Attorney general sues over mortgage scam costing 21 Pennsylvania homeowners $280,000

July 27, 2018 | The Morning Call         Five Pennsylvania mortgage foreclosure companies face a lawsuit from the state attorney general’s office over a yearslong mortgage scam that allegedly cost 21 homeowners more than $280,000.

Attorney General Josh Shapiro announced the lawsuit Thursday, alleging the companies deceived the complainants into signing mortgage modification contracts, many with hefty upfront payments, and never delivered promised services. Some customers, Shapiro said, lost their homes to foreclosure.  Read more here.

Wells Fargo Plans to Refund Some Mortgage Customers

April 13, 2018 | USA Today        Wells Fargo outlined plans Wednesday to refund customers who were charged extra fees to extend rate locks on mortgages because of delays that were caused by the bank, not the customers.

The San Francisco-based bank, which is still working to repair its reputation following last year's fake account scandal, said it will refund customers who paid fees to extend interest rate locks between Sept. 16, 2013, through Feb. 28, 2017 but "who believe they shouldn't have paid those fees."

In a rate lock, the lender guarantees that it will provide the borrower with a mortgage at a specific rate, say 4%, for a specific time period, such as 60 days. There is often a charge to extend the rate-lock period.

In the Wells Fargo case, borrowers were hit with additional fees for allegedly getting their loan paperwork in late. But the bank, after a review of its rate-lock fee policies, acknowledged that the delays in some cases were caused on its end.

In a statement, the bank said its rate-lock extension policy put in place in September 2013 was "at times, not consistently applied, resulting in some borrowers being charged fees in cases where the company was primarily responsible for the delays that made the extensions necessary."

Effective March 1, 2017, Wells Fargo changed how the company manages the mortgage rate-lock extension process.

The company said it would reach out to customers and start issuing refunds in the final months of this year.

While roughly $98 million in rate-lock fees were assessed to about 110,000 loan applicants in the nearly two-and-a-half-year period in question, the company believes a "substantial number" of those fees were "appropriately charged."

As a result, Wells Fargo said "the amount ultimately refunded likely will be lower, as not all of the fees assessed were actually paid and some fees already have been refunded."

The move was the latest attempt by the bank to rebuild trust with customers, its CEO Tim Sloan said in a statement.

"We want to serve our customers as they would expect to be served, and are initiating these refunds as part of our ongoing efforts to rebuild trust," Sloan said.

Mortgage Industry Panics Over Obscure Provision in Senate Tax Bill

November 29, 2017 | Bloomberg            The mortgage industry is panicking over a provision in the Senate tax bill that some analysts and trade groups say may drive small lenders out of the business.

The Mortgage Bankers Association and other bank and mortgage trade groups scrambled over Thanksgiving weekend after staff members discovered a provision in the bill that would change the time at which lenders pay taxes on the streams of income they earn from managing borrowers’ mortgages.

That change could cost banks tens of billions of dollars as the value of those income streams drops. The reduction would be enough to drive smaller lenders and non-bank lenders to either exit the mortgage market altogether or restructure their businesses, said MBA president David Stevens.

“It’s a fire drill,” Stevens said. “We’re scrambling to get people on phone calls. It would cause a significant disruption in the industry.”

It’s unclear whether Senate tax writers intentionally targeted lenders -- or whether they intend to leave the provision in place. The episode may reflect the unusual speed with which the Senate is trying to approve legislation that was introduced in written form only nine days ago. Senate leaders plan to vote on the bill Thursday or Friday.

“As Congress continues to debate the Senate’s tax reform plan that was reported out of the Finance Committee, Chairman Hatch will work with members to make the appropriate policy decisions to help deliver a comprehensive tax overhaul that will grow the economy, boost job creation, and increase paychecks for the American people,” Julia Lawless, a Senate Finance Committee spokeswoman, said in an email.

For lenders, the issue surrounds a central way they make money. When a borrower takes out a loan, lenders often sell that loan to government-backed companies, while keeping the right to collect borrower payments and manage the loan. Those so-called mortgage servicing rights are a valuable asset, and lenders often sell them to each other or to outside investors such as hedge funds when they want cash.  Read more here.

