National foreclosure auctions go online via LPS: “CAVEAT EMPTOR”

Submitted by Kevin Turner on April 16, 2010 – 4:56pm Market Value

The Duval County Clerk’s Office has offered online bidding for foreclosed properties for some time, and now Jacksonville-based Lender Processing Services is bringing bank-foreclosures all over the U.S. online.

Through its LPSAuctions.com Web site, LPS is to open bidding on single-family homes, condominiums and town homes from Coral Springs to Tacoma, Wash. The bid deadline for the homes listed in the “Spring Clearance” auction on the site is May 10.

So now it’s official they have they’re hands in all Real Estate! My question is how…why would any state permit them to sell anything if they are under the scope of the FEDS?? Take a look below.

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LENDER PROCESSING SERVICES (LPS) Hits Local NEWS!

After ongoing INVESTIGATIONS: Lender Processing Services (LPS) closed the offices of its subsidiary, Docx, LLC, in Alpharetta, Georgia

EXTRA! EXTRA! Read All about the misconduct of Lender Processing Services f/k/a FIDELITY a/k/a LPS

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BOGUS ASSIGNMENTS 2…I’m LOVING this!! LPS DOCx ADMISSIONS SEC 10K ROOFTOP SHOUT OUT!

 

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Fed Ends Bank Exemption Aimed at Boosting Mortgage Liquidity: Bloomberg

By Craig Torres

March 20 (Bloomberg) — The Federal Reserve Board removed an exemption it had given to six banks at the start of the crisis in 2007 aimed at boosting liquidity in financing markets for securities backed by mortgage- and asset-backed securities.

The so-called 23-A exemptions, named after a section of the Federal Reserve Act that limits such trades to protect bank depositors, were granted days after the Fed cut the discount rate by half a percentage point on Aug. 17, 2007. Their removal, announced yesterday in Washington, is part of a broad wind-down of emergency liquidity backstops by the Fed as markets normalize.

The decision in 2007 underscores how Fed officials defined the mortgage-market disruptions that year as partly driven by liquidity constraints. In hindsight, some analysts say that diagnosis turned out to be wrong.

“It was a way to prevent further deleveraging of the financial system, but that happened anyway,” said Dino Kos, managing director at Portales Partners LLC and former head of the New York Fed’s open market operations. “The underlying problem was solvency. The Fed was slow to recognize that.”

The Fed ended the exemptions in nearly identical letters to the Royal Bank of Scotland Plc, Bank of America Corp., Citigroup Inc., JPMorgan Chase & Co., Deutsche Bank AG, and Barclays Bank Plc posted on its Web site.

Backstop Liquidity

The Fed’s intent in 2007 was to provide backstop liquidity for financial markets through the discount window. In a chain of credit, investors would obtain collateralized loans from dealers, dealers would obtain collateralized loans from banks, and then banks could pledge collateral to the Fed’s discount window for 30-day credit. In Citigroup’s case, the exemption allowed such lending to its securities unit up to $25 billion.

“The goal was to stop the hemorrhaging of risk capital,” said Lou Crandall, chief economist at Wrightson ICAP LLC in Jersey City, New Jersey. “Investors were being forced out of the securities market because they couldn’t fund their positions, even in higher-quality assets in some cases.”

Using mortgage bonds without government-backed guarantees as collateral for private-market financing began to get more difficult in August 2007 following the collapse of two Bear Stearns Cos. hedge funds.

As terms for loans secured by mortgage bonds got “massively” tighter, haircuts, or the excess in collateral above the amount borrowed, on AAA home-loan securities rose that month from as little as 3 percent to as much as 10 percent, according to a UBS AG report.

Lehman Collapse

By February 2008, haircuts climbed to 20 percent, investor Luminent Mortgage Capital Inc. said at the time. After Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. collapsed in September 2008, the loans almost disappeared.

“These activities were intended to allow the bank to extend credit to market participants in need of short-term liquidity to finance” holdings of mortgage loans and asset- backed securities, said the Fed board’s letter dated yesterday to Kathleen Juhase, associate general counsel of JPMorgan. “In light of this normalization of the term for discount window loans, the Board has terminated the temporary section 23-A exemption.”

The “normalization” refers to the Fed’s reduction in the term of discount window loans to overnight credit starting two days ago from a month previously.

The Fed eventually loaned directly to securities firms and opened the discount window to primary dealers in March 2008. Borrowings under the Primary Dealer Credit Facility soared to $146.5 billion on Oct. 1, 2008, following the collapse of Lehman Brothers two weeks earlier. Borrowings fell to zero in May 2009. The Fed closed the facility last month, along with three other emergency liquidity backstops.

