According to the HOPE NOW Alliance, May was a very UP month. Everything went up in May.
The number of in-house or “proprietary” loan modifications increased by five percent in May as compared with April. HAMP loan modifications increased from 15,167 in April to 17,590 in May. Even short sales were more prevalent, with 38,273 completed in May as compared to only 34,643 in April.
That’s the good news and it does sound encouraging, I’d have to say, but there are a couple more things worthy of mention.
Not to be left out of the growth spurt, foreclosure starts too, increased by almost fifteen percent, with 203,590 in May, up from only 177,259 in April. The number of foreclosure sales completed in May also rose to 64,979, compared with only 59,643 in April. And, last but not least… the number of mortgages delinquent by at least 60 days also went up in May… going from 2.517 million loans in April to 2.527 million in May.
So, using Hope Now’s industry-friendly data, which is based on a three-month rolling average, excluding HAMP modifications, there were 45,127 homeowners who received permanent loan modifications in May, up from 42,962 in-house loan modifications in April.
Now, throw in May’s 17,590 HAMP modifications and you get just under 60,000 total mods for May… which, when compared to the 203,590 foreclosure starts, and then factor in the increase in seriously delinquent loans, and you quickly conclude that… well, let’s see… either we’re totally screwed or, if you’re an eternal optimist, we’re running in place.
I can’t decide which answer I like best… totally screwed or running in place… hmmm… decisions, decisions. Oh well, I suppose it’s really just a case of you saying “potato,” while I’m saying… two more shots of Patron, bartender.
Our nation is facing a home foreclosure crisis. Four million Americans have already lost homes to foreclosure, and forecasts show another 3.6 million foreclosures ahead. Who knows what will happen beyond that, the numbers are likely to go even higher. Housing prices are in many parts of the country are in free fall, and no bottom is in sight. Some are saying prices will fall by an additional 20-30% before we see the market’s bottom, but no one really knows how bad it will get, or how long it will last.
I wrote that paragraph… back in March of 2009.
“Sheila Bair also said that the HAMP program won’t halt an avalanche of foreclosures, conceding that there are millions of homeowners that are now so far ‘underwater’ – their homes now worth less than their mortgages – that they will inevitably lose their homes.”
That’s one heck of a statement, isn’t it? And, former FDIC chair Shiela Bair uttered those exact words during an interview on ABC News… on February 19, 2009.
And as it turned out, Sheila was absolutely correct in what she said back then… one might even call her prescient. And, all I can say is that it sure is a good thing that there aren’t even more homeowners that far underwater today and destined to lose their homes to foreclosure as a result. Yes, we should thank our lucky stars for that.
The Bankruptcy of America… One City and State at a Time
In a totally unrelated story… most state 2012-2013 fiscal years began on July 1st, and three California cities have either filed for bankruptcy or are about to, with one Pennsylvania town cutting all employee pay to minimum wage, all in the last couple of weeks.
In California, the first city to announce that it’s dead flat broke was Stockton, which coincidently was also ground zero for the foreclosure crisis in California, and also coincidently, is the city with the lowest literacy rate in the state, but don’t pay any attention to any of that because the one thing the experts all say they’re sure isn’t causing the city’s financial troubles is foreclosures.
So, at least we know that’s not the problem.
It’s many other things that are causing the city’s fiscal woes. Things have been around for many years, but have apparently taken the city by complete surprise, like retiree health benefits and pension plan liabilities, and union contracts and… um… public drinking water fountains… damn those fountains. Why do people in Stockton need to drink so much damn water anyway?
Next to hit the skids was San Bernardino, which is known as the jewel of the Inland Empire, the Gateway to Moreno Valley, and another epicenter of the foreclosure world. It’s also where the McDonald Bros. hamburger stand was located… the one that Ray Crock purchased back when the Big Mac was just a gleam in his eye, much like Peter Minuit purchased New Amsterdam from the Lenape Tribe in 1626, which he bought so there would be a place to house both hard core pornography and investment bankers here in the New World.
