Mortgages

Borrowers, Shut Up, Listen, And Do What Your Lender Asks–Even If It’s The Third Time They’ve Asked For The Same Documentation!

When I was a kid, my dad would often answer my questions with “because I said so,” and it would drive me crazy! Now it’s prudent advice to borrowers says Mark Greene at Forbes.com. Mr. Greene recently wrote one of the best articles I’ve seen in a long time about the current state of mortgage underwriting. It’s called The Perfect Loan File (click for link). It’s a must read for consumers and real estate professionals alike.

The point Mr. Greene makes so well is that lenders are going absolutely nutty over borrower financial documentation to create a “put-back” immune loan file. (A put-back is when Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac make lenders buy back bad loans). Mr. Greene tells to borrowers to give their lender everything they ask for even if they want to stick needles in their eyeballs, and don’t talk back. I will just highlight some gems from the article:

When I was a kid, my father occasionally issued directives that I naturally thought were superfluous, and when asked why I needed to do whatever it was he wanted me to do, his answer was often: “Because I said so.” This never seemed to address my query but always left me without a retort, and I would usually comply. This is exactly what consumers should do during the mortgage approval process. When your lender requests what seems to be over-documentation and you wonder why you need it, accept the simple edict – “because I said so.” You will find the mortgage approval process much less frustrating.

Every nook and cranny of your financial life has to be corroborated, double- and triple-checked, and reviewed again before closing. This way, if the originating lender has created a loan file that is exactly consistent with published underwriting guidelines and has documented while adhering to those guidelines, the chances are that your loan will not be subject to repurchase.

It all comes down to your proof. If the lender asks for a specific document, give them exactly what they are asking for, not what “should be OK,” – because it won’t be.  This is where the approval process tends to go off the rails, when the lender asks for specific documentation and the borrower supplies something else. Here, too, is where both sides get frustrated. So if the lender asks for a bank statement and there are 5 pages for that bank statement, send them all 5 pages, and not just the summary. If you send them the summary page and they ask again, don’t complain that the lender keeps asking for the same thing when you never sent it in the first place. This may sound elementary, but the vast majority of mortgage approval process woes stem from scenarios just like this.

So when your loan officer or underwriter responds to another one of your questions with “because I said so,” do him or her a favor and do it.  Your loan approval will go a lot smoother and quickly if you do.

Borrowers, agents, and loan officers, feel free to share your thoughts and advice on this article!

~Rich

{ 1 comment }

Case Underscores Importance of Safeguarding Loan Documents And Getting Subordinations

JPMorgan Chase & Co. v. Casarano, Mass. Appeals Court (Feb. 28, 2012) (click to read)

In a decision which could impact foreclosure cases involving missing or lost loan documents, the Appeals Court held that a mortgage is unenforceable and must be discharged where the underlying promissory note securing the mortgage could not be found.

Seller Second Mortgage Financing

This case involved an unconventional second mortgage for approximately $15,000 taken back from a private seller. The homeowner subsequently refinanced the first mortgage several times, but the refinancing lenders’ attorneys never obtained a subordination from the second lien-holder. That was a mistake. The first mortgage wound up in Wells Fargo’s hands which realized that due to the lack of recorded subordination, the second mortgage was senior to its first mortgage.

Alas, a title claim arose and the title insurance company had to step in and file an “equitable subrogation” action. In this type of legal action, a first mortgage holder asks the court to rearrange the priorities of mortgages due to mistake, inadvertence or to prevent injustice.

Where’s The Note?

The second mortgage holder had lost the promissory note which secured its mortgage, and notably, could not locate a copy of it. The mortgage itself referenced the amount of the loan and the interest rate but was silent on everything else, including the payment term, maturity date, and whether it was under seal. The second mortgage holder argued that enough of the terms of the missing note could be “imported” from the mortgage, but the Appeals Court disagreed, reasoning that there wasn’t enough specificity on key terms to enforce the mortgage.

