Banks Rush to Revamp Foreclosure Rules

The rush is on for banks to meet a mid-June deadline in offering up plans on how they plan to meet a set of guidelines by U.S. regulators to clean up their foreclosure procedures. The banks will have another 60 days after that deadline to implement the changes.

As part of the rules set by U.S. regulators, 14 financial institutions will be required to provide a single point of contact to borrowers trying to modify a loan or in the foreclosure process as well as set “appropriate deadlines” for deciding whether borrowers can get a loan workout. Regulators are also requiring banks to ensure their staffing levels are on par to handle the flood of foreclosures and loan modifications.

Several banks have already taken steps to implement the changes.

For example, J.P. Morgan says it’s developing a software program to make it easier for employees and borrowers to track loan modification requests. It also has started providing borrowers with a “relationship manager” to help navigate the loan modification or foreclosure process.

Citigroup, which already provides a single point of contact, says in the next few months it’ll debut a “concierge” system that will provide a small team of employees to guide delinquent borrowers and home owners at risk of default.

Banks are also making efforts to speed up their loan modifications, after customers have complained of long delays from banks in responding to requests. For example, Los Angeles Neighborhood Housing Services says it takes an average of 141 days for its borrowers to get an answer on an initial loan modification request. Wells Fargo was found to have the fastest turnaround: Initial reviews averaged 79 days. But the bank says now 60 percent of its borrowers receive a decision five days after the company receives the request.

Banks are also increasing their staffing. J.P. Morgan has announced it’ll add up to 3,000 new home-lending jobs, and Bank of America plans to hire about 3,000 employees to focus on its troubled mortgages.

New Incentives From Fannie, Freddie

Banks and mortgage servicers also must meet new guidelines from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, announced this week, that aim for more loan modifications and prevent foreclosures from taking too long.

Mortgage servicers will be required to approach borrowers earlier, making contact frequently after just one missed payment.

The GSEs are also offering incentives: They’ll pay $1,600 in incentives depending on how quickly servicers complete a loan workout. They also will impose a $500 compensatory fee on servicers who do not complete loan modification applications within six months after the loan goes delinquent. The changes will go into effect in the second quarter.

Source: “Banks Rush to Improve Foreclosure Practices,” The Wall Street Journal (April 29, 2011)

Advertisements

BofA opens office for foreclosure alternatives

Bank of America announced Wednesday it had opened an office in Seattle to allow distressed homeowners whose mortgages it services to meet face to face with specialists and consider alternatives to foreclosure.

Meetings are by appointment only, available from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays and 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturdays. Bank of America customers can call the office at (206) 358-4338 to make an appointment.

The bank is also holding outreach events from 9 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. May 19-21 at the Meydenbauer Convention Center in Bellevue and the Spokane Convention Center. To register, go to www.bankofamerica.com/outreachevent or call toll-free (855) 201-7426.

New-Home Sales Gain Momentum

After three straight months of declines, sales of new homes got a boost last month, jumping 11 percent, according to the Commerce Department’s latest new-home sales report released Monday.

New-home sales rose in March to a seasonally adjusted rate of 300,000 homes, up from February’s 250,000. However, the number is still far from what economists view as a healthy 700,000-a-year pace for the sector.

The median price of a new home increased 3 percent from February to $213,800. New-home prices are about 34 percent higher than the median price of existing homes, according to economists.

Regionally, new-home sales saw the biggest boost in the Northeast, jumping nearly 67 percent in March. The West saw an increase in new-home sales last month by nearly 26 percent; the Midwest posted a 13 percent increase; and in the South, new-home sales dipped 0.6 percent.

The new-home market continues to be battered by a high number of foreclosures that continue to dampen home prices across the country. With 1.2 million foreclosures forecast this year, the new-home sales market may not see a major turnaround for years, according to RealtyTrac Inc.

However, while residential construction has decreased considerably in recent years, reports have recently shown building permits have increased 28 percent for apartment and condo buildings.

Source: “The number of people who bought new homes jumped 11 pct., but pace is far below healthy level,” Associated Press (April 25, 2011)

Analysts Say Housing Is on the Way Up

Analysts at both Standard & Poor’s and Barclays Capital agree that the uptick in home resales last month is a favorable sign of things to come. Because pending home sales — an indicator of future activity — were up in February, S&P believes transaction volume will rise for April.

Barclays, meanwhile, says March’s 3.7 percent gain in existing-home sales merely reinforces its position that the housing market actually hit bottom in late 2010.

Source: “Monday Morning Cup of Coffee,” Housing Wire, Jon Prior (04/25/11)

Property-tax deadline looms; need some help?

With the first installment of property taxes due May 2, Barbara Alsheikh has her work cut out for her.

“For many people, it is the first time they have really looked at the property-tax bill,” says Alsheikh, supervisor for the King County Tax Advisor Office.

“And before writing the check, they have questions about the value of their property, the levy rate and the amount due.”

The Tax Advisor Office is independent from the assessor and provides residents with advice and assistance, including appeals.

“We are, in effect, a one-stop shop for property questions,” she says.

The primary complaint this year, says Alsheikh, is that a drop in house values did not result in lower tax bills.

“It is a very tough year for many taxpayers,” she adds.

