping, the banks argued, would make mortgages more affordable.
But for the mortgage industry, MERS was mostly about speed — and profits. MERS, founded 16 years ago by Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and big banks like Bank of America and JPMorgan Chase, cut out the county clerks and became the owner of record, no matter how many times loans were transferred. MERS appears to sell loans to MERS ad infinitum.
This high-speed system made securitization easier and cheaper. But critics say the MERS system made it far more difficult for homeowners to contest foreclosures, as ownership was harder to ascertain.
MERS was flawed at conception, those critics say. The bankers who midwifed its birth hired Covington & Burling, a prominent Washington law firm, to research their proposal. Covington produced a memo that offered assurances that MERS could operate legally nationwide. No one, however, conducted a state-by-state study of real estate laws.
“They didn’t do the deep homework,” said an official involved in those discussions who spoke on condition of anonymity because he has clients involved with MERS. “So as far as anyone can tell their real theory was: ‘If we can get everyone on board, no judge will want to upend something that is reasonable and sensible and would screw up 70 percent of loans.’ ”
County officials appealed to Congress, arguing that MERS was of dubious legality. But this was the 1990s, an era of deregulation, and the mortgage industry won.
“We lost our revenue stream, and Americans lost the ability to immediately know who owned a piece of property,” said Mark Monacelli, the St. Louis County recorder in Duluth, Minn.
And so MERS took off. Its board gave its senior vice president, William Hultman, the rather extraordinary power to deputize an unlimited number of “vice presidents” and “assistant secretaries” drawn from the ranks of the mortgage industry.
The “nomination” process was near instantaneous. A bank entered a name into MERS’s Web site, and, in a blink, MERS produced a “certifying resolution,” signed by Mr. Hultman. The corporate seal was available to those deputies for $25.
As personnel policies go, this was a touch loose. Precisely how loose became clear when a lawyer questioned Mr. Hultman in April 2010 in a lawsuit related to its foreclosure against an Atlantic City cab driver.
How many vice presidents and assistant secretaries have you appointed? the lawyer asked.
“I don’t know that number,” Mr. Hultman replied.
“I wouldn’t even be able to tell you, right now.”
In the thousands?
Each of those deputies could file loan transfers and foreclosures in MERS’s name. The goal, as with almost everything about the mortgage business at that time, was speed. Speed meant money.
ALAN GRAYSON has seen MERS’s record-keeping up close. From 2009 until this year, he served as the United States representative for Florida’s Eighth Congressional District — in the Orlando area, which was ravaged by foreclosures. Thousands of constituents poured through his office, hoping to fend off foreclosures. Almost all had papers bearing the MERS name.
“In many foreclosures, the MERS paperwork was squirrelly,” Mr. Grayson said. With no real legal authority, he says, Fannie and the banks eliminated the old system and replaced it with a privatized one that was unreliable.
A spokeswoman for MERS declined interview requests. In an e-mail, she noted that several state courts have ruled in MERS’s favor of late. She expressed confidence that MERS’s policies complied with state laws, even if MERS’s members occasionally strayed.
“At times, some MERS members have failed to follow those procedures and/or established state foreclosure rules,” the spokeswoman, Karmela Lejarde, wrote, “or to properly explain MERS and document MERS relationships in legal pleadings.”
Such cases, she said, “are outliers, reflecting case-specific problems in process, and did not repudiate the MERS business model.
Continue the article HERE.