Lesson One: Safeguard Original Loan Docs

This decision underscores the importance of safeguarding original promissory notes and other debt instruments, or at a minimum keeping photocopies so that if enforcement is required, the material terms of the original can be proved to the satisfaction of the court. With all the paperwork irregularities endemic with securitized mortgages these days, missing or lost promissory notes and loan documents have become more prevalent. This decision is potentially problematic for those foreclosures where the original promissory note is lost. The standard Fannie Mae form mortgage does not spell out the loan terms with specificity, instead, it references the promissory note. Indeed, the Fannie Mae mortgage does not even reference the interest rate. Based on this decision, a mortgage without sufficient evidence of a promissory note could be rendered unenforceable and un-forecloseable.

As an aside, a lender who lacks an original promissory note could rely upon Uniform Commercial Code Section 3-309, which provides:

(a) A person not in possession of an instrument is entitled to enforce the instrument if (i) the person was in possession of the instrument and entitled to enforce it when loss of possession occurred, (ii) the loss of possession was not the result of a transfer by the person or a lawful seizure, and (iii) the person cannot reasonably obtain possession of the instrument because the instrument was destroyed, its whereabouts cannot be determined, or it is in the wrongful possession of an unknown person or a person that cannot be found or is not amenable to service of process. (b) A person seeking enforcement of an instrument under subsection (a) must prove the terms of the instrument and the person’s right to enforce the instrument. If that proof is made, section 3-308 applies to the case as if the person seeking enforcement had produced the instrument. The court may not enter judgment in favor of the person seeking enforcement unless it finds that the person required to pay the instrument is adequately protected against loss that might occur by reason of a claim by another person to enforce the instrument. Adequate protection may be provided by any reasonable means.

Lesson Two: Get Subordinations For Junior Liens

This decision also underscores the importance of getting a subordination agreement for second mortgages and other junior lien-holders when closing refinances. A subordination agreement is a contract whereby a junior lien-holder agrees to remain in junior position to a first mortgage or other senior lien-holder during a refinancing transaction. Otherwise, the first in time rule of recording would elevate a junior lien-holder to first, priority position after a refinance. If a subordination was obtained and recorded here, this case would not have occurred.

Disclaimer:  I drafted the original complaint in this case while working at my previous law firm. I had long since left when the case was decided at the Appeals Court.

___________________________________________________

Richard D. Vetstein, Esq. is a Massachusetts real estate and title defect attorney. He can be reached by email at info@vetsteinlawgroup.com or 508-620-5352.

{ 3 comments }

Update (2/6/14):  Legislation to Fix Ibanez Defects Much Closer to Passage

Update (8/3/12): Foreclosure Prevention Act Signed, But Fails To Address Ibanez Title Problems

Massachusetts Senate Bill 830 Addresses Toxic Foreclosure Titles

Finally, Massachusetts lawmakers have taken action to help innocent purchasers of foreclosed properties in the aftermath of the U.S. Bank v. Ibanez and Bevilacqua v. Rodriguez decisions, which resulted in widespread title defects for previously foreclosed properties. The legislation, Senate Bill 830, An Act Clearing Titles To Foreclosed Properties, is sponsored by Shrewsbury State Senator Michael Moore and the Massachusetts Land Title Association. Full text is embedded below.

The bill, if approved, will amend the state foreclosure laws to validate a foreclosure, even if it’s technically deficient under the Ibanez ruling, so long as the previously foreclosed owner does not file a legal challenge to the validity of the foreclosure within 90 days of the foreclosure auction.

The bill has support from both the community/housing sector and the real estate industry. Indeed, the left-leaning Citizens’ Housing and Planning Association (CHAPA), non-profit umbrella organization for affordable housing and community development activities in Massachusetts, has filed written testimony in support of the bill.

Properties afflicted with Ibanez title defects, in worst cases, cannot be sold or refinanced. Homeowners without title insurance are compelled to spend thousands in legal fees to clear their titles. Allowing such foreclosed properties to sit and languish in title purgatory is a huge drain on individual, innocent home purchasers and the housing market itself.

