When it was a “Mid-Century Modern” bank, Washington Mutual served my clients well.

It provided market rate mortgages which it held in the branch’s own portfolio. (WaMu advertised that its “WM Mortgage Loans” were never sold). Your home is a place to live, raise your family- not an investment.

Whether it’s a MCM (Mid-Century Modern) or other, that’s the way it should be regarded, loved and cherished. And a good home mortgage, preferably locally held and serviced made all this possible for me and my clients. As did many other Seattle natives, I started with “School Savings” pictured as a mural on the wall of a branch.
WaMu and many other of the troubled banks and mortgage lenders got off on the wrong  foot when they went after the derivative bundled mortgages that were in demand by big operative builders like Toll Brothers as covered in this very inclusive 10/16/05 NYT Magazine article- Chasing Ground.

PMI Mortgage Insurance Company drop kicks Mortgage Brokers

Today I had several Mortgage Professionals contact me regarding PMI Private Mortgage Insurance Company cutting off mortgage brokers via email and comments here.    I thought it must be a rumor…but it’s not, effective February 20, 2009 PMI Mortgage Insurance Company will no longer underwrite or insure loans for mortgage brokers.   However if you’re a lender, PMI is ‘Right alongside you…we’re in it for the long run”.  

From an email I received today from a Loan Originator:

It’s believed that PMI is the first of the nation’s seven MI firms to totally exclude loan brokers from their coverage menus. In recent months other MIs – including Genworth and MGIC – have tightened guidelines on broker-sourced loans, particularly condominiums and high LTV notes. A PMI spokesman confirmed the new policy change to National Mortgage News adding that, “This does not apply to correspondents.

Some agents and loan officers need to just say, "No."

There is a lot about the real estate industry that needs improvement.  But, there are some very stand-up hard working salt-of-the-earth real estate agents and loan officers that are working in a challenging market and who are literally bailing out financially challenged homeowners.  They are making things happen and are doing what they can to make transactions close.

I know it is a challenging market, especially in the outer lying areas outside of Seattle/Bellevue proper and cash flow is tough, but I’m growing VERY tired of LO’s giving broker credits and agents giving up commissions earned for “challenged” borrowers who obviously have a history of financial mistakes.

I say this in the similar tone and voice of Al Pacino in his famous scene in Scent of a Woman:

I know people want transactions to close, but sometimes consumers need to face the consequences of their own decisions.   Loan officers and agents sometimes need to say, “you know what?….enough is enough.  I’m not dipping into my livelihood to bail you out.  Dig yourself out of your own hole.

Don’t blame us for your prior agent selling you an overpriced home.  Don’t blame me as a loan officer for your garbage loan sold to you by a prior mortgage broker.”

If the Bubbleheads want to trash me because I’m part of the real estate industry, so be it.   But, this is the stuff that goes on behind the scenes that agents and loan officers GET NO CREDIT FOR AND SHOULD.

Homeowners in Foreclosure Should Hire an Attorney

When I teach the Short Sale class, I say many times during the class that homeowners selling short and homeowners in default should always be directed more than one time to seek legal counsel. Sometimes homeowners in financial distress don’t hear you the first time. Just handing them the agency pamphlet isn’t enough. Attorneys can help homeowners in ways that real estate agents cannot. They will know more about their state’s deed of trust laws and any state-specific anti-predatory lending laws as well as federal residential mortgage lending laws than an average real estate agent, and attorneys will have access to recent case law.

justiceStuck with a bad loan, a Staten Island family fights back
Staten Island Advance

David and Karen Shearon were like many other Staten Islanders stuck with bad loans, collapsing financially under the weight of a crushing mortgage less than a year after buying their first home.

But unlike thousands of others who have entered foreclosure as part of the fallout from the subprime lending crisis — homeowners often embarrassed by their situation and unable to afford legal representation — the Shearons fought back.

A judge recently ruled that the owners of this Westport Lane townhouse in New Springville home were victims of predatory lending.They argued through their attorney that brokers aggressively marketed them a high-cost loan and then pressured them to go through with the closing when they could have qualified for a traditional fixed-rate mortgage.

In what is likely to be a precedent-setting decision in New York, state Supreme Court Justice Joseph J. Maltese agreed with the Shearons, recently telling the bank that it could not foreclose on the couple’s New Springville townhouse and that it may have to pay them damages for their troubles and void the $355,000 mortgage on their Westport Lane home…

Judge Maltese determined the original lender violated banking law by failing to check the Shearons’ income and ability to pay the high-cost loan. He said the lender crossed the line again when it financed the home above the $335,000 sale price, using an additional $19,145 to pay the costs and fees associated with securing the high-cost loan. The Shearons’ $5,000 deposit, meanwhile, was never deducted from the ultimate $355,000 in financing.

