Banks Have Recognized 60% of Expected Loan Charge-Offs: Moody’s

Gee, and here I thought that the Federal Reserve bought $1.4-$2 *trillion* of them! Let alone Lehman and its 50 billion in subprime mortgages that it “hid” (and what about all the other TARP/Federal Reserve member banks??)

BY: CARRIE BAY 6/3/2010 DSNEWS

n its latest quarterly report on credit conditions of the U.S. banking system, Moody’s Investors Service says banks’ asset quality issues are “past the peak” butcharge-offs and non-performers continue to eat away at profitability and sheer fundamentals.

Based on Moody’s market data, banks’ non-performing loans stood at 5.0 percent of total loan assets at March 31, 2010.

Moody’s says U.S. rated banks have already charged off or written-down $436 billion of loans in 2008, 2009, and the first quarter of 2010. That leaves another $307 billion to reach the rating agency’s full estimate of $744 billion of loan charge-offs from 2008 through 2011.

In aggregate, the banks have recognized 60 percent of Moody’s estimated total charge-offs and 65 percent of estimated residential mortgage losses, but only 45 percent of projected commercial real estate losses.

In the first quarter of this year, the banking industry’s collective annualized net charge-offs came to 3.3 percent of loans, versus 3.6 percent of loans in the fourth quarter

of 2009, Moody’s said. Despite two consecutive quarters of improvement in charge-offs, the ratings agency notes that the figures still remain near historic highs, dating back to the Great Depression.

According to Moody’s analysts, the decline in aggregate charge-offs was driven by commercial real estate improvement, which “we believe is likely to reverse in coming quarters,” they said in the report. A similar commercial real estate decline was experienced in the first quarter of 2009 before charge-offs accelerated through the rest of the year.

“The return to ‘normal’ levels of asset quality will be slow and uneven over the next 12 to 18 months,” said Moody’sSVP Craig Emrick.

But Emrick added that “Although remaining losses are sizable, they are beginning to look manageable in relation to bank’s loan loss allowances and tangible common equity.”

U.S. banks’ allowances for loan losses stood at $221 billion as of March 31, 2010, which is equal to 4.1 percent of loans, Moody’s reported. Although this can be used to offset a sizable portion of remaining charge-offs, banks will still require substantial provisions in 2010, the agency said.

Moody’s says its negative outlook for the U.S. banking system is driven by asset quality concerns and effects on profitability and capital. The agency’s ratings outlook is also influenced by the potential for a worse-than-expected macroeconomic environment, Moody’s said.

“More severe macroeconomic developments, the probability of which we place at 10 percent to 20 percent, would significantly strain U.S. bank fundamental credit quality,” Moody’s analysts wrote in their report.

Foreclosure has oft-unforeseen risk: Lawsuits from Lenders

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – June 3, 2010 – Before Larry Thomas unloaded his Pompano Beach, Fla., home last fall for a fraction of what he paid, he cut a deal that will keep him from worrying about a huge debt hanging over his head.

Thomas insisted that his lender, American Home Mortgage Servicing, agree not to come after him for the estimated $174,000 he still owed on his two mortgages. “I feel incredible relief,” the 32-year-old restaurant manager said last week. DinSFLA: (Note) The name of the “LENDER”… is actually the “SERVICER”. This is not good as they are NOT the “OWNER or the HOLDER” of this loan!!

Others may not be as fortunate.

Lenders will file a tidal wave of lawsuits against homeowners in the next few years as a way to recoup losses when home sales or foreclosure auctions don’t result in enough money to pay the mortgages in full, real estate and legal analysts say.

“It will be a dramatic problem because the borrowers will not know it’s coming,” said Frank Alexander, a law professor at Emory University in Atlanta.

Laws vary from state to state. In Florida, banks have five years from the date of the sale to file for so-called deficiency judgments and up to 20 years to collect. Lenders can garnish wages or make claims on borrowers’ assets.

Before the housing meltdown, few lenders filed these lawsuits. Foreclosures and short sales – selling for less than the mortgage amount – were relatively rare at the time, and many of the homeowners didn’t have sufficient assets to make it worth the banks’ time and expense.

But following the heady days of the housing boom that spawned millionaire investors seemingly overnight, it’s not uncommon for borrowers to default on mortgages while still holding lucrative investments.