Discount Rate

The Fed also raised the discount rate a quarter point in February to 0.75 percent, moving it closer to its normal spread over the federal funds rate of 1 percentage point.

The one interest rate the Fed hasn’t changed since the depths of the crisis is the benchmark lending rate. Officials kept the target for overnight loans among banks in a range of zero to 0.25 percent on March 16, where it has stood since December 2008, while retaining a pledge to keep rates low “for an extended period.”

Removing the 23-A exemptions shows the Fed wants to get “back to normal,” said Laurence Meyer, a former Fed governor and vice chairman of Macroeconomic Advisers LLC in Washington. “Everything has gone back to normal except monetary policy.”

To contact the reporters on this story: Craig Torres in Washington at ctorres3@bloomberg.net

Last Updated: March 20, 2010 00:00 EDT

HARVARD LAW AND ECONOMIC ISSUES IN SUBPRIME LITIGATION 2008

This in combination with A.K. Barnett-Hart’s Thesis make’s one hell of a Discovery.

 
LEGAL AND ECONOMIC ISSUES IN
SUBPRIME LITIGATION
Jennifer E. Bethel*
Allen Ferrell**
Gang Hu***
 

Discussion Paper No. 612

03/2008

Harvard Law School Cambridge, MA 02138

 

 ABSTRACT

This paper explores the economic and legal causes and consequences of recent difficulties in the subprime mortgage market. We provide basic descriptive statistics and institutional details on the mortgage origination process, mortgage-backed securities (MBS), and collateralized debt obligations (CDOs). We examine a number of aspects of these markets, including the identity of MBS and CDO sponsors, CDO trustees, CDO liquidations, MBS insured and registered amounts, the evolution of MBS tranche structure over time, mortgage originations, underwriting quality of mortgage originations, and write-downs of investment banks. In light of this discussion, the paper then addresses questions as to how these difficulties might have not been foreseen, and some of the main legal issues that will play an important role in the extensive subprime litigation (summarized in the paper) that is underway, including the Rule 10b-5 class actions that have already been filed against the investment banks, pending ERISA litigation, the causes-of-action available to MBS and CDO purchasers, and litigation against the rating agencies. In the course of this discussion, the paper highlights three distinctions that will likely prove central in the resolution of this litigation: The distinction between reasonable ex ante expectations and the occurrence of ex post losses; the distinction between the transparency of the quality of the underlying assets being securitized and the transparency as to which market participants are exposed to subprime losses; and, finally, the distinction between what investors and market participants knew versus what individual entities in the structured finance process knew, particularly as to macroeconomic issues such as the state of the national housing market. ex ante expectations and the occurrence of ex post losses; the distinction between the transparency of the quality of the underlying assets being securitized and the transparency as to which market participants are exposed to subprime losses; and, finally, the distinction between what investors and market participants knew versus what individual entities in the structured finance process knew, particularly as to macroeconomic issues such as the state of the national housing market. 

 continue reading the paper harvard-paper-diagrams

 
 

 

Michael Lewis’s ‘The Big Short’? Read the Harvard Thesis Instead! “The Story of the CDO Market Meltdown: An Empirical Analysis.”

March 15, 2010, 4:59 PM ET

Michael Lewis’s ‘The Big Short’? Read the Harvard Thesis Instead!

By Peter Lattman

Deal Journal has yet to read “The Big Short,” Michael Lewis’s yarn on the financial crisis that hit stores today. We did, however, read his acknowledgments, where Lewis praises “A.K. Barnett-Hart, a Harvard undergraduate who had just  written a thesis about the market for subprime mortgage-backed CDOs that remains more interesting than any single piece of Wall Street research on the subject.”

A.K. Barnett-Hart

While unsure if we can stomach yet another book on the crisis, a killer thesis on the topic? Now that piqued our curiosity. We tracked down Barnett-Hart, a 24-year-old financial analyst at a large New York investment bank. She met us for coffee last week to discuss her thesis, “The Story of the CDO Market Meltdown: An Empirical Analysis.” Handed in a year ago this week at the depths of the market collapse, the paper was awarded summa cum laude and won virtually every thesis honor, including the Harvard Hoopes Prize for outstanding scholarly work.

Last October, Barnett-Hart, already pulling all-nighters at the bank (we agreed to not name her employer), received a call from Lewis, who had heard about her thesis from a Harvard doctoral student. Lewis was blown away.