San Bernardino is also a foreclosure mecca, but it’s not going bankrupt having anything to do with foreclosures either, so get it out of your mind. According to most economists today, the one thing that has had absolutely no negative impact on anything in this country are the eight million homes we’ve lost to-date to foreclosure. And that, I have to tell you, is quite the relief, because I will admit having been concerned that losing eight million homes to foreclosure could potentially, shall we say, crimp our style a tad or two. Lucky for us, that it’s not the case.
And coincidentally, roughly 3,000 miles away, is yet another bankrupt burg… the picturesque whistle-stop known as Scranton, Pennsylvania, a city whose boom years came to a close in 1945.
The average firefighter in Scranton went from earning about $56,000 a year to $7.25 an hour. In one day, they went from being middle class to being at the poverty level and qualifying for food stamps. John Judge, president of the International Association of Fire Fighters, Local 60 was quoted recently by Bloomberg as saying…
“I have guys who don’t know how they are going to pay their mortgage. There are kids working at ice cream stands earning more than their fathers, which is ridiculous.”
Scranton’s mayor and city council are apparently deadlocked in a debate over how they should raise money in a place with 50 years of declining population. The mayor, I’m told by my sources, favors bake sales, while the city council is partial to raffles and “Dunk-the-Mayor” booths at the summer fair.
Raising taxes as a way to make up the monetary shortfall was taken off the table last week when it was realized that only 14 people in Scranton were now earning enough money to have to pay any taxes, and half of those were under 18 and needed the money for pot, beer and X.
At this point, the negotiations are reportedly at an impasse, and the mayor has stated that if an agreement cannot be reached soon, he is going to signal the fire chief to evacuate the town with the last person to leave told to turn out all of the lights and bring the town flag. The plan is for everyone to reconnect in a high school football field in Harrisburg four hours later.
Scranton’s spokesperson has admitted that more recently the city was totally slammed by the real estate slump and the “Great Recession” that followed.
Now, it’s been quite a few years since I had to stop for gas in Scranton, but I’ve heard that since the housing bubble popped, home prices in the area have been cut almost in half. People are underwater and they’re frustrated. I’ve heard that some have even been forced to use Visa cards to pay-off their mortgages in order to avoid foreclosure.
(Okay, I’m just kidding Scranton-ites. You know I love you, right? I’m just a kidder. I kid… ask anyone. Don’t send me angry letters.)
The point is, and I’ve written about what I’m about to say on quite a few occasions, this is just the beginning. Watch, as over the next year, cities all across the country all of a sudden are surprised to find they’ve gone broke. They’re going to be popping like popcorn. And after that gets a full head of steam, would anyone like to take a guess at what will happen next… you know, after American cities start going down like Paris Hilton at a TMZ Celebrity Slut-a-Thon?
Okay, now let’s not always see the same hands… yes, that’s right! After the cities, it’ll be time for the states to start falling off their own stately fiscal cliffs. I’m taking California and Illinois with either Connecticut or New Jersey for the trifecta box.
And in case any of this isn’t connecting dots, when cities and states go bankrupt, a lot more happens in this country than the trash being picked up less frequently. You see, states often have contracts to buy goods or services fromw large companies and when the state stops buying, people find themselves out of work. And when quite a few states and cities fall to hard times, unemployment goes up… which leads to what?
Anyone? Anyone? Bueller? Bueller?
More foreclosures! Ladies and gentlemen we have a BINGO!
And what else to states do to make up for their shortfalls… why, they raise taxes and cut services, which only means less spending and even more unemployment. And that creates even more foreclosures! Yay… Woohoo! Isn’t this fun, racing to the bottom?
Is this the sort of thing that might happen or might not? No. It’s a sure thing.
Call it three years… for examples sake.
So… foreclosures are going to rise for quite sometime, just to keep everyone from jumping off a nearby bridge, let’s safely say that it’s at least three more years… cough, cough.
The only thing is, and this question is for the servicers reading this… what’s going to be different about foreclosures going forward as compared with what we’ve seen to-date?