As the next wave of the housing crisis plays out, those most in danger of getting slapped with lawsuits include angry homeowners who ransack properties they’re losing in foreclosure and borrowers who walk away from “underwater” mortgages. In both cases, analysts say, banks will want to discourage other people from such behavior.

More than four in 10 homeowners said they would consider abandoning properties that are underwater, or worth less than the mortgages, according to a national online survey released last week by real estate firms Trulia and RealtyTrac.

Mortgage companies typically won’t sue homeowners who negotiate in good faith or those who default on their loans because of job losses or other unforeseen circumstances, said Anthony Manno, an executive with Steelbridge Real Estate Services. The Miami-based company works with lenders on the resale of foreclosed homes.

Still, borrowers shouldn’t rely on a lender’s verbal commitment, Manno said. “Get something in writing.”

Critics insist that spite will play a role in some of these lawsuits. Lenders deny it.

“We certainly would not do that,” said Russell Greene, president of Grand Bank & Trust of Florida in West Palm Beach. “It’s a business decision – not an emotional decision. It’s very time-consuming to take someone to court.”

Even if lenders don’t pursue the judgments, they could sell mortgage debt to collection agencies at deep discounts. And it will be those debt collectors that will hound borrowers, said Shari Olefson, a Fort Lauderdale real estate lawyer.

“They paid money to be able to hassle you,” she said.

Thomas, the former Pompano Beach homeowner, said he didn’t have money for a downpayment but was approved for 100 percent financing on two loans in spring 2006. He bought a three-bedroom home for $245,000.

Thomas said he soon became responsible for the entire mortgage after his roommate lost his job. That became even more difficult after Thomas took a pay cut.

So he attempted a short sale, eventually finding plenty of prospective buyers interested in a property that had plummeted nearly 70 percent in value. He and American Home Mortgage accepted one offer for $80,000. After closing costs, the lender netted about $71,000, said his Fort Lauderdale lawyer, Joe Kohn.

But before the sale closed, Kohn had American Home Mortgage waive its right to collect on the remaining mortgage debt.

Christine Sullivan, a spokeswoman for the lender, wrote in an e-mail that she can’t discuss Thomas’ case because of privacy issues. But when homeowners seeking short sales demonstrate legitimate hardship, “we provide a full release of liability, and we do not pursue deficiency judgments.”

Some banks say they won’t file a lawsuit, though they aren’t willing to put that in writing, Kohn said.

“I have no choice but to accept that,” he said. “Even when you play by the rules, banks don’t always do what we’d like.”

Under new government guidelines for short sales that took effect this spring, lenders aren’t supposed to hold homeowners responsible for any remaining mortgage debt. But not all short sales fall under the guidelines, while some lenders choose not to implement them, Kohn said.

A forgiven mortgage balance through 2012 is not considered taxable income on a primary residence as long as the debt was used to buy or improve the house. But borrowers who walk away from investment properties risk having to pay federal income taxes on the forgiven amount.

Homeowners who hand their properties back to the bank through so-called deeds in lieu of foreclosure also should make sure they won’t be on the hook for any mortgage debt.

With friends facing deficiency judgments, Thomas said he’s grateful he sought legal advice on how to avoid a lawsuit. He now rents a home west of Boca Raton, but he just found out the owner is in foreclosure.

“I’ve escaped my own problem, only to inherit someone else’s,” Thomas said. “But this is nothing. It’s just a matter of picking up the pieces and moving on to the next rental.”

© 2010 Sun Sentinel, Paul Owers. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune News Service.

FINALLY!!! Supreme Court of Florida DENIES FORECLOSURE MILLS Ben-Ezra and Katz, P.A.’s Motion for Rehearing and Shapiro and Fishman, LLP’s Motion for Rehearing

via 4ClosureFraud

RE: Verification of Complaints

NO MORE EXCUSES

Supreme Court of Florida

THURSDAY, JUNE 3, 2010
CASE NOS.: SC09-1460 AND SC09-1579
IN RE: AMENDMENTS TO THE FLORIDA RULES OF CIVIL PROCEDURE IN
RE: AMENDMENTS TO THE FLORIDA RULES OF CIVIL PROCEDURE – FORM 1.996
(FINAL JUDGMENT OF FORECLOSURE)