A recent case in point:  I was recently contacted by a nice couple who bought a Metrowest condominium in 2008 after it had been foreclosed. Little did they know that the foreclosure suffered from an “Ibanez” title defect. Unfortunately, the lawyer who handled the closing did not recommend they buy owner’s title insurance. They have been unable to track down the prior owner who went back to his home country of Brazil, and now they are stuck without many options, unable to refinance or sell their unit. This bill will help people like this who have helped the housing market by purchasing foreclosed properties, and improving them.

The bill is now before the Joint Committee on the Judiciary. Please email them to show your support of Senate Bill 830.
_______________________________________________
Richard D. Vetstein, Esq. is a Massachusetts real estate and title defect attorney. He can be reached by email at info@vetsteinlawgroup.com or 508-620-5352.

Massachusetts Senate Bill 830

{ 14 comments }

computer-searchAll of the Massachusetts registries of deeds now offer free online document search capabilities. The main portal for most registries is www.masslandrecords.com operated by the Secretary of State’s Office. Other registries have their own systems.

Here is a handy list of all registries liked to their online search portals:

Here is the link to the Massachusetts Registry of Deeds County Map to determine in which county your town is located.

How To Search Masslandrecords

1. By Name/Basic

In the basic search form, you input the property owner’s last name and first name and hit search. For common names, this will often generate too many names results as the search function is not limited to town.

2. By Name/Advanced

In the basic search form, click the Advanced button on the right side. The search will expand to the screenshot above. This is the optimal search method as you can limit the search by town and document type. I usually leave the search on “all document types.”

3.  By Book and Page

Massachusetts Registry of Deeds documents are organized by “book and page.” Before electronic records, land records were recorded in actual thick book volumes. The “book” reference refers to the volume number and the page refers to the page number. Each recorded instrument has its own unique book and page reference at the top of the document’s first page. Even with the proliferation of electronic records, the book and page reference is still in operation in Massachusetts.

4. By Property Address


A newer functionality, you can also search by street address. In my experience, however, the results are often inaccurate so I would not rely on this search method.

Search In Action

So, let’s give this a try. Find your registry where you live. Use the Registry County Map if you don’t know. In the basic search form, click advanced. Input your first and last name and click your town in the drop down menu. Press Search. Voilá, there’s a list of all recorded instruments on your title. For viewing and printing, click any of the documents. The details will appear on the right side of the search page. Click View Images and the image will appear in a new window. You can print from there. Pretty cool, huh?

Feel free to email me with any questions!

______________________________________________

Richard D. Vetstein, Esq. is an experienced Massachusetts real estate attorney. Please contact him if you need assistance with a Massachusetts purchase or sale transaction.

{ 3 comments }

Final product will be a combination of both the final Truth in Lending (TIL) form and the HUD-1 Settlement Statement — a dramatic change from the existing forms.

For the second time in as many years, the federal government is substantially overhauling two of the most important disclosures given to mortgage borrowers, the Truth in Lending Disclosure and the HUD-1 Settlement Statement. The revisions are mandated by the Dodd-Frank Act. The new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is in charge of re-designing and testing the new forms.

Most real estate industry professionals are unaware that these new changes are on the horizon. The new forms are expected to be implemented in 2013 after rule-making and industry comments are completed.

If you want to track the CFPB’s activity on these forms, I highly recommend the CFPB Monitor. The CFPB’s “Know Before You Owe” website also has updates and is pretty good for a government site.

Here is the new prototype HUD-1 Settlement Statement:

20120220 Cfpb Basswood Settlement Disclosure

What do you think about the new forms? At first, glance it is easier to read, understand and explain to borrowers. We’ll keep track of this important issue.

{ 1 comment }

In yet another move evidencing the Supreme Judicial Court’s ongoing concern over the impact of the foreclosure crisis in Massachusetts, the SJC is soliciting friend-of-the-court briefs in the next important foreclosure case, HSBC Bank v. Jodi Matt.