Okay, I’ll give you a clue… three words… first word: Not public, so __________.
Second word: Not wrong, so ________.
Third word: Bruce Willis movies are usually found in this section: __________.
The Pendulum Swingeth…
About three years ago, I spoke at a conference held by the American Bar Association in Park City, Utah. I was there to speak about the foreclosure crisis, loan modifications and, of course, homeowners, who at the time were being treated in practically the same way that Tutsis were treated by Hutus in 1994. In the audience were at least a couple hundred banking lawyers.
It was February of 2010, and we were still in the last legs of our first faux-recovery of the housing market, the one fueled by the tax incentives and the Fed’s buying of $1.5 trillion in mortgage-backed securities. I’m sure most of those in the audience that day thought I was mostly entertaining… funny, even. But I’m sure very few took what I said to heart.
What I said that day, however, was that our housing markets would most assuredly continue their free fall and that foreclosures, as a result, had nowhere to go but up… and up… and up. I also explained that it was not the fault of homeowners that they would increasingly be falling into foreclosure, that it was not a case of mass-irresponsibility on the part of borrowers. Rather, as I told the audience, it was the result of the credit markets being entirely broken and home values falling fast as a result. Negative equity, I asserted, would be the primary driver of foreclosures.
I also explained that the way homeowners were being handled in the loan modification process, servicers were pushing the pendulum too far in one direction, and that it would eventually swing back the other way with even greater force… and knock them off their feet.
In fact, at the end of history’s similar stories, the people either storm the Bastille or shoot the Romanovs as we all wonder what happened to Anastasia.
In other words, the people will always win… eventually. And the freer the society, the sooner they will win. In our society, and in this particular instance, it appears to take about four years.
But, mortgage servicers, it has already happened… the people have pushed back, you just don’t know it yet, or perhaps you do, I’m not entirely sure.
California’s Governor Brown Signs the State’s Homeowner Bill of Rights
After three years of coming up short when trying to pass a law to protect homeowners in the foreclosure process, this year things went swimmingly from the homeowner’s perspective anyway.
Mortgage servicers, it should go without saying, are not at all happy about the development, but it’s the mortgage servicers that are the creators of California’s Homeowner Bill of Rights. California’s homeowners should be thanking servicers because they, in point of fact, couldn’t have done it without the servicers.
Servicers could have let the bill pass that was proposed three years ago… it was milk-toast compared with this year’s version… but the mortgage banking industry fought it like the devil until it was dead. Likewise, servicers could have let the next year’s version pass into law, but their industry lobbyists made fast work of that one too.
And today’s servicer should be relieved that it was this year’s version that passed, because had AG Harris’ Bill of Rights 2012 died at the hands of banking industry lobbyists, it’s pretty clear that next years’ entrant might very well have transformed commercial banks into public utilities… and been completely impossible to stop.
It couldn’t have been homeowners who created the new Bill of Rights, homeowners have never even heard of “dual tracking,” or a “private right of action,” or uttered the phrase “single point of contact.” No, this was a creation of the servicing industry. Just as I’d warned most of the servicers three years ago while speaking at the American Bar Association conference, servicers treatment of, and total disregard for homeowners applying for loan modifications pushed the pendulum so far in one direction that when it could no longer be held in place, it whipped across and back and knocked the servicers into the nickel seats.
Normally, the bills wouldn’t have gone to the governor’s desk for signature until October, but after reading about an industry lobbyist group, called something like United Trustees, continuing to lobby to kill the bill even after the legislature had passed it, I wasn’t surprised in the least to see Kamala Harris getting his signature before the summer recess even began.
Thanks banking industry lobbyists!
So, now all that remains is to see which servicers in the mortgage servicing industry are dumb enough to remain on their chosen adversarial and combative path, and which will heed this warning and learn to thrive in the brave new world.