In light of the revised opinion, Ben-Ezra and Katz, P.A.’s Motion for Rehearing and Shapiro and Fishman, LLP’s Motion for Rehearing or Clarification are hereby

DENIED

IN RE: AMENDMENTS TO THE FLORIDA RULES OF CIVIL PROCEDURE

REVISED

VICTORY IN ARIZONA: COURT STOPS SALE WHERE BORROWER PRESENTED EVIDENCE OF FRAUDULENT NOTICE OF TRUSTEE’S SALE

May 31, 2010

On Friday afternoon, May 28, 2010, an Arizona state court entered a restraining order cancelling a June 1, 2010 Trustee’s Sale of the borrower’s home which sale had been scheduled by Defendants MERS, Aurora Loan Servicing, and Quality Loan Service. The borrower presented evidence that the Notice of Trustee’s Sale prepared by Defendant QLS was fraudulent, as it claimed that the “current beneficiary” was Defendant Aurora when in fact the purported MERS assignment to Aurora did not occur until one month after the Notice of Trustee’s Sale was generated.

The borrower also cited to the Court the recent decision of the Arizona Bankruptcy Court in the matter of In Re Weisbrod, in which the Bankruptcy Court essentially stripped MERS of its purported authority and which case cites the In Re Sheridan decision from the Idaho Bankruptcy Court and others. The Weisbrod decision has been hailed as a rejection of the Blau and Cervantes pro-MERS decisions from 2009, and is in line and consistent with the findings of the Supreme Courts of Kansas, Nebraska, and Arkansas; the states courts of Vermont, Missouri, and South Carolina; and the Bankruptcy Courts of Idaho and Nevada which have dissected the purported expansion of MERS’ alleged “authority” in mortgages and Deeds of Trust where MERS on the one hand attempts to confine itself to “only a nominee” but later attempts to anoint itself with the power to assign mortgages and notes and institute or further foreclosures.

The great majority of the courts are finally starting to see though MERS’ facade and relegate MERS to what it really is: nothing more than an entity which tracks the transfer of mortgages.

The borrower is represented by Jeff Barnes, Esq., who prepared the litigation and memorandum of law, and local Arizona counsel Lynn Keeling, Esq. who obtained the restraining order.

Jeff Barnes, Esq., www.ForeclosureDefenseNationwide.com

Bank of America RECORDED CALL regarding FORECLOSURE FRAUD *MUST LISTEN*

I think this is what WE all go through!

jwerner79 — April 25, 2009 — This call happened 4/24/09 whereas a Countrywide representative called me, Jason Werner, literally while I was driving home from a pre-mediation conference. The loan amount is less than $50,000. This is a good example of a crime trying to be covered by the Treasury. Please see my comments to follow. Thank you.

BANK OF AMERICA channels BRITNEY SPEARS “OOPS I DID IT AGAIN”: Foreclosing AGAIN on a MORTGAGE FREE HOME!

ARE YOU NEXT?

"Oops I did it Again"

Tuolumne Woman Owns Home Outright

POSTED: 3:58 pm PDT May 26, 2010
UPDATED: 5:53 pm PDT May 26, 2010

TUOLUMNE, Calif. — Nancy Willmes paid cash for her Tuolumne home in 2001. So she was quite surprised when Bank of America send her a notice of default on the property in February.

“I honestly felt like Bank of America was trying to steal my property,” Willmes said.

She contacted Bank of America to try to find out why the bank believed it could foreclose on property she had purchased outright.

Willmes has chain-of-ownership records, which show Bank of America had sold the property to Fannie Mae years earlier. Fannie Mae foreclosed on the previous owner, and Willmes purchased the property with cash from Fannie Mae.

But Willmes said Bank of America did not care about the documentation.

The bank proceeded with the foreclosure, placing ads in the local paper and nailing a foreclosure notice to her door.

“I called the title company, the title company called B of A, and they refused to rescind it,” Willmes said.
Fearful she would lose her home to the bank, Willmes called KCRA Call 3, and a Call 3 volunteer contacted Bank of America.

Willmes said that’s when Bank of America began returning her phone calls.

The bank rescinded the notice of trustee sale, stopping the foreclosure.

In a statement to KCRA 3, Bank of America said the problem was a system error. It said it updated its records and canceled the sale.