As we wrote about in our prior post here, the SJC is considering whether a lender holding a securitized mortgage has standing to even begin a foreclosure action in the Land Court under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act–one of the first steps in the Massachusetts foreclosure process. The SJC will ostensibly decide whether lenders holding mortgages held in a securitized pool, with questions whether they in fact were validly assigned those mortgages, can start foreclosures in Massachusetts. The lower court Land Court opinion can be read here.

The text of the Court’s announcement is as follows:

February 17, 2012 – ANNOUNCEMENT: The Justices are soliciting amicus briefs. Whether the Land Court judge correctly concluded that a bank had standing to commence an action to determine whether the defendant (alleged to be in breach of her mortgage obligations) was entitled to the benefits of the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, on the ground that the bank had a contractual right to become the holder of the note and mortgage. The case is tentatively scheduled for argument in May.

For more information about how to submit a friend of the court brief, go to the SJC Website.

__________________________________________________

Richard D. Vetstein, Esq. is an experienced Massachusetts real estate litigator and attorney. Please contact him if you are dealing with a Massachusetts foreclosure title dispute.

{ 0 comments }

Banker and Tradesman is reporting that Bristol, Plymouth and Norfolk County Registrars of Deeds plan to file a class action suit against Mortgage Electronic Registration System (MERS), aiming to recoup land recording fees they believe they are owed. B&T reporter Colleen Sullivan reports that:

The counties are being represented by Bernstein Liebhard LLP, a New York firm specializing in class actions which has already brought a similar suit on behalf of all the counties of Ohio. John Mitchell, a Bristol County commissioner, said the board considered pursuing a claim last year, but decided to hold off until the national mortgage settlement between the banks and the states’ attorneys general was resolved. But as it became clear that the vast bulk of the funds in that settlement would go towards foreclosures and loan modifications, he said the county decided to pursue the matter. Bristol County officials estimate the county may have lost out on millions of dollars in fees over the past decade because of the alleged use of MERS as a kind of private registry among large banks. A rough calculation prepared by county officials last year came up with a figure of between $3.1 million and $6.5 million lost, using a conservative estimate of one or two additional non-recorded assignments per MERS- registered property.

“Over the last month, we were approached by [Bernstein Liebhard] and other firms….they already had Norfolk and Plymouth, and we thought it made sense to get as many counties together,” Mitchell told Banker & Tradesman. Mitchell said he wasn’t sure if the remaining Massachusetts counties with county-level governance would join the suit. The relatively small size of counties like Nantucket and Dukes would mean far smaller sums at stake.

County-level governance was abolished in Massachusetts in eight of the state’s 14 counties around the turn of the century. Only Barnstable, Bristol, Norfolk, Plymouth, and Dukes retain county boards; Nantucket has a combined city-county government. The remaining boards retain the right to bring independent actions in court.

“We’re familiar with their claims, and there’s no merit to them,” said Janis Smith, spokeswoman for MERS. Smith said that by registering under the MERS name, banks fulfill the purpose of having a registry, that is, alerting the public of any existing leins on a property. “MERS does not eliminate or replace county records, and the recording fees are paid,” she said. “The MERS business model is legal in all 50 states and has been affirmed by Massachusetts courts.”

“I commend the counties,” said John O’Brien, the registrar of deeds in Essex County, who has been an active critic of MERS for the past two years. O’Brien was the first public official in Massachusetts to calculate how much the MERS system may have cost the state in allegedly lost recording fees, coming up with a figure of $22 million for his county alone. “If I had the authority, I would have filed this suit two years ago.”

The other registries fall under Secretary of State William Galvin’s jurisdiction. O’Brien said he plans to petition the legislature to recover his ability to bring suit on behalf of Essex County as one of its elected officials.

The Registrars are reportedly incensed that the MERS private recording system has deprived them of millions of recording fees. We will keep tabs on this important case.