Should Texas loosen lending laws that shielded the state from foreclosures?

Banks and realtors want to make more money on home equity loans.

Houston Chronicle | August 7, 2017        Twenty years ago, Texas became the last state in the union to legalize the home equity loan, allowing people for the first time to use their own homes as collateral. But lawmakers also kept tight restrictions on the loans, which saved Texans from the excesses that contributed to a housing bust that nearly brought down global economy.

Across the country, homeowners borrowed against the value of their properties to supplement their incomes as a bubble grew, piling on debt that became unsustainable when the market tanked. Texas' limits on home equity loans were widely credited with saving the state from the worst of the foreclosure crisis.

Now, a coalition of lenders and realtors is trying to loosen the rules on those loans in ways that homeowner advocates say could get borrowers in trouble.

"It's a wolf in sheep's clothing," says Charlie Duncan, a fair housing planner at the advocacy non-profit Texas Low-Income Housing Information Service. "Make no mistake, more families will lose their homes because of the irresponsible lending this amendment will allow."

The proposed changes will be on the ballot this fall as a constitutional amendment, having passed unanimously through both houses of the Legislature. (The section of the Texas Constitution that deals with home equity loans is the longest in the entire document, spelling out all terms and regulations rather than leaving them to statute, because of Texas' historic emphasis on property rights.)

In the ballot language, the changes seem innocuous, but may carry risk.

One provision would expand the list of entities able to make home equity loans from primarily banks to savings and loan companies, mortgage bankers, subsidiaries of banks and credit unions.

Another provision lowers the cap on fees that lenders can charge homeowners from 3 percent of the loan to 2 percent. But the change would likely would increase the amount borrowers end up paying by shifting most of the large expenses in closing costs — surveys, appraisals, and title insurance — outside the cap. In that way, the fees paid by homeowners could rise to 4 to 5 percent of the loan, according to Chip Lane, a Houston attorney who represents homeowners in foreclosure cases.

Banks say the change is necessary to make it worth it for them to do smaller loans. Their profits took a hit in 2013, when the Texas Supreme Court overturned interpretations by the Texas Finance Commission that allowed lenders to add expenses on top of the 3 percent cap.

State-chartered banks how hold about $6.6 billion in home equity loans, which is down significantly since 2009. (That doesn't include loans made by national banks, which don't have to break out that loan category by state.) 

"There was a hesitance on the part of lenders to make smaller home equity loans," says Steve Scurlock, executive vice president of the Independent Bankers Association of Texas. "What we tried to do is get the banks back in the game, and get those homeowners who may not have a $2 million home to have an ability if they needed to borrow $20,000 or $30,000 a bit more opportunity to do it."

But Robert Doggett, a lawyer who has represented homeowners for decades and led the litigation that resulted in the 2013 Supreme Court decision, says the change would make these loans more expensive, and prompt lenders to pressure homeowners into taking out loans they don't need.

"Lender fees are not about simply bilking homeowners out of money," Doggett says. "Up-front fees are very dangerous because they incentivize bad loans, they give loan officers and bad originators a reason to make up stuff so the loan is approved." 

Banks shouldn't need to make money on up front fees, Doggett says, because interest on the loan generates a steady income, as long as lenders keep them on the books. Many lenders instead sell those loans, reducing their incentive to make sure the loan is sound in the first place — especially if they've already been paid well at closing.  

Advocates are also alarmed by a provision that would allow homeowners to convert their home equity loans into regular mortgage loans, which have lower interest rates, but fewer protections.

In order to foreclose on a home equity loan, a lender must get a ruling from a judge, and can't go after a homeowner's other assets if the value of the property doesn't cover the amount owed. Lenders can foreclose on regular mortgage loans more quickly and easily, and can claim the borrower's other assets if necessary in order to be paid back in full.

When it originally helped negotiate the legalization of home equity loans back in 1997, the Texas Association of Realtors had insisted that home equity loans should always have a thicker layer of protections, because a rash of foreclosures could be bad for the entire market. This year, they joined lender groups to allow homeowners to convert their home equity loans into regular mortgage loans.