“This is my whole life. This is my future,” Willmes said. “I’ve got to thank you guys for basically giving me back my home. That is a big relief.”

Copyright 2010 by KCRA.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

One Size Fits All Doesn’t Work! MERS/CITIMORTGAGE PreLIMINARY INJUNCTION Dalton V. CitiMortgage Reno, Nevada No. 3:09-CV-534-RCJ (VPC) 2009

“One Size DOES NOT FIT ALL”

This is a case where Plaintiff’s counsel aggressively sought to have all foreclosures stopped due to no standing. He states “Thats why the MERS system tried to be a nationwide system”.

“One Size Fits All Doesn’t Work”

The Conclusion…If we could only turn back time: IN THE MATTER OF MERSCORP, INC. v. Romaine, 2005 NY Slip Op 9728 – NY: Supreme Court, Appellate Div., 2nd Dept. 2005

2005 NY Slip Op 09728

IN THE MATTER OF MERSCORP, INC., ET AL., appellants-respondents,
v.
EDWARD P. ROMAINE, ETC., ET AL., respondents-appellants.

2004-04735.

Appellate Division of the Supreme Court of New York, Second Department.

Decided December 192005.

Hiscock & Barclay, LLP, Buffalo, N.Y. (Charles C. Martorana of counsel), for appellants-respondents.

Cahn & Cahn, LLP, Melville, N.Y. (Richard C. Cahn and Daniel K. Cahn of counsel), for respondents-appellants.

Bainton McCarthy, LLC, New York, N.Y. (J. Joseph Bainton of counsel), for American Land Title Association, amicus curiae.

Decher, LLP, New York, N.Y. (Joseph P. Forte and Kathleen N. Massey of counsel), for Mortgage Bankers Association, amicus curiae.

Howard Lindenberg, McLean, VA., for Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation, amicus curiae, and Kenneth Scott, Washington, D.C., for Federal National Mortgage Association, amicus curiae (one brief filed).

Brigitte Amiri, Brooklyn, N.Y., for South Brooklyn Legal Services, amicus curiae, April Carrie Charney, Jacksonville, FL., for Jacksonville Area Legal Aid, Inc., amicus curiae, and Daniel P. Lindsey, Chicago, IL, for Legal Assistance Foundation of Metropolitan Chicago, amicus curiae (one brief filed).

Before: ROBERT W. SCHMIDT, J.P., BARRY A. COZIER, REINALDO E. RIVERA, STEVEN W. FISHER, JJ.

DECISION & ORDER

ORDERED that the order and judgment is modified, on the law, by (1) deleting the provision thereof denying that branch of the petitioners’ motion for summary judgment which was to compel the Suffolk County Clerk to record and index the subject assignments and discharges, and substituting therefor a provision granting that branch of the motion, and (2) adding thereto a provision declaring that the mortgages, assignments, and discharges which name Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems, Inc., as the lender’s nominee or the mortgagee of record are acceptable for recording and indexing; as so modified, the order and judgment is affirmed insofar as appealed and cross-appealed from, with one bill of costs to the petitioner.

The petitioners, MerscorpInc. (hereinafter Merscorp), and its subsidiary, Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems, Inc. (hereinafter MERS), operate a national electronic registration system (hereinafter the MERS System) for residential mortgages and related instruments (hereinafter MERS Instruments). In essence, lenders who subscribe to the MERS System (hereinafter MERS Members) designate MERS as their nominee or the mortgagee of record for the purpose of recording MERS Instruments in the county where the subject real property is located. The MERS Instruments are registered in a central database, which tracks all future transfers of the beneficial ownership interests and servicing rights among MERS Members throughout the life of the loan.

Merscorp and MERS commenced this hybrid proceeding and action in response to the announcement by the Suffolk County Clerk (hereinafter the Clerk) that, as of May 1, 2001, he would no longer accept MERS Instruments that listed MERS as the mortgagee or nominee of record unless MERS was, in fact, the actual mortgagee. In June 2002 this court granted the motion by Merscorp and MERS to preliminarily compel the Clerk to record MERS Instruments and list MERS as the mortgagee in the County’s alphabetical indexes pending the SupremeCourt’s determination of the hybrid proceeding and action on the merits (see Matter ofMerscorp, Inc. v. Romaine, 295 AD2d 431).

