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January 2010
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Mortgage loan modifications are, for some homeowners, the only hope they have of keeping their home as unemployment and a slow economy still takes its toll.  Big lenders like Bank of America, Wells Fargo, and JP Morgan have the majority of mortgage loans that homeowners are seeking to modify and while the home loan modification numbers for these lenders rose from November to December 2009, many are wondering what will be the story in 2010?  Without home loan modifications, many homeowners’ mortgage loan payment would be too costly as those who, pre-recession, were able to meet payments have seen financial hardships that are causing them to struggle just for the most basic of needs.

However, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, and JP Morgan have done a great many home loan modifications, but there is call for more action and modifications to be moved from a trial phase to a permanent phase. The problems in the program and slowness of the transition in permanent home loan modifications have been traced to both lenders and homeowners.  There are stories from homeowners saying they are ignored and passed over for modifications, while lenders have stories of homeowners not filling out paperwork or following the correct procedure to ensure a permanent loan modification. 

With unemployment the next big issue that must be addressed, big lenders like Bank of America, JP Morgan, and Wells Fargo are in a great position to help homeowners, even if some who are given modifications still fail to make payments down the road.  If multiple modifications are made and even just a handful of homes benefit from the home loan mortgage modification then many people believe it would all have been worth it.  Read the original blog post online

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According to DataQuick. the worst may be over for California’s hard-hit housing markets, The state’s most affordable markets, which represent 25% of the state’s housing stock, accounted for 34.9% of all home foreclosure activity in the fourth quarter, down from 52% a year earlier.  Nevertheless, mortgage loans were still more likely to go into default in inland areas such as Merced, Stanislaus and Riverside counties, which were ravaged by foreclosures during the downturn. The coastal counties of San Francisco, Marin and San Mateo had the least probability of default.  California loan modification agreements continue to flood the loss mitigation departments of banks across the country.

While many of the loans that went into default were originated in early 2007, the median origination month for last quarter’s defaulted home loans was July 2006, the same month as during the prior three quarters. According to DataQuick, the median origination month a year before was June 2006, so the foreclosure process has moved forward through one month of bad loans during the last 12 months.  “Mid-2006 was clearly the worst of the ‘loans gone wild’ period and it’s taking a long time to work through them,” Walsh said. “We’re also watching foreclosure activity start to move into more established mid-level neighborhoods. Homeowners were able to make their payments longer than homeowners in entry-level neighborhoods, but because of the recession and job losses, that’s changing.”  The mortgage lenders that originated the most loans that went into default last quarter were Countrywide with 5,588, Wells Fargo with 3,482 and Washington Mutual with 3,460. Along with Bank of America (1,760 loans) and World Savings (1,869), they were also the most active lenders in the second half of 2006. Last quarter’s default rate on loans originated in the second half of 2006 ranged from 1.5% for Bank of America to 13.1% for World Savings, according to DataQuick.

On mortgage loans from primary residences, California homeowners were a median five months behind on their mortgage payments when lenders filed notice. The borrowers owed a median $13,510 on a median $325,818 mortgage.  On home equity loans and lines of credit in default, borrowers owed a median $3,939 on a median $62,965 credit line. The amount of the credit line that was actually in use can’t be determined from public records.

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Is the mortgage loan modification system helping or hindering the real estate recovery?  A recent article in the New York Times sheds light on the theory that by encouraging homeowners to stay in homes that they cannot really afford, Obama’s Making Home Affordable program is actually increasing the agony of homeowners, who pour money down the trap of their home loan rather than recognizing the loss and starting over.  In the meantime, the mortgage refinance and mortgage modification programs disguise the true state of bank balance sheets because modified mortgage loans are not yet non-performing home loans, and slow down the process of recovery.

But I think that the so far lackluster results from MHA do point to something important, which is that we don’t have the kind of mortgage crisis we thought we had when we passed the modification.  This represents not only a shift in our thinking about how to fix the housing markets, but a major shift in our national narrative about the housing bubble.  Six to nine months ago, the major story we told in connection with the financial crisis was the homeowner suckered–by either fraud or greed–into a teaser loan with an artificially low interest rate that was going to turn disastrous when it reset.

We have seen some of that, to be sure, particularly with the “Option ARM” or “negative amortization” loans on which homeowners weren’t even making the full interest payment.  But that hasn’t turned out to be our biggest problem, largely because we are in a very low interest rate environment right now, so many people saw their rates reset downward rather than up.  Instead, we are plagued by negative home equity.  Most mortgage lenders have begun shutting down access to home equity credit lines because of depreciating home values and unemployment.  Look for a proven loan modification program designed to make your bad credit home loan payment more affordable.

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