“It was a classic example of the innocent going to Wall Street and asking the right questions,” said Mr. Lewis, who in his 20s wrote “Liar’s Poker,” considered a defining book on Wall Street culture. “Her thesis shows there were ways to discover things that everyone should have wanted to know. That it took a 22-year-old Harvard student to find them out is just outrageous.”

Barnett-Hart says she wasn’t the most obvious candidate to produce such scholarship. She grew up in Boulder, Colo., the daughter of a physics professor and full-time homemaker. A gifted violinist, Barnett-Hart deferred admission at Harvard to attend Juilliard, where she was accepted into a program studying the violin under Itzhak Perlman. After a year, she headed to Cambridge, Mass., for a broader education. There, with vague designs on being pre-Med, she randomly took “Ec 10,” the legendary introductory economics course taught by Martin Feldstein.

“I thought maybe this would help me, like, learn to manage my money or something,” said Barnett-Hart, digging into a granola parfait at Le Pain Quotidien. She enjoyed how the subject mixed current events with history, got an A (natch) and declared economics her concentration.

Barnett-Hart’s interest in CDOs stemmed from a summer job at an investment bank in the summer of 2008 between junior and senior years. During a rotation on the mortgage securitization desk, she noticed everyone was in a complete panic. “These CDOs had contaminated everything,” she said. “The stock market was collapsing and these securities were affecting the broader economy. At that moment I became obsessed and decided I wanted to write about the financial crisis.”

Back at Harvard, against the backdrop of the financial system’s near-total collapse, Barnett-Hart approached professors with an idea of writing a thesis about CDOs and their role in the crisis. “Everyone discouraged me because they said I’d never be able to find the data,” she said. “I was urged to do something more narrow, more focused, more knowable. That made me more determined.”

She emailed scores of Harvard alumni. One pointed her toward LehmanLive, a comprehensive database on CDOs. She received scores of other data leads. She began putting together charts and visuals, holding off on analysis until she began to see patterns–how Merrill Lynch and Citigroup were the top originators, how collateral became heavily concentrated in subprime mortgages and other CDOs, how the credit ratings procedures were flawed, etc.

“If you just randomly start regressing everything, you can end up doing an unlimited amount of regressions,” she said, rolling her eyes. She says nearly all the work was in the research; once completed,  she jammed out the paper in a couple of weeks.

“It’s an incredibly impressive piece of work,” said Jeremy Stein, a Harvard economics professor who included the thesis on a reading list for a course he’s teaching this semester on the financial crisis. “She pulled together an enormous amount of information in a way that’s both intelligent and accessible.”

Barnett-Hart’s thesis is highly critical of Wall Street and “their irresponsible underwriting practices.” So how is it that she can work for the very institutions that helped create the notorious CDOs she wrote about?

“After writing my thesis, it became clear to me that the culture at these investment banks needed to change and that incentives needed to be realigned to reward more than just short-term profit seeking,” she wrote in an email. “And how would Wall Street ever change, I thought, if the people that work there do not change? What these banks needed is for outsiders to come in with a fresh perspective, question the way business was done, and bring a new appreciation for the true purpose of an investment bank – providing necessary financial services, not creating unnecessary products to bolster their own profits.”

Ah, the innocence of youth.

Here is a copy of the thesis: 2009-CDOmeltdown

‘Hail Mary’ to Warren Buffett: Untold Details of Lehman’s Fall

March 11, 2010, 6:15 PM ET

‘Hail Mary’ to Warren Buffett: Untold Details of Lehman’s Fall

By Matt Phillips

Doubtless, historians will be going over the mammoth 2,200 page report from the Lehman bankruptcy examiner for years to come.

But we bloggers are writing the first draft now. And there’s plenty of good fodder on Lehman’s final days, including fresh details on its effort to get support from billionaire investor Warren Buffett.

Now, it’s well known that Lehman reached out to Buffett in its final months. The Journal’s Scott Patterson wrote about the Oracle’s decision to pass on Lehman in a story back in December.

But the level of detail provided by this report is pretty astounding. It offers a pretty amazing snapshot of Buffett’s conversation with Lehman CEO Dick Fuld as well as a remarkable window on how the Oracle negotiates during times of crisis.