The Supreme Court properly compelled the Clerk to record MERS mortgages (seeKlostermann v. Cuomo, 61 NY2d 525, 539). In short, the Clerk has a statutory duty that is ministerial in nature to record a written conveyance if it is duly acknowledged and accompanied by the proper fee (see Real Property Law §§ 290[3], 291; County Law § 525[1]). Accordingly, the Clerk does not have the authority to refuse to record a conveyance which satisfies the narrowly-drawn prerequisites set forth in the recording statute (see People ex rel. Frost v. Woodbury, 213 NY 51; People ex rel. Title Guar.& Trust Co. v. Grifenhagen, 209 NY 569;Matter of Westminster Hgts. Co. v. Delany, 107 App Div 577, affd 185 NY 539; Putnam v. Stewart, 97 NY 411).

Similarly, Real Property Law § 316-a (1), which only applies to the Suffolk County indexing system, provides that the Clerk must record and index “[e]very instrument affecting real estate or chattels real, situated in the county of Suffolk, which shall be, or which shall have been recorded in the office of the clerk of said county . . . pursuant to the provisions of this act.” Pursuant to Real Property Law § 316-a(2), the Clerk must maintain the indexes so they “contain the date of recording of each instrument, the names of the parties to each instrument and the liber and page of the record thereof” (see also Real Property Law § 316-a[4] and [5]). Thus, the Clerk’s duty to index recorded instruments is mandatory and ministerial in nature.

Contrary to the Supreme Court’s determination, there is no valid distinction between MERS mortgages and MERS assignments or discharges for the purpose of recording and indexing. Pursuant to Real Property Law § 321(1), the discharge document may be signed either by the mortgagee, the person who appears from the public record to be the last assignee, or their personal representatives.

As the proponents of a motion for summary judgment, Merscorp and MERS made a prima facie showing that they were entitled to judgment as a matter of law by tendering sufficient evidence to establish that they complied with the applicable recording statutes (see Winegrad v. New York Univ. Med. Ctr., 64 NY2d 851, 853Artistic Landscaping v. Board of Assessors,303 AD2d 699). Once this showing was made, the burden shifted to the Clerk, who failed to raise a triable issue of fact in opposition to the motion (Alvarez v. Prospect Hosp., 68 NY2d 320, 324Zuckerman v. City of New York, 49 NY2d 557, 562).

Since this is a declaratory judgment action, the order and judgment must be modified, inter alia, by adding a declaration that the mortgages, assignments, and discharges which name MERS as the lender’s nominee or the mortgagee of record are acceptable for recording and indexing (see Lanza v. Wagner, 11 NY2d 317, 334, appeal dismissed 371 US 74, cert denied372 US 901).

SCHMIDT, J.P., COZIER, RIVERA and FISHER, JJ., concur.

RELATED ARTICLE:

This case might have put MERS in the SPOT LIGHT: MATTER OF MERSCORP, INC. v. Romaine, 295 AD 2d 431 – NY: Supreme Court, Appellate Div., 2nd Dept. 2002

ARE FORECLOSURE MILLS Coercing Buyers for BANK OWNED homes? ARE ALL THE MILLS?

YOU MUST use Sellers Title Company! If you BUY before 6/30 I will give you an extra 3.5% towards your CC!
YOU MUST use Sellers Title Company! If you do by 6/30 I will give you an extra 3.5% towards your CC!
Found this in Trulia but it may get deleted once this is posted. It’s ok …thanks to Baby Jesus I saved it! But it goes exactly like this:

fannie mae owned.bank property. property is vacant.all offers requiring financing must have preapproval letter.all cash offer require proof of fund(see attachement).this property is eligible for home path renovation mortgage-as little as 3% down.buyer must close with seller closing agent(david j. stern law offices,p.a).investors not eligible for first 15days.*for showing instr please read broker remarks* note:offers must be submitted using attachment.close by 30 june and receive extra 3.5% in closing cost

Looking further into this I noticed the following:

  • Still in the name of the owner
  • NOT named under any REO
  • Home last sold for 245K
  • Now listed at 120K

Here is the BIGGEST:

I found a Bank-owned packet for this “SPECIALLY SELECTED” Agent/BROKER in many other REO’s and in this package it states the following:

9) Which title companies are the sellers and who do I make out the earnest money deposit to once offer is verbally accepted?