{ 1 comment }

Updated (2.9.12 6:30pm)

In the largest national settlement since the tobacco litigation, the Boston Globe is reporting that Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley is expected today to sign on to a settlement brokered by attorneys general nationwide with five major US lenders over the banks’ role in the country’s foreclosure crisis. As we wrote about here, in December of last year AG Coakley pulled out of the settlement and brought a historical lawsuit against the big lenders over foreclosure abuses.

As reported in the Globe, Coakley has been been negotiating for days with lenders over the pact, which has been months in the making. Massachusetts is one of only a few states that have yet to agree to the settlement, which reportedly could total between $25 billion and $30 billion. The money is being promised by Bank of America Corp., JPMorgan Chase & Co., Wells Fargo & Co., Citibank, and Ally Financial Inc.

According to Coakley’s office, Massachusetts estimated total share of the settlement is nearly $318 Million:

  • Massachusetts borrowers will receive an estimated $224 Million in benefits from loan term modifications and other direct relief.
  • Massachusetts borrowers who lost their home to foreclosure from January 1, 2008 through December 31, 2011 and suffered servicing abuse would qualify for $14.6 Million in cash payments to borrowers.
  • The value of refinanced loans to Massachusetts underwater borrowers would be an estimated $32.7 Million.

Banker and Tradesman is reporting that homeowners still living in underwater properties may get up to $20,000 each for principal reductions. That may not be nearly enough for many victims of foreclosure abuses. It’s unclear how much money will be available for much needed mortgage principal reduction and loan modifications.

However, the state was told yesterday it could sign on to the pact without giving up its right to litigate other issues related to the five lenders and how they conducted foreclosures, according to the Globe. Under terms of the tentative agreement, Coakley apparently will still be able to pursue claims against MERS and lenders for foreclosures in Massachusetts without having the proper paperwork.

For more information, here is the Attorney General’s Press Release.

{ 1 comment }

by Brian Cavanaugh, Senior Mortgage Banker, RMS Mortgage and SmarterBorrowing.com

Overall, despite being a fairly light week in terms of economic releases and relate events, it is still relatively crucial for the mortgage market. We saw the yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury Note spike higher Friday as a result of the stronger than expected employment data. Stocks rallied as a result of that data, extending the 2012 stock rally that has pushed the Dow up over 5% and the Nasdaq up 11% year-to-date. Both indexes are at their highest levels since May 2008 and December 2000 respectively. This has me believing we are due to see a pullback in stocks fairly soon. If/when this happens, we should see funds shift back into bonds for safety, leading to lower mortgage rates. Keep in mind that this is more or less just speculation, but I am expecting to move to a less conservative approach regarding short-term mortgage rates in the near future.

If I were considering financing/refinancing a home, I would….

LOCK if my closing was taking place within 7 days…

LOCK if my closing was taking place between 8 and 20 days…

FLOAT if my closing was taking place between 21 and 60 days…

FLOAT if my closing was taking place over 60 days from now…

This is only my opinion of what I would do if I were financing a home. It is only an opinion and cannot be guaranteed

There are only two pieces of monthly economic data scheduled for release this week. Neither of them is considered to be highly important, so we don’t have much to pin our hopes on or to be concerned with this week. There are two Treasury auctions on the calendar that may influence mortgage rates the middle part of the week and the second part of Fed Chairman Bernanke’s testimony to Congress, but no important economic data.

Nothing of concern is due tomorrow, so look for the stock markets and news from Europe- particularly Greece, to drive the markets tomorrow. Fed Chairman Bernanke will speak to the Senate Budget Committee at 10:00 AM Tuesday. I don’t expect him to say anything different than he said last week to the House Budget Committee, but the Q&A portion of his appearance could lead to something new. It is worth watching, but it will probably not lead to a noticeable change in the markets or mortgage rates.