The report really reads like a novel, so we’ll just give you the sections here:

Fuld and Buffett spoke on Friday, March 28, 2008. They discussed Buffett investing at least $2 billion in Lehman. Two items immediately concerned Buffet during his conversation with Fuld. First, Buffett wanted Lehman executives to buy under the same terms as Buffett. Fuld explained to the Examiner that he was reluctant to require a significant buy‐in from Lehman executives, because they already received much of their compensation in stock. However, Buffett took it as a negative that Fuld suggested that Lehman executives were not willing to participate in a significant way. Second, Buffett did not like that Fuld complained about short sellers. Buffett thought that blaming short sellers was indicative of a failure to admit one’s own problems.

Following his conversation with Buffett, Fuld asked Paulson to call Buffett, which Paulson reluctantly did. Buffett told the Examiner that during that call, Paulson signaled that he would like Buffett to invest in Lehman, but Paulson “did not load the dice.” Buffett spent the rest of Friday, March 28, 2008, reviewing Lehman’s 10‐K and noting problems with some of Lehman’s assets. Buffett’s concerns centered around Lehman’s real estate and high yield investments, lending‐related commitments derivatives and their related credit‐market risk, Level III assets and Lehman’s securitization activity. On Saturday, March 29, 2008, Buffett learned of a $100 million problem in Japan that Fuld had not mentioned during their discussions, and Buffett was concerned that Fuld had not been forthcoming about the issue. The problems Buffett saw in the 10‐K along with Fuld’s failure to alert Buffett to the issue in Japan cemented Buffett’s decision not to invest in Lehman.

At some point in their conversations, Fuld and Buffett also discovered that there had been a miscommunication about the conversion price. Buffett was interested only in convertible preferred shares. Buffett told Fuld that he was willing to agree to a $40 conversion price per share, while Fuld thought Buffett was offering to buy in at “up‐ 40,” or 40% above the current market price, which would have been about $56 per share. On Friday, March 28, 2008, Lehman’s stock closed at $37.87. Fuld spoke to Lehman’s Executive Committee and several Board members about his conversations with Buffett. Lehman recognized that an investment by Buffett would provide a “stamp of approval.” However, Lehman already had better offers for its April capital raise, and Lehman did not think it could give a better deal to Buffett at the same time it gave a less attractive deal to others. On Monday, March 31, 2008, before Buffett could tell Fuld that he was not interested, Fuld called Buffett to say that Lehman could not accept his terms.

Last‐Ditch Effort with Buffett

[Hugh “Skip” E. McGee, III, the head of Lehman’s Investment Banking Division] contacted [President David L. Sokol, president of Berkshire Hathaway’s MidAmerican Energy] again in late August or early September 2008 and outlined Lehman’s “Gameplan” for survival, specifically SpinCo. During a subsequent telephone call with Sokol, McGee explained the “good bank/bad bank” scenario and stated that Lehman would need an investor. Sokol believed the e‐mail and call were intended to induce Sokol to pass that information on to Buffett, so Sokol briefed Buffett on SpinCo. Buffett thought the idea would not solve Lehman’s problems.

Sometime during the week prior to Lehman’s bankruptcy, McGee again reached out to Sokol with what both Sokol and McGee described to the Examiner as a “Hail Mary” pass. McGee asked, “Do you have any ideas to save us?” Sokol, who was bear hunting in Alaska at the time, told McGee that he did not.

Judging by the inclusion of the largely irrelevant bear hunting detail at the end, we can tell that this report was written by a frustrated novelist. (And they did an amazing job.) But what we find most remarkable is the insight these sections offer on how Buffett assesses companies.

It’s simple–but not easy–as he combines 10-K analysis with probing questions to management.

Are they willing to put their own money at risk? Are they being upfront? Are they giving investors the full story?

Clearly Buffett didn’t think so.

Tim Geithner warns of high unemployment throughout the year

I guess this is where the next 5-7 million forecast of foreclosures makes sense.

Obama Aides See Jobless Rate Elevated for ‘Extended Period’
By Rebecca Christie and Mike Dorning

March 16 (Bloomberg) — U.S. employers won’t hire enough workers this year to lower the jobless rate much below the level of 9.7 percent reached in February, three Obama administration economic officials said today.

The proportion of Americans who can’t find work is likely to “remain elevated for an extended period,” Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner, White House budget director Peter Orszag and Christina Romer, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, said in a joint statement. The officials said unemployment may even rise “slightly” over the next few months as discouraged workers start job-hunting again.

“We do not expect further declines in unemployment this year,” the officials said in testimony prepared for the House Appropriations Committee. They predicted the economy would add about 100,000 jobs a month on average — not enough to bring the jobless rate down substantially.