a. PLEASE LOOK ON MLX REMARKS FOR TITLE COMPANY. MLX WILL HAVE ONE OF THE FOLLOWING:
i. David Stern, P.A.
ii. Marshall C. Watson, P.A.
iii. Smith, Hiatt, & Diaz, P.A.
iv. Butler & Hosch, P.A.
v. Shapiro & Fishman, P.A.
vi. Spear & Hoffman, P.A.
vii. Adorno & Yoss, P.A.
viii. Watson Title

ix. New House Title (This is registered with FDLG address 9119 CORPORATE LAKE DRIVE, SUITE 300 TAMPA FL 33634)

10) Can the buyer use their own title company or must they use the title company selected by seller?

a. The buyer MUST HOLD ESCROW with Fannie Mae Title Company as stated on MLX.

NOW are we unleashing another dimension to this never ending SAGA?

We recently found out about WTF!!! DJSP Enterprises, Inc. Announces Agreement to Acquire Timios, Inc., Expand Presence Into 38 States , so is this a way for the Mills to Monopolize on the sales of these properties??

HERE IS same Agent/Broker for a FLORIDA DEFAULT LAW GROUP property:

THIS IS FANNIE MAE HOMEPATH PROPERTY.BANK OWNED.ALL OFFERS REQUIRING FINANCING MUST HAVE PREAPPROVAL LETTER. ALL CASH OFFERS REQUIRE PROOF OF FUNDS. THIS PROPERTY IS APPROVED FOR HOMEPATH AND HOMEPATH RENOVATION MORTGAGE FINANCING-AS LITTLE AS 3% DOWN,NO APPRAISAL OR MORTGAGE INSURANCE REQUIRED! ** FOR SHOWING INST PLEASE READ BROKER REMARKS** YOU MUST SUBMIT OFFER USING ATTACHMENT! INVESTORS NOT ELIGIBLE FOR FIRST 15DAYS.CLOSE BY JUNE 30 TO BE ELIGIBLE FOR EXTRA 3.5% SC. EMD: FL DEFAULT LAW GROUP.

Here is another same Agent/Broker for MARSHALL C. WATSON property:

FANNIE MAE OWNED.BANK PROPERTY. PROPERTY IS VACANT.ALL OFFERS REQUIRING FINANCING MUST HAVE PREAPPROVAL LETTER.ALL CASH OFFERS REQUIRE PROOF OF FUNDS(SEE ATTACHEMENT).THIS PROPERTY IS ELIGIBLE FOR HOME PATH RENOVATION MORTGAGE-AS LITTLE AS 3% DOWN.BUYER MUST CLOSE WITH SELLER CLOSING AGENT (LAW OFFICES OF MARSHALL C. WATSON).INVESTOR NOT ELIGIBLE FOR FIRST 15DAYS.*FOR SHOWING INSTR PLEASE READ BROKER REMARK* NOTE:OFFERS MUST BE SUBMITTED USING ATTACHMENT.CLOSE BY JUNE 30 TO GET 3.5% EXTRA IN CLOSING COST

Does the JUNE 30th Closing Day have any significance??

MAYBE it’s because of this? MERS May NOT Foreclose for Fannie Mae effective 5/1/2010I am just trying to make sense of this…Is there a grace period that followed?

  • What “if” the BUYER selects their own Title company? Does this eliminate their chances of ever even being considered as a buyer?
  • Why even bother to state this?
  • Is this a way for the selected Agent/ Broker to find the buyer and discourage other agents or buyers from viewing?
  • Was this at all even necessary to state?
  • Is this verbiage to coerce agents to get a higher commission rather than pass down the incentive of 3.5% towards closing cost “if” under contract by 6/30?
  • Why do investors have to refrain from buying for the first 15 days?

Coercion (pronounced /koʊˈɜrʃən/) is the practice of forcing another party to behave in an involuntary manner (whether through action or inaction) by use of threats, intimidation, trickery, or some other form of pressure or force. Such actions are used as leverage, to force the victim to act in the desired way. Coercion may involve the actual infliction of physical pain/injury or psychological harm in order to enhance the credibility of a threat. The threat of further harm may lead to the cooperation or obedience of the person being coerced. Torture is one of the most extreme examples of coercion i.e. severe pain is inflicted until the victim provides the desired information.