Treasury Auctions Ahead

The two important Treasury auctions come Wednesday and Thursday when 10-year Notes and 30-year Bonds are sold. The 10-year sale is the more important one as it will give us a better indication of demand of mortgage-related securities. If the sales are met with a strong demand from investors, we should see the bond market move higher during afternoon trading the days of the auctions. But a lackluster interest from buyers, particularly international investors, would indicate a waning appetite for longer-term U.S. securities and lead to broader bond selling. The selling in bonds would likely result in upward afternoon revisions to mortgage rates.

Unemployment Numbers

With little monthly and no quarterly economic reports being posted, Thursday’s weekly release of unemployment figures may end up moving the markets and mortgage rates more than it traditionally does. The Labor Department is expected to announce that 370,000 new claims for unemployment benefits were filed last week, rising slightly from the previous week’s total. The higher the number of new claims for benefits, the better the news for the bond market and mortgage pricing as it would indicate weakness in the employment sector.

The first monthly report comes early Friday morning when December’s Goods and Services Trade Balance data will be posted. This report measures the U.S. trade deficit and can affect the value of the U.S. dollar versus other currencies, but it usually does not cause enough movement in bond prices to affect mortgage rates. It is expected to show a $48.2 billion trade deficit.

Consumer Sentiment

February’s preliminary reading to the University of Michigan’s Index of Consumer Sentiment will be released late Friday morning. This index measures consumer willingness to spend and usually has a moderate impact on the financial markets. If it shows an increase in consumer confidence, the stock markets may move higher and bond prices could fall. It is currently expected to come in at 74.0, down from January’s final reading of 75.0. That would indicate consumers were less optimistic about their own financial situations than last month and are less likely to make large purchases in the near future. Since consumer spending makes up over two-thirds of the U.S. economy, this would be considered good news for bonds and mortgage pricing.

  • Are you a possible Massachusetts First Time Homebuyer?
  • Do you have a Real Estate client inquiring about current Mortgage Rates?
  • Do you have any Refinancing questions?
  • Should you be thinking about Refinancing out of your ARM (Adjustable Rate Mortgage)?
  • Have your Real Estate clients been Pre Approved?

bc@smarterborrowing.com  617.771.5021

{ 0 comments }

Update (6/22/12): SJC Issues Final Opinion (click to read)

For interested legal observers of the foreclosure crisis, it really doesn’t get any better than this.

Supplemental and amicus curie legal briefs have been filed in much awaited case of Eaton v. Federal National Mortgage Ass’n, and they make for great reading. The briefs were filed in response to the SJC’s concern, mid-appeal, over whether an adverse ruling against foreclosing lenders will have a disastrous impact on foreclosure titles and, if so, whether its ruling should be applied prospectively rather than retroactively. Click here for our past posts on the case.

Notably, the Federal Housing Finance Association, the congressional conservator of the bailed out Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, filed a rare amicus brief and laid a shot across the SJC’s bow. It suggested that the congressional bailout law would trump an adverse decision by the SJC to the extent that it interfered with Fannie and Freddie’s mission to secure the health of U.S. secondary mortgage market. This is the first time that I’m aware of the federal agency intervening in a particular foreclosure case.

Not surprisingly, Fannie Mae, FHFA, and REBA (Real Estate Bar Ass’n) and the other industry groups argue against a retroactive application of an adverse ruling, claiming that it would have a disastrous effect on homeowners with foreclosures in their titles.

Eaton (which cited this Blog), the legal services groups and foreclosure defense groups say that the sky will not fall down if the unity rule is applied retroactively; indeed, foreclosures in Mass. have increased post-Ibanez. They also argue that the law is the law, and it’s the lenders fault for creating a securitization scheme in violation of the law, so they should have to deal with the repercussions.

I have also attached REBA’s and Attorney Glenn Russell’s (lead counsel in U.S. Bank v. Ibanez) submissions on the recent Land Court ruling in Wells Fargo v. McKenna where the Land Court Judge Gordon Piper held that Massachusetts does not require the unity rule.

A final decision is expected in February or March.

