CALIFORNIA: NEW BILL SB 1275 May allow homeowners to REVERSE FORECLOSURE SALES due to SERVICER’S ERRORS

Carrie Bay 6/4/2010 DSNEWS

The California Senate approved a new foreclosure bill on Thursday with a 21 to 12 vote and sent it on to the Assembly for review. The legislation lays out two major provisions intended to deter lax behavior on the part of servicers and prevent avoidable foreclosures in the state, which continues to post one of the nation’s highest foreclosure rates.

The bill would provide a means of recourse to homeowners whose homes were lost to foreclosure due to serious servicer errors, and it would prohibit servicers from starting the foreclosure process until a homeowner has received a final decision on their modification.

According to a statement from the Center for Responsible Lending (CRL), confusion and errors that cost Californians their homes, are devastating to the state’s housing market, but are avoidable.

If a borrower’s home is sold in foreclosure due to servicer error, there is currently no means by which to seek recourse. The bill, SB 1275, authored by Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) and Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento), seeks to change this by providing recourse through what is known as a private right of action.

This would allow eligible homeowners to seek limited damages which are directly related to the severity of the servicer’s errors, or, in some cases, would allow the homeowner to reverse the foreclosure sale.

During earlier committee hearings for SB 1275, servicers acknowledged that confusion and errors are commonplace. According to CRL, Bank of America executive Jack Schackett even admitted during a conference call that they “have not handled [their] customers to the standards Bank of America is accustomed to.”

“It’s unacceptable that when servicers lose faxes and lose payments, some Californians lose their homes,” said Caryn Becker, policy counsel with the CRL California office. “At nearly 1 million foreclosures and counting, we need to prevent every unnecessary foreclosure we can.”

Speaking in support of the bill’s passage, CRL said homeowners who have been wronged deserve the opportunity to make it right, but the organization says the legislation continues to face some opposition from Assembly members who oppose allowing California homeowners to pursue claims against their lenders and servicers.

SB 1275 would also prohibit servicers from foreclosing on homeowners who have requested modifications until a decision has been made, and the homeowner has been notified.

CRL says currently, servicers are initiating the foreclosure process even when borrowers are working to reach a resolution, including when homeowners are following all the rules to seek a loan modification, or are already making payments on a trial modification.

“Simple fairness dictates that no one should lose their home while they are in the middle of trying to save it,” said Paul Leonard, director of the California office of the Center for Responsible Lending. “A foreclosure that starts because a servicer’s left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing is the most preventable foreclosure of all.”

SB 1275 will be heard by the Assembly Banking Committee before it goes to the full Assembly for a vote. Assembly members are currently considering a separate bill, AB 1639, that would mandate foreclosure mediation through a new Facilitated Mortgage Workout (FMW) program, which would require lenders to meet with delinquent borrowers to try and devise an alternative plan of action before proceeding with foreclosure.

Q & A: What’s Next for Fannie and Freddie? WSJ

MAY 24, 2010, 9:53 AM ET

By Nick Timiraos

It turns out that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, already becoming the most expensive legacy for taxpayers from the financial crisis, aren’t just too big too fail. As my column in Monday’s WSJ explains, they’re also proving too tough to reform.

Here’s a closer look at five common questions about what’s happening with—and what’s next for—Fannie and Freddie:

1. Why doesn’t the financial-overhaul bill address Fannie and Freddie?

The Obama administration says it’s too soon to take action to address the future of the housing-finance giants because markets are still fragile, and others have said the bill is already too complex without Fannie and Freddie in the mix.

Revamping the housing-finance giants, which own or guarantee around half of the nation’s $10.3 trillion in home mortgages, was never going to be easy. But the fact that, together with the Federal Housing Administration, the companies guaranteed 96.5% of all new mortgages last quarter has made the challenge only greater.

During the debate on financial-overhaul legislation, Republicans proposed measures that would have wound down the companies and limited the amount of further government aid. But the amendments didn’t specify what would take the place of Fannie and Freddie.