Today’s projections are in line with the 10 percent average unemployment forecast for this year in last month’s budget plan. Christopher Rupkey, chief financial economist at Bank of Tokyo Mitsubishi UFJ Ltd. in New York, said the administration’s language risks damping expectations for a recovery.

“They need to work on the message, and right now the message is that there is not a lot to be hopeful about,” Rupkey said. “Warning about a slow jobless recovery can help make it a reality.”

Growth Outlook

Geithner, Orszag and Romer reiterated the administration’s forecast that the economy would grow 3 percent this year, as measured by comparing fourth quarter growth in gross domestic product. Growth is projected to rise to 4.3 percent in 2011 and 2012, and inflation probably will remain low, they said.

“The worst now appears to be behind us,” the officials said. “However, the country faces significant and ongoing challenges: high unemployment, the need to build a new and stable foundation for prosperity in the years and decades ahead, and a medium- and long-term fiscal situation that could ultimately undermine future job creation and economic growth.”

The three urged Congress to pass Obama Administration job stimulus proposals including extended unemployment benefits, aid to state and local governments and tax breaks for businesses that hire new workers.

They argued tax benefits for businesses that add new workers would have a large impact in the early stages of an economic recovery.

‘Particularly Effective’

“The current situation — where for many firms the question is not whether to hire but when — is one that may make such programs particularly effective,” they said.

The officials said projected federal budget deficits, which the administration forecasts at more than $1.5 trillion for 2011 and over $751 billion for 2015, “remain undesirably high.”

“Deficits matter. Ours are too high; they are unsustainable,” Geithner said during testimony. “The American people, along with investors around the world, need to have more confidence in our ability to bring them down over time.”

The officials put the greatest blame for the high budget deficits on “years of poor decisions” during the administration of George W. Bush, citing enactment of the Medicare prescription drug benefit and income-tax cuts without corresponding budget savings to pay for them.

“If these two policies had been paid for, projected deficits — without any further deficit reduction — would be about 2 percent of GDP per year by the middle of the decade, and we would have been on a sustainable medium-term fiscal course,” they said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Rebecca Christie in Washington at rchristie4@bloomberg.net; To contact the reporters on this story: Mike Dorning in Washington at mdorning@bloomberg.net;

Last Updated: March 16, 2010 11:37 EDT

Program Will Pay Homeowners to Sell at a Loss…TIME OUT!! “We need to do a little house cleaning first” Mr. Obama.

WHOA! …before any of this BS happens. Who is going to address the Perpetual Fraud that exist? Is anyone from the government even doing any due diligence on any of the TOP FORECLOSURE HELP sites? WE HAVE DONE MOST OF YOUR WORK FOR YOU. Who is going to rescue the homeowners buying these fraudulent issues encumbered in these homes? In our illegal foreclosures today and yesterday? May I please have 1 day in the White House to fix all this because apparently they are digging all this up, even further. In order to fix this crap this needs to be fixed first. I think the government has learned a thing or 2 from these bankers (a bird in a hand is worth two in a bush). They are running with their heads in the dark! Go HERE, HERE, HERE, HERE, HERE, HERE, HERE, HERE, HERE, HERE and HERE…you see I did it for you!  For a start…YOU MUST FIX THESE ISSUES BEFORE ANYTHING!

If you feel like this is not enough then go here:
http://www.frauddigest.com
http://www.msfraud.org/
http://www.foreclosurehamle…
http://livinglies.wordpress…
http://4closurefraud.org/
http://stopforeclosurefraud…

Program Will Pay Homeowners to Sell at a Loss

By DAVID STREITFELD Published: March 7, 2010 NYTimes

In an effort to end the foreclosure crisis, the Obama administration has been trying to keep defaulting owners in their homes. Now it will take a new approach: paying some of them to leave.

This latest program, which will allow owners to sell for less than they owe and will give them a little cash to speed them on their way, is one of the administration’s most aggressive attempts to grapple with a problem that has defied solutions.

More than five million households are behind on their mortgages and risk foreclosure. The government’s $75 billion mortgage modification plan has helped only a small slice of them. Consumer advocates, economists and even some banking industry representatives say much more needs to be done.

For the administration, there is also the concern that millions of foreclosures could delay or even reverse the economy’s tentative recovery — the last thing it wants in an election year.

Taking effect on April 5, the program could encourage hundreds of thousands of delinquent borrowers who have not been rescued by the loan modification program to shed their houses through a process known as a short sale, in which property is sold for less than the balance of the mortgage. Lenders will be compelled to accept that arrangement, forgiving the difference between the market price of the property and what they are owed.