"In order to have that protection, you pay a premium," says Daniel Gonzalez, legislative director for the Realtors' association. "We want to make sure we're not standing in the way of homeowners getting lower interest rates. What this amendment will do is simply give folks an option."

But advocates worry that sometimes people under financial stress will choose to convert their home equity into conventional loans loans for lower interest rates, and not  realize that they could more easily lose their properties if they fell behind on payments.

"If you're a regular homeowner in Texas, you're not going to know that you've got all these protections with a home equity loan," says Lane, who testified against the amendment in committee. "If they come along and say 'I can save you $200 on your monthly mortgage payment,' you're going to do it."  

One important part of the law, limiting the amount of the loan to 80 percent of the value of the home, will stay put. 

Along with the Realtors and community banks, the amendment is supported byJPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, the Texas Credit Union Association, the the Texas Land Title Association, the Texas Farm Bureau and Texas Mortgage Bankers Association.

Several of those organizations have been top donors  to  state Sen. Kelly Hancock, a Fort Worth Republican and chairman of the Senate Business and Commerce Committee, and state Rep. Tan Parker, R-Flower Mound,  chairman of the House Investments and Financial Services Committee. They were the lead sponsors of the bills underlying the constitutional amendment.

Hancock declined to comment. Parker said the Legislature approved the bill "as as a result of Texans sharing their challenges concerning the current home equity law" with him an his colleagues.

Correction: An earlier version of the story included data that reflected only home equity loans issued by lenders regulated by the Office of the Consumer Credit Commissioner. The story has been updated to include data from state-chartered banks. 

Link to Article:  Click Here

 

Mortgage Lender PHH Agrees to Pay $74 Million Settlement

Associated Press via Houston Chronicle | August 11, 2017              MINNEAPOLIS - Federal prosecutors in Minnesota say PHH Corp. and two subsidiaries have agreed to pay over $74 million to settle allegations they violated standards for underwriting government-backed mortgages.

Acting U.S. Attorney for Minnesota Gregory Brooker said Tuesday that Mount Laurel, N.J.-based PHH submitted defective loans for government insurance, and that homeowners and taxpayers paid the price.

The government said it incurred "substantial losses" in paying insurance claims on Federal Housing Administration loans. About $9 million will go to a whistleblower who formerly worked for PHH.

PHH says it settled without admitting liability to avoid the distraction and expense of litigation.  Article here.

New Wells Fargo Scandal Over Modifying Mortgages Without Authorization

CNN | June 15, 2017          Christopher and Allison Cotton had 16 years remaining on their mortgage when family medical expenses forced them into bankruptcy in 2014.

Wells Fargo went ahead and modified the North Carolina couple's mortgage several times without their authorization, according to a class action lawsuit. The bank extended the term of the mortgage by nearly 26 years, documents say.

If the "stealth" modifications hadn't been caught, the Cotton family's total interest payments would have nearly tripled to more than $140,000, the lawsuit said.

"I anticipate Wells Fargo has done this to thousands of customers," said Theodore Bartholow III, a lawyer who represents the Cottons and last week launched the class action.

News of the latest legal trouble facing Wells Fargo (WFC) was first reported by The New York Times. It comes as Wells Fargo continues to dig out of a scandal over unauthorized account openings and alleged worker retaliation.

Bartholow described an "insidious" process where Wells Fargo uses a routine, but little-noticed form to "sneak through" mortgage modifications on unsuspecting homeowners.  Read more here.

Bank Forecloses on 'Extreme Makeover' Homeowner

USA Today | May 26, 2017         HOLT, Mich. — Nearly nine years after her home was rebuilt on national television, Arlene Nickless must turn in her keys.

Designers with ABC’s Extreme Makeover: Home Edition — with the help of hundreds of volunteers — built her family's home in 2008 following the death of Tim Nickless, her husband of 18 years. But Arlene Nickless has been struggling to manage the mortgage for years and must leave by Monday.