Both parties are “ignoring the issue,” says Lawrence White, an economics professor at New York University. Yes, markets may be too fragile for action now, but he says a plan now would give markets time to prepare for the future.

2. Why are Fannie and Freddie still losing money?

The companies have taken $145 billion in handouts, including $19 billion this quarter, from the U.S. Treasury so far, and that number could rise as foreclosures mount. Each quarter, as more mortgages go delinquent, Fannie and Freddie have to set aside more cash in reserve to cover losses if those loans end up defaulting and the homes they’re secured by go through foreclosure.

Nearly all of those defaults are coming from loans that the companies made during and immediately after the housing boom. Loans today have significantly tighter lending standards and should be profitable.

While losses could continue for several quarters, there are signs that delinquencies may have peaked during the first quarter. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac each said that the number of its loans that were seriously delinquent fell in March, from February.

3. Why is the government still putting money into the companies?

Each quarter, the government injects new money into Fannie and Freddie to keep the companies afloat. That allows the firms to meet their obligations to investors, which keeps the mortgage market moving. If the government decided to stop keeping the firms afloat, that could send borrowing costs up sharply for future homeowners and could create new shocks for the housing market.

In February 2009, the Obama administration said it would double to $200 billion the amount of aid it was willing to put into each of the two firms. Then in December, it said it would waive those limits, and allow for unlimited sums over the next three years. The companies are now akin to government housing banks, with an independent regulator, but one that ultimately must answer to the Treasury Department, which controls the purse strings.

The current arrangement has raised concerns that the companies could continue to make business decisions that might lead to higher losses and that they wouldn’t be making if they were still being run for private shareholders. “Unregulated pots of money—that was a cause of their demise, and now we’ve taken that monster and turned it into a super-monster” with little independent oversight, says David Felt, a former senior lawyer at the companies’ federal regulator, the Federal Housing Finance Agency.

What would the mortgage market look like today without government support?

Consider the market for “jumbo” loans, or those too large for government backing. Rates on jumbos are around 0.6 percentage points higher than conforming loans. That’s nearly double the historical spread, but an improvement over the peak 1.8 percentage point spread during the financial crisis.

Lending standards are also much tighter for loans without government backing, and 30-year fixed rate loans are much less common. Mike Farrell, chief executive of Annaly Capital Management, estimates that mortgage rates today would be two to three percentage points higher without government guarantees.

What will ultimately happen to Fannie and Freddie?

Congress has to decide what it wants the housing-finance system of the future to do. “Everyone acknowledges that the model is broken, that the model was flawed, yet we don’t know how to run a mortgage market without them and we have nothing with which to replace the broken system,” says Howard Glaser, a Clinton administration housing official and housing-industry consultant.

Still, a consensus is growing between some academics and policymakers that the government will continue to play some role at least in backstopping mortgages. Recent testimony from top administration officials over some general insight into what the administration wants the future system to do.

What will ultimately happen to Fannie and Freddie?

Congress has to decide what it wants the housing-finance system of the future to do. “Everyone acknowledges that the model is broken, that the model was flawed, yet we don’t know how to run a mortgage market without them and we have nothing with which to replace the broken system,” says Howard Glaser, a Clinton administration housing official and housing-industry consultant.

Still, a consensus is growing between some academics and policymakers that the government will continue to play some role at least in backstopping mortgages. Recent testimony from top administration officials over some general insight into what the administration wants the future system to do.

There have been other clues: The Obama administration has made clear its view that the failure of Fannie and Freddie shouldn’t be pinned on government affordable-housing mandates, which suggests that any future housing-finance entities would continue to serve a role supporting that function. And an administration report on the foreclosure crisis said that better regulation of the entire mortgage market, and not just any government-related entities, would be a “high priority” for the future.

Readers, what do you think the government should do with the firms?