Private Right of Action in Action…
The aspect of the new Bill of Rights that I’m sure has servicers in behind closed doors meetings ever since Governor Jerry Brown put his John Hancock on the piece of legislation is the “private right of action,” which is legalese, meaning: “Betch, I will sue your ass until the cows come home if you even think about dual tracking me.”
Here’s an easy way to remember this aspect of the new bill… think of it like a new and infinitely more litigious version of HAMP. Most of the time it won’t modify your loan either, but now when it doesn’t there’s a pretty good chance you can sue your servicer.
Will you win? I have no idea, but it seems that it will be much easier to throw a monkey wrench into things, and that sort of thing can be done with purpose.
To listen to a mortgage servicer describe it, you’d think the world as we know it was coming to an end, and I guess that’s true in many ways, although a tad on the drama queen side if you ask me.
One banker said to me, “It’s going to slow down foreclosures.” And I said, “Yeah, so what, you weren’t foreclosing all that quickly anyway.”
The biggest change that servicers are feeling is the one that can’t be seen or even written down. I imagine it’s similar to how homeowners felt when they discovered that their government didn’t give a Fudgsicle® whether they lost their house… or why they lost their house. Servicers have to know that there’s a new sheriff in town and her name is Lady Liberty…
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
The people have been awoken and they are only just beginning to speak through California’s Attorney General, Kamala Harris and her Homeowner Bill of Rights.
It’s really kind of a great thing to see the underdog regain even a modicum of level ground. No one wants to watch a one-sided match for too long. Eventually, everyone starts rooting for the Cubs.
Of course, there is a way out, servicers. I have the answer to your this spreading virus that threatens to destabilize your collections mentality. Change. You can do it, there’s always been more than one way to skin this cat, and you already do it when you deal with your commercial customers.
I think you refer to it as relationship management, isn’t that right. Don’t just collect… consult. Stop treating homeowners like their deadbeats and start treating them like the new law demands… like deadbeats who can sue you.
(Okay, that was a joke homeowners, don’t get all agitated.)
Treat them like customers who, like the rest of the world, are caught up in a global recession that no one wants to discuss until after November. Communicate effectively, and no one will want to sue you.
There’s more to it than that. And I can probably help. But I think I’ve said enough for now. Noodle on that for a bit. Just remember… communication’s hard. And some are better at it than others.
Until next time…
ENJOY YOURSELF (It’s Later Than You Think)
You work and turn, foreclosure’s gears, you always end on top.
Never let up for a minute, the numbers never stop.
Someday you think, it’ll all be done, there’ll be just a small fraction
But you have overlooked the people’s private right of action.
Enjoy yourself, it’s later than you think.
Enjoy yourself, while your poop doesn’t stink.
Your time has passed, and you’re right on the brink.
Enjoy yourself, enjoy yourself, it’s much later than you think.
You’re dual tracking that family, forget the NPV.
You’ve got no reservations ‘cause, no one can disagree.
Next year however, things will change, your names no more in lights.
‘Cause homeowners from coast to coast, will have their Bill of Rights.
Enjoy yourself, it’s later than you think.
Enjoy yourself, why bother to re-think?
The time will come, soon you’ll need a stiff drink.
Enjoy yourself, enjoy yourself, ‘cause it’s later than you think.
With single points of contact and, no robo-signing docs,
Break the new laws and watch it hit, the prices of your stocks.
Forget about your lobbying, because it’s way too late.
You’ve entered the next phase of what we call foreclosure-gate.
Enjoy yourself, it’s later than you think.
Enjoy yourself, you could end up in the clink.
In New York they say, forging could be crimin-al.
Enjoy yourself, enjoy yourself, what a damper on morale.
You’ll always be in court next year, when you fail to comply.
You’ll realize in a hurry, that you’d better modify.
Forget about foreclosing, and the selling by trustee.
‘Cause from now on you’ll often find that judges disagree.
So, enjoy yourself, it’s later than you think.
Enjoy yourself, your egos will soon shrink.
We’ll all soon see, your armor has a chink.
Enjoy yourself, enjoy yourself, it’s later… much later… than you think.