The home was foreclosed on in September and has been up for auction online for weeks.

This past Sunday, cardboard boxes were stacked on the dark hardwood floors once showcased in nationwide broadcasts. The 2009 Ford Flex given with the home sat in the driveway hooked to a moving trailer.

And the overwhelming feeling a tearful Arlene Nickless had all those years ago took on a different tenor.

“When I stepped out of the house the day Extreme Makeover came, you will see me say ‘I can’t believe this is happening,’ ” she said. “And, truthfully, that’s what I feel right now: I can’t believe this is happening.”

Arlene Nickless is quick to defend the ABC show, whose lavish rebuilds have in some cases led to foreclosure because of increased property taxes and pricey utilities. She's less complimentary of her mortgage servicer that state regulators now are targeting.

Her home’s foreclosure resulted from an ongoing struggle to manage the property’s pre-makeover mortgage — a balance that rested at about $30,000 after the 2008 makeover, but had ballooned to at least $113,000 by the end of 2016, she said.  Read more here.

Regulators Are Suing Subprime Mortgage Servicer Ocwen for Years of ‘Deceptive Practices’

Fortune | April 21, 2017        For the second time since 2013, the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau on Thursday sued Ocwen Financial over accusations of widespread misconduct in how it serviced borrowers' loans, from foreclosure abuses to a basic failure to send accurate monthly statements.

News of the CFPB accusations plus related legal actions against Ocwen filed by at least 20 states sent shares of Ocwen crashing by nearly 60% in just over an hour, starting after a cease and desist order filed by North Carolina.

CFPB officials said that mortgage servicer Ocwen and its subsidiaries have failed to clean up their act, even after the CFPB ordered Ocwen in December 2013 to fork over $2 billion in relief to harmed borrowers because of similar violations.

"The consumer bureau has uncovered substantial evidence that Ocwen engaged in unfair and deceptive practices," CFPB Director Richard Cordray said, adding that thousands of customers were harmed.  Read more here.

Goldman's Buying of Default Mortgages Not Without Risk

The Hill|  March 20, 2017        Goldman Sachs has launched an ambitious program to buy severely delinquent or nonperforming home mortgages as one element of a $5.1-billion settlement it has entered into with the federal government for its role in creating and selling mortgage-backed securities (MBS) in the years leading up to the financial crisis.

According to a Wall Street Journal article, Goldman has spent $4.5 billion to acquire 26,000 delinquent mortgages from Fannie Mae. Goldman did not originate any of these mortgages. It also has purchased similar troubled mortgages from Freddie Mac and private sellers.

Goldman intends to restructure the mortgages it has purchased with the expectation that the homeowners will then become current in making payments on them.  In accordance with its settlement agreement, Goldman will provide $1.8 billion of relief to homeowners, presumably by a combination of writing down principal balances, lowering interest rates on the mortgages and extending the repayment period.  Read more here.

The Mortgage Market is Now Dominated by Non-Bank Lenders

The Washington Post | February 23, 2017         Most borrowers, whether they are purchasing property or refinancing their home, focus on their mortgage rate and loan terms rather than the type of lender they choose. 

Quicken Loans has seized a larger share of the mortgage market but rising interest rates and anticipated deregulation under President Trump could change things. (Uli Deck/picture-alliance/dpa/AP )

Quicken Loans has seized a larger share of the mortgage market but rising interest rates and anticipated deregulation under President Trump could change things. (Uli Deck/picture-alliance/dpa/AP )

Yet the landscape of the lending market has shifted dramatically over the past few years from domination by big banks to a market where more loans are made by non-banks — financial institutions that only make loans and do not offer deposit accounts such as a savings account or checking account. 

“For consumers, it doesn’t really matter whether you get your loan through a bank or a non-bank, although in some ways non-banks are a little more nimble and can offer more loan products,” says Paul Noring, a managing director of the financial-risk-management practice of Navigant Consulting in Washington. “The impact is bigger on the housing market overall, because without the non-banks we would be even further behind where we should be in terms of the number of transactions.”  Read full story here.