RELATED STORY:

LENDER PROCESSING SERVICES (LPS) BUYING UP HOMES AT AUCTIONS? Take a look to see if this address is on your documents!

Tracking Loans Through a Firm That Holds Millions: MERS

Kevin P. Casey for The New York Times: Darlene and Robert Blendheim of Seattle are struggling to keep their home after their subprime lender went out of business.

By MIKE McINTIRE NYTimes
Published: April 23, 2009

Judge Walt Logan had seen enough. As a county judge in Florida, he had 28 cases pending in which an entity called MERS wanted to foreclose on homeowners even though it had never lent them any money.

Into the Mortgage NetherworldGraphicInto the Mortgage Netherworld

MERS, a tiny data-management company, claimed the right to foreclose, but would not explain how it came to possess the mortgage notes originally issued by banks. Judge Logan summoned a MERS lawyer to the Pinellas County courthouse and insisted that that fundamental question be answered before he permitted the drastic step of seizing someone’s home.

Daniel Rosenbaum for The New York Times R. K. Arnold, MERS president, said the company helped reduce mortgage fraud and imposed order on the industry.

“You don’t think that’s reasonable?” the judge asked.

“I don’t,” the lawyer replied. “And in fact, not only do I think it’s not reasonable, often that’s going to be impossible.”

Judge Logan had entered the murky realm of MERS. Although the average person has never heard of it, MERS — short for Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems — holds 60 million mortgages on American homes, through a legal maneuver that has saved banks more than $1 billion over the last decade but made life maddeningly difficult for some troubled homeowners.

Created by lenders seeking to save millions of dollars on paperwork and public recording fees every time a loan changes hands, MERS is a confidential computer registry for trading mortgage loans. From an office in the Washington suburbs, it played an integral, if unsung, role in the proliferation of mortgage-backed securities that fueled the housing boom. But with the collapse of the housing market, the name of MERS has been popping up on foreclosure notices and on court dockets across the country, raising many questions about the way this controversial but legal process obscures the tortuous paths of mortgage ownership.

If MERS began as a convenience, it has, in effect, become a corporate cloak: no matter how many times a mortgage is bundled, sliced up or resold, the public record often begins and ends with MERS. In the last few years, banks have initiated tens of thousands of foreclosures in the name of MERS — about 13,000 in the New York region alone since 2005 — confounding homeowners seeking relief directly from lenders and judges trying to help borrowers untangle loan ownership. What is more, the way MERS obscures loan ownership makes it difficult for communities to identify predatory lenders whose practices led to the high foreclosure rates that have blighted some neighborhoods.

In Brooklyn, an elderly homeowner pursuing fraud claims had to go to court to learn the identity of the bank holding his mortgage note, which was concealed in the MERS system. In distressed neighborhoods of Atlanta, where MERS appeared as the most frequent filer of foreclosures, advocates wanting to engage lenders “face a challenge even finding someone with whom to begin the conversation,” according to a report by NeighborWorks America, a community development group.

To a number of critics, MERS has served to cushion banks from the fallout of their reckless lending practices.

“I’m convinced that part of the scheme here is to exhaust the resources of consumers and their advocates,” said Marie McDonnell, a mortgage analyst in Orleans, Mass., who is a consultant for lawyers suing lenders. “This system removes transparency over what’s happening to these mortgage obligations and sows confusion, which can only benefit the banks.”

A recent visitor to the MERS offices in Reston, Va., found the receptionist answering a telephone call from a befuddled borrower: “I’m sorry, ma’am, we can’t help you with your loan.” MERS officials say they frequently get such calls, and they offer a phone line and Web page where homeowners can look up the actual servicer of their mortgage.

In an interview, the president of MERS, R. K. Arnold, said that his company had benefited not only banks, but also millions of borrowers who could not have obtained loans without the money-saving efficiencies it brought to the mortgage trade. He said that far from posing a hurdle for homeowners, MERS had helped reduce mortgage fraud and imposed order on a sprawling industry where, in the past, lenders might have gone out of business and left no contact information for borrowers seeking assistance.

“We’re not this big bad animal,” Mr. Arnold said. “This crisis that we’ve had in the mortgage business would have been a lot worse without MERS.”