Click here for the particular brief:

Real Estate Bar Ass’n (REBA) Brief      REBA Letter re. McKenna case

Land Title Ass’n Brief

WilmerHale Legal Services Brief

Appellee Henrietta Eaton Brief (citing this Blog)

Fannie Mae Brief

Federal Housing Finance Ass’n Brief

Ablitt Schofield PC Foreclosure Law Firm Brief

McDonnell Property Analytics Brief

Professor Adam Levitin Brief

National Foreclosure Defense Group Brief

Attorney Glenn Russell Foreclosure Defense Brief (Part 1 and Part 2)

______________________________________________________________

Richard D. Vetstein, Esq. is an experienced Massachusetts real estate litigator and attorney. Please contact him if you are dealing with a Massachusetts foreclosure title dispute.

 

{ 14 comments }

Standard Mortgage Contingency Language At Issue

I recently came across a very interesting and scary case from the Appeals Court, Survillo v. McDonough No. 11–P–290. Dec. 2, 2011. (It’s technically an “unpublished” opinion but it’s available to the public). The case underscores how carefully attorneys must craft the mortgage contingency to protect the buyer’s deposit in case financing is approved with adverse conditions.

“Prevailing Rates, Terms and Conditions”

The buyers, Mr. and Mrs. Survillo, submitted the standard Offer To Purchase the sellers’ home in Walpole. The offer provided it was “Not subject to the Sale of any other home.” The sellers accepted the offer. The buyers received a conditional pre-approval from a local bank for a first mortgage in the amount of $492,000. The pre-approval also stated that anticipated loan was “[n]ot based on sale of any residence.”

The parties then entered into the standard form purchase and sale agreement (P & S), with the typical mortgage contingency provision for a $429,000 mortgage loan:

“In order to help finance the acquisition of said premises, the [buyers] shall apply for a conventional bank or other institutional mortgage loan of $492,000.00 at prevailing rates, terms and conditions. If despite the [buyers] diligent efforts a commitment for such loan cannot be obtained on or before October 5, 2009, the [buyers] may terminate this agreement by written notice to the [sellers] and/or the Broker(s), as agent(s) for the [sellers], prior to the expiration of such time, whereupon any payments made under this agreement shall be forthwith refunded and all other obligations of the parties hereto shall cease and this agreement shall be void without recourse to the parties hereto “

Change In Circumstances: Lender Requires Piggyback Loan & Buyers List Their Residence

Due to the buyers’ debt to income ratios, the lender required that the loan be structured as a “piggyback” — a first mortgage of $417,000 and second mortgage of $73,400, and with the condition that the buyers listing their primary residence for sale prior to the loan closing. The buyers absolutely did not want to list and seller their residence, so they wanted out of the deal.

On the last day of the extended financing deadline, the buyers timely notified the sellers that they had “not received a loan commitment with acceptable conditions,” and attempted to back out of the agreement under the mortgage contingency provision. Ultimately, with the buyers refusing to sell their home, the bank denied the buyer’s the mortgage application based on the fact that the “borrower would be carrying three mortgage payments and the debt to income is too high.”

Focus On “Prevailing Terms” Language

The sellers refused to return the deposit, and litigation over the deposit ensued.

The Court framed the case as follows: “Before the extended mortgage contingency deadline of October 21, the buyers received a commitment from the bank for two mortgages totaling $492,000. The P & S’s mortgage contingency was accordingly satisfied unless the bank’s requirement that the buyers list their home for sale was not a “prevailing” term or condition.”

The court started with the assumption that “the typical loan condition for most borrowers is to require them to sell an existing home before the new loan closes. The condition here required only that the buyers list, not sell, their home and it was accordingly not a typical condition.” The buyers argued that because the condition was unusual, it was not a “prevailing” condition within the meaning of the contingency clause of the P & S, despite the fact that the condition was more favorable to them than the standard condition. The court flat out rejected that argument, citing prior rulings that terms of a mortgage contingency presuppose that the buyers will accept commercially reasonable loan terms. If less is required, the condition becomes an option. The court also noted that the buyers failed to notified the sellers that they were unwilling to list or sell their existing home, nor did they insert a proviso to that effect into the mortgage contingency clause. Subsequent events suggested that if the buyers had timely disclosed their intentions to the bank, the loan would have been disapproved, which may well have given the buyers the shelter they sought under the mortgage contingency clause.