“This ultimately left Shearon with negative equity in the property,” the judge wrote.

“The mortgage loans may be unenforceable and the homeowner may be entitled to reimbursement of all prior mortgage loan payments, the fees for obtaining the loans and attorney fees,” Maltese added.

At a hearing Feb. 28, the judge is expected to decide whether the mortgage should be voided and damages granted to the Shearons.

Read the entire story here.

I keep reading comments about how there are not enough regulators to adequately oversee state and federal lending laws. With the mortgage lending meltdown continuing into this election year, we are already seeing more proposed state and federal laws.

Question: Would the threat of having the mortgage voided in the courtroom be a more effective way of bringing some rapid order into the mortgage industry?

CNN Money.com: Appraiser sues WaMu

The intersection of ethics and real estate meet again

As if WaMu didn’t have enough on its public relations plate, CNN Money reports:

Jeniffer Wertz, who is seeking unspecified damages, says WaMu stopped accepting her appraisals in mid-2007 a month after she reported that her local housing market in California was “declining.”

Evidently, Wertz claims that Washington Mutual wanted her to change her forecast to “stable.”

And on the other side of the coin

Bloomberg reporting that inflated appraisals causing significant losses to lenders.

`You started to see more and more loan products that would keep payments low, and I see that as correlating with appraisal pressure because those products only work in a rising market.”

(and, which loan products might those be I wonder tongue in cheek?)

Former guest at Inman Connect, Jonathon Miller, a sought-after New York appraisal and real estate consultant remarked:

“Lenders and mortgage brokers routinely pressured appraisers to boost values, said Jonathan Miller, a New York property appraiser for more than two decades who writes a blog about the problem.”

And more from the Bloomberg article….First American and WaMu working together?

“In New York, Attorney General Andrew Cuomo subpoenaed Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the two biggest buyers of U.S. mortgages. He also sued First American Corp.’s eAppraiseIT LLC for allegedly caving to pressure from Washington Mutual Inc., its biggest customer and the largest U.S. thrift, to inflate values.”

Ethics in real estate: oxymoron?

What I love about this business: the people

Escrow is one of the toughest jobs in real estate, for a lot of different reasons. But, it is by far the most interesting from our experiences in that both Lynlee and I have sold (circa 1990) as licensee’s, bought and sold homes as homeowner’s and today as owners of an escrow company.

For example, in a recent day at the office we have had people curse at us, a customer who threatens to sue everyone in the deal including the clerk at the corner 7-11, an angry client yelling at their loan officer so loud that other tennants in our building start calling to see if everything is ok, then, before we have a chance to catch our breath, my wife comes smiling out of the signing room after meeting with a client. Looking at her, I say, “what are you grinning about?” To which she wryly remarks, “that customer just told me, ‘please don’t take me the wrong way, but you are a very pretty lady.”

You can be the scum of the earth to someone at 10am in the morning and then a hero just twenty minutes later.

In escrow you meet the most interesting people: From rock stars, to brain surgeons, shakers ‘n movers, CEO’s, farmers, war hero’s, teachers, politicians, pro-athletes and more. And, the occasional world famous writer to boot.

A lesson in the dangers of distressed property purchases…

A friend of mine contacted me the other day about a property investment opportunity that her brother-in-law (BIL) was placing in front of her and her husband. The property in question is located in the city and state where the BIL lives – and it’s far from the Seattle area at roughly halfway across the country. The house reportedly, and confirmed in the report I read, has a major mold issue that has attacked even the underlayment of the floors. (if you want to see some gross mold photos, check out this site) The buyer’s agent and BIL (who agent represents) are attempting to state that the water damage was caused by the former owner having a drug problem and not cleaning up after himself or perhaps because of a water leak in the bathrooms and from a leaking dishwasher. Hmmmmm…..

The house is supposedly being offered off-market at a lowball price of $400k for this tony neighborhood where $550k-800k is the common price points for various sized homes. Even the listing agent is nervous about selling the house with the mold issue but the owner is now deceased and the family can’t afford the home or to fix the home. This tells me that there is likely no insurance money to fix the problem especially if the insurance company deemed it to be failure of the owner to maintain the property. BTW – did most of you know that this is a common disclaimer in most insurance policies? If an insurer can point to an owner’s failure to maintain (ie. ignoring a leak) they can deny coverage. Also, as I’m learning, this particular state has had a rash of insurance companies choosing to deny the option of mold coverage in their policies at all… period because of prior mold problems that required huge insurance payouts.