“We want to streamline and standardize the short sale process to make it much easier on the borrower and much easier on the lender,” said Seth Wheeler, a Treasury senior adviser.

The problem is highlighted by a routine case in Phoenix. Chris Paul, a real estate agent, has a house he is trying to sell on behalf of its owner, who owes $150,000. Mr. Paul has an offer for $48,000, but the bank holding the mortgage says it wants at least $90,000. The frustrated owner is now contemplating foreclosure.

To bring the various parties to the table — the homeowner, the lender that services the loan, the investor that owns the loan, the bank that owns the second mortgage on the property — the government intends to spread its cash around.

Under the new program, the servicing bank, as with all modifications, will get $1,000. Another $1,000 can go toward a second loan, if there is one. And for the first time the government would give money to the distressed homeowners themselves. They will get $1,500 in “relocation assistance.”

Should the incentives prove successful, the short sales program could have multiple benefits. For the investment pools that own many home loans, there is the prospect of getting more money with a sale than with a foreclosure.

For the borrowers, there is the likelihood of suffering less damage to credit ratings. And as part of the transaction, they will get the lender’s assurance that they will not later be sued for an unpaid mortgage balance.

For communities, the plan will mean fewer empty foreclosed houses waiting to be sold by banks. By some estimates, as many as half of all foreclosed properties are ransacked by either the former owners or vandals, which depresses the value of the property further and pulls down the value of neighboring homes.

If short sales are about to have their moment, it has been a long time coming. At the beginning of the foreclosure crisis, lenders shunned short sales. They were not equipped to deal with the labor-intensive process and were suspicious of it.

The lenders’ thinking, said the economist Thomas Lawler, went like this: “I lend someone $200,000 to buy a house. Then he says, ‘Look, I have someone willing to pay $150,000 for it; otherwise I think I’m going to default.’ Do I really believe the borrower can’t pay it back? And is $150,000 a reasonable offer for the property?”

Short sales are “tailor-made for fraud,” said Mr. Lawler, a former executive at the mortgage finance company Fannie Mae.

Last year, short sales started to increase, although they remain relatively uncommon. Fannie Mae said preforeclosure deals on loans in its portfolio more than tripled in 2009, to 36,968. But real estate agents say many lenders still seem to disapprove of short sales.

Under the new federal program, a lender will use real estate agents to determine the value of a home and thus the minimum to accept. This figure will not be shared with the owner, but if an offer comes in that is equal to or higher than this amount, the lender must take it.

Mr. Paul, the Phoenix agent, was skeptical. “In a perfect world, this would work,” he said. “But because estimates of value are inherently subjective, it won’t. The banks don’t want to sell at a discount.”

There are myriad other potential conflicts over short sales that may not be solved by the program, which was announced on Nov. 30 but whose details are still being fine-tuned. Many would-be short sellers have second and even third mortgages on their houses. Banks that own these loans are in a position to block any sale unless they get a piece of the deal.

“You have one loan, it’s no sweat to get a short sale,” said Howard Chase, a Miami Beach agent who says he does around 20 short sales a month. “But the second mortgage often is the obstacle.”

Major lenders seem to be taking a cautious approach to the new initiative. In many cases, big banks do not actually own the mortgages; they simply administer them and collect payments. J. K. Huey, a Wells Fargo vice president, said a short sale, like a loan modification, would have to meet the requirements of the investor who owns the loan.

“This is not an opportunity for the customer to just walk away,” Ms. Huey said. “If someone doesn’t come to us saying, ‘I’ve done everything I can, I used all my savings, I borrowed money and, by the way, I’m losing my job and moving to another city, and have all the documentation,’ we’re not going to do a short sale.”

But even if lenders want to treat short sales as a last resort for desperate borrowers, in reality the standards seem to be looser.

Sree Reddy, a lawyer and commercial real estate investor who lives in Miami Beach, bought a one-bedroom condominium in 2005, spent about $30,000 on improvements and ended up owing $540,000. Three years later, the value had fallen by 40 percent.

Mr. Reddy wanted to get out from under his crushing monthly payments. He lost a lot of money in the crash but was not in default. Nevertheless, his bank let him sell the place for $360,000 last summer.

“A short sale provides peace of mind,” said Mr. Reddy, 32. “If you’re in foreclosure, you don’t know when they’re ultimately going to take the place away from you.”

Mr. Reddy still lives in the apartment complex where he bought that condo, but is now a renter paying about half of his old mortgage payment. Another benefit, he said: “The place I’m in now is nicer and a little bigger.”