The property-tax bill is not based on real-estate markets at all. Like Ohio, Washington state operates under a “budget-based” property-tax system in which taxing districts, such as fire departments and library and school districts, submit their annual budgets to the assessor, who then determines the taxing rate necessary to meet the adopted budgets.

King County Assessor Lloyd Hara says several factors are at play.

“The most common is that voters approve a property-tax measure, typically a school levy, and that increases the overall property-tax levy that is reflected on the 2011 bill.”

Taxpayers in King County, on average, will pay about 3.33 percent more in property taxes this year, according to Treasury Operations Manager Scott Matheson.

Only 17 percent (or $624 million dollars) of property taxes support King County purposes, says Phillip Sit, Department of Assessments communication and outreach coordinator. The other 83 percent is divvied up among state and local government.

While taxpayers cannot appeal their property taxes, they have the right to appeal the valuation (assessment) of their property — the basis upon which their taxes are calculated — to the King County Board of Equalization, an independent board made up of citizens appointed by the King County executive. Generally, this must be done within 60 days from the time official property-value notices are received.

Alsheikh said her office typically handles about 800 calls in the first two weeks after billings are mailed in February.

Assessed value should not to be confused with market value, which is defined as the amount a buyer, willing but not obligated to buy, would pay to a seller, willing but not obligated to sell.

Assessed value is determined by actual sales and the real-estate market, rather than the current market, notes Alsheikh; assessed values use historical data, which lags behind real time by one or two years.

“Like any business, the budget for a public service tends to increase over time as employees’ wages and benefits, energy costs, transportation and facilities’ costs increase. In addition, voter-approved ballot issues tend to increase the taxes each year,” says Alsheikh.

Meanwhile, taxpayers who are unable to pay their property tax in full are encouraged to contact the Assessor’s Office. Additionally, seniors or disabled persons, may be able to qualify for a property-tax exemption or deferral program.

Alsheikh, for her part, won’t be slowing down anytime soon. She says her busiest season will begin in a month or two, when new official (property) value notices will be mailed out.

“We strive to put each taxpayer on “equal” footing with the assessor’s staff,” she says. “But we don’t take sides; we aren’t out to ‘beat’ the assessor. The goal for all three agencies [including the Office of the Assessor, the Treasury, and the Tax Advisor] is the same: fair and equitable distribution of property taxes.”

Of the 6,000 to 7,000 phone calls the office gets, Alsheikh said, perhaps 10 percent are asking for research and appeal advice.

At the end of last year, nearly 12,300 accounts, including households and undeveloped property for a business, hadn’t paid any taxes for 2010; and just below 12,750 accounts paid only the first half of their taxes owed for the same year according to Scott Matheson, Treasury Operations Manager for King County.

Together, those figures represent 3.7 percent of the 681,757 accounts that were billed last year. “Our historical collection rate,” notes Matheson, “has held steady at around 98 percent for the last several years, and we don’t expect to see a change this year.”

Source: By Elizabeth M. Economou, Seattle Times (4/22/2011)

WA State Bank Owned Foreclosure List

Page Opens in New Window:

Foreclosure Listings

Foreclosure Listings

More Borrowers Have ‘Strategy’ to Defaulting

More borrowers who can afford their mortgage payments are opting to stop making payments and walk away from their homes. But new research sets out to help lenders pinpoint the behavior that makes up these strategic defaulters.

According to research by FICO, these strategic defaulters pay their bills on time, rarely exceed their credit card limits, hardly use retail credit cards, have a reputable credit score, and tend to have a short occupancy in their current home.

“These are savvy people who organize themselves,” says Andrew Jennings, FICO’s chief analytics officer. “This is a planned activity, not an impulse activity.

Since they know their credit scores will be badly hit after they default, they even tend to open up new credit cards in advance to prepare, according to the FICO study.

“Mortgage payment patterns have shifted, and some borrowers are intentionally defaulting on their mortgages because they believe it is in their best financial interest, and because they believe the consequences will be minimal,” Jennings says. Most borrowers who strategically default owe much more on their home than it is currently worth.

But “before mortgage servicers can work effectively with potential strategic defaulters, they must first be able to identify them,” Jennings says.

That’s why FICO is releasing a new technology tool that will help lenders predict the probability of strategic default based on a borrower’s credit score.

“Our new research shows it is possible for servicers to find those at greatest risk of strategic default, both to prevent losses and to prevent borrowers from making a decision that will damage their credit future,” Jennings says.

How Many Are Out There?

Just how many home owners are “strategically” defaulting on their mortgage is difficult to estimate since “strategic defaulters have all the incentive to disguise themselves as people who cannot afford to pay,” according to researchers from the European University Institute, Northwestern University, and the University of Chicago. Yet, researchers have estimated about 35 percent of the defaults in September may have been strategic, up from 26 percent in March 2009.

As defaulters continue to weigh on the industry, housing experts say the real estate market will take even longer to recover since foreclosures drag home prices down.

Source: “‘Strategic Defaulters’ Pay Bills on Time and Plan Ahead, Study Finds,” The Washington Post (April 22, 2011) and “New FICO Technology Predicts Strategic Default,” HousingWire (April 20, 2011)