Now, the price point initially sounds good but my personal concerns surround the mold issue, the fact that it has not been specifically identified in the mold specialist/inspection results, and the amount of work that actually needs to be done to get this house back in to the condition that this neighborhood typically expects. We are getting conflicting reports about the source of the mold and no one has sent my friend photos of the subject property to review. Also, there is the stigma associated with trying to sell a house that has HAD mold – and note I say “HAD” mold because frequently the average consumer can’t get past… well, the past. Agents are required to disclose known material defects, and so are homeowners (at least in WA State), so you’d have to tell a prospective buyer about the issue, even if it was fixed.

The BIL is a contractor and thinks he can replace the floors for about $20k and the only other item he thinks he needs to fix is a broken bathtub. Again, hmmmmmm……. Somehow I don’t think that this will be all that needs to be done.

His (BIL) expectation is that someone else will come in with the money to buy the property and he’ll do the labor and then they’ll split profits. I’m telling my friend/client that there is a lot more that needs to be sorted out and specified in a contract between the parties of the financial investor and the contractor (BIL). Thankfully, she agrees. On top of this issue there are questions of whether or not the house can be purchased with financing (likely not), what type of financing (preferably a renovation loan) is available, can it get insured, will it require oversight (it seems so based on the mold report) and by which entities (city, inspector, insurance, bank? most likely all of the above) and what it will cost to have re-testing done (what if it doesn’t pass?).

After even more phone calls today to the agent I have now learned that the listing agent is actually his secretary who has just gotten her license 2 months ago and that this is her first deal – ever. On top of this news, I also ferret out that the house is in foreclosure so we’re in a short sale position IF the $400k is even accepted. Wait, let’s recount the issues in a quick rundown….

1. mold problems that may or may not have had the water issue fixed.

2. foreclosure with short sale with proposed sale price at 80% of owed amount.

3. estate sale with unknown additional liens, taxes, etc. owed or owing. If the guy was truly a cocaine addict as desribed to us then there could be a lot more outstanding. Also unknown is who is actually selling the house: the widow, the attorney, the lender? Since it’s not yet foreclosed it’s likely the widow or attorney.

4. listing agent that works for the guy trying to be the buyer’s agent (MAJOR conflict of interest and not initially disclosed)

5. 1st time listing agent that has no other sales or negotiating experience working with a guy who has little, if no, experience in short sales.

6. unknown actual costs of repairs

7. no current photos available for review by prospective buyer (yet)

8. unknown lending environment for a distressed and damaged property

9. unknown insurance liability and potential to be an uninsurable property

I know what I think about this deal (a potential disaster) but I’d be curious to hear from others. What are your opinions? Would you go for it, and why? If you wouldn’t touch it, I’d love to hear your comments too.

"Hope Now" program to curb delinquency/foreclosures fraught with problems

The Hope Now program currently being proposed in the other Washington is designed to assist current homeowners with Adjustable Rate Mortgages (ARM’s) in which their ARM’s may adjust upward causing financial hardship. An issue of immense concern is how do you sift through the thousands of homeowners and qualify those who’s mortgages are about to recast to some ugly interest rate? Further, how do all the stakeholders and investors of these mortgages see this playing out—that’s the part Attorneys will have to fight about (what say you Attorneys?).

If the Government players in this program, including one of the lead Conductor’s in this orchestra, Treasury Secretary Paulson, have their way, the investors of these loans will have to be a good sport and play along, never mind losing copious amounts of money, nor the other legal implications.

‘The modification of existing contracts, without the full and willing agreement of all parties to these contracts, risks significant erosion of 200 years of contract law,’ said Joshua Rosner, managing director at an independent research firm in New York.

Private Money Loan Recommendations?

I had someone email me an interesting question recently:

I had a quick question about private money loans. Have their been any posts on this? I tried searching “private money”, “hard money” but nothing came up. I’m looking into rehabbing a house and conventional lending isn’t going to work for me, so I was wondering if there are any recommendations or guidelines for obtaining private money?

The closest thing I can remember is a site called Prosper (I wrote a note about it) where people can loan other people money. However, I’m almost positive they are geared toward small loans like paying off credit card debt, so I don’t think it would help for home remodeling projects. Also, when I did a bit of searching, I see Brian Bradu covered the topic of private money loans a little while ago, but his angle didn’t include any guidelines or recommendations for finding a private loan.

Is this a common thing? Is there a good source of information for private loans? My gut says that most private money loans are probably among family/friends, but I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that there was an existing market for this kind of thing.