About 3,000 financial services firms pay annual fees for access to MERS, which has 44 employees and is owned by two dozen of the nation’s largest lenders, including Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo. It was the brainchild of the Mortgage Bankers Association, along with Fannie MaeFreddie Mac and Ginnie Mae, the mortgage finance giants, who produced a white paper in 1993 on the need to modernize the trading of mortgages.

At the time, the secondary market was gaining momentum, and Wall Street banks and institutional investors were making millions of dollars from the creative bundling and reselling of loans. But unlike common stocks, whose ownership has traditionally been hidden, mortgage-backed securities are based on loans whose details were long available in public land records kept by county clerks, who collect fees for each filing. The “tyranny of these forms,” the white paper said, was costing the industry $164 million a year.

“Before MERS,” said John A. Courson, president of the Mortgage Bankers Association, “the problem was that every time those documents or a file changed hands, you had to file a paper assignment, and that becomes terribly debilitating.”

Although several courts have raised questions over the years about the secrecy afforded mortgage owners by MERS, the legality has ultimately been upheld. The issue has surfaced again because so many homeowners facing foreclosure are dealing with MERS.

Advocates for borrowers complain that the system’s secrecy makes it impossible to seek help from the unidentified investors who own their loans. Avi Shenkar, whose company, the GMA Modification Corporation in North Miami Beach, Fla., helps homeowners renegotiate mortgages, said loan servicers frequently argued that “investor guidelines” prevented them from modifying loan terms.

“But when you ask what those guidelines are, or who the investor is so you can talk to them directly, you can’t find out,” he said.

MERS has considered making information about secondary ownership of mortgages available to borrowers, Mr. Arnold said, but he expressed doubts that it would be useful. Banks appoint a servicer to manage individual mortgages so “investors are not in the business of dealing with borrowers,” he said. “It seems like anything that bypasses the servicer is counterproductive,” he added.

When foreclosures do occur, MERS becomes responsible for initiating them as the mortgage holder of record. But because MERS occupies that role in name only, the bank actually servicing the loan deputizes its employees to act for MERS and has its lawyers file foreclosures in the name of MERS.

The potential for confusion is multiplied when the high-tech MERS system collides with the paper-driven foreclosure process. Banks using MERS to consummate mortgage trades with “electronic handshakes” must later prove their legal standing to foreclose. But without the chain of title that MERS removed from the public record, banks sometimes recreate paper assignments long after the fact or try to replace mortgage notes lost in the securitization process.

This maneuvering has been attacked by judges, who say it reflects a cavalier attitude toward legal safeguards for property owners, and exploited by borrowers hoping to delay foreclosure. Judge Logan in Florida, among the first to raise questions about the role of MERS, stopped accepting MERS foreclosures in 2005 after his colloquy with the company lawyer. MERS appealed and won two years later, although it has asked banks not to foreclose in its name in Florida because of lingering concerns.

Last February, a State Supreme Court justice in Brooklyn, Arthur M. Schack, rejected a foreclosure based on a document in which a Bank of New York executive identified herself as a vice president of MERS. Calling her “a milliner’s delight by virtue of the number of hats she wears,” Judge Schack wondered if the banker was “engaged in a subterfuge.”

In Seattle, Ms. McDonnell has raised similar questions about bankers with dual identities and sloppily prepared documents, helping to delay foreclosure on the home of Darlene and Robert Blendheim, whose subprime lender went out of business and left a confusing paper trail.

“I had never heard of MERS until this happened,” Mrs. Blendheim said. “It became an issue with us, because the bank didn’t have the paperwork to prove they owned the mortgage and basically recreated what they needed.”

The avalanche of foreclosures — three million last year, up 81 percent from 2007 — has also caused unforeseen problems for the people who run MERS, who take obvious pride in their unheralded role as a fulcrum of the American mortgage industry.

In Delaware, MERS is facing a class-action lawsuit by homeowners who contend it should be held accountable for fraudulent fees charged by banks that foreclose in MERS’s name.

Sometimes, banks have held title to foreclosed homes in the name of MERS, rather than their own. When local officials call and complain about vacant properties falling into disrepair, MERS tries to track down the lender for them, and has also created a registry to locate property managers responsible for foreclosed homes.

“But at the end of the day,” said Mr. Arnold, president of MERS, “if that lawn is not getting mowed and we cannot find the party who’s responsible for that, I have to get out there and mow that lawn.”