The court ruled against the buyers who had to forfeit their $31,000 deposit.

An Ounce of Prevention Is Worth A Pound of Cure

I’m not sure who is to blame here, the buyer’s attorney or the buyers themselves. Probably both.

From a legal drafting approach and as the court pointed out, the buyer’s attorney could have insisted on language into the mortgage contingency provision that the buyers’ financing could not be conditioned on the listing or sale of the buyers’ present residence. After all, the language was in the Offer, so it could have easily been carried over into the P&S. There was no indication from the decision that this was raised or negotiated.

It also seems apparent that the buyers were not particularly up front with anyone on their insistence that they would not list and sell their current residence. If they had been more forthcoming about that, perhaps they could have avoided this situation.

A commenter on Boston.com also places some blame on the loan officer:  “Not all pre-approvals are created equal. For a few minutes of work and adherance to a common standard of practice by the mortgage professional, a true pre-approval is supported by a credit report, the main criteria for ability to qualify for a mortgage. This is generated in a few seconds, and the pre-approval letter usually states subject to verification of income, assets, and property appraisal. Had this been done, THE DEBT TO INCOME RATIO ISSUE WOULD HAVE SURFACED EARLY.”

Based on the loan amount, this mistake or gamble cost the buyers around $31,000 plus legal fees. Ouch!

________________________________________________________

Richard D. Vetstein, Esq. is an experienced Massachusetts real estate attorney. Please contact him if you need assistance with a Massachusetts purchase or sale transaction.

 

{ 2 comments }

Update (6/22/12): SJC Issues Final Opinion (click to read)

The Supreme Judicial Court has just issued an unusual order in the very important Eaton v. Federal National Mortgage Association case, indicating its deep concern over whether an adverse ruling against foreclosing lenders will have a disastrous impact on foreclosure titles and, if so, whether its ruling should be applied prospectively rather than retroactively. The Court is seeking supplemental briefing and friend-of-the-court briefs on these decisive issues. A final decision is expected in February or March.

As outlined in my prior post on the case, the Court is considering the controversial question of whether a foreclosing lender must possess both the promissory note and the mortgage in order to foreclose. This is the essence of the “produce the note” defense. In a securitized mortgage pool, in which over 60% of all U.S. mortgage are part, the note and mortgage are separated between securitized trusts, mortgage services or Mortgage Electronic Registration System (MERS).

If the SJC rules against lenders, it could render the vast majority of securitized mortgage foreclosures defective, thereby creating mass chaos in the Massachusetts land recording and title community. If you thought U.S. Bank v. Ibanez was bad, Eaton v. FNMA could be the Nuclear Option.

The text of the order is as follows:

ORDER :Having heard oral argument and considered the written submissions of the parties and the various amici curiae, the court hereby invites supplemental briefing on the points described below. Supplemental briefs shall not exceed fifteen pages and shall be filed on or before January 23, 2012. 1. It has been claimed that requiring a unity of the mortgage and the underlying promissory note, in order for there to be a valid foreclosure, would cloud any title that has a foreclosure in the chain of title, regardless of how long ago the foreclosure occurred. The parties are invited to address whether they believe that such a requirement would have such an effect, and if so, what legal or practical measures exist that might limit the consequences of such a requirement. 2. It also has been suggested that, if the court were to hold that unity of the mortgage and note is required under existing law, the court’s holding should be applied prospectively only. The parties are invited to indicate on what authority they believe (or do not believe) the court could make such a holding prospective only.

Reading into this order, perhaps a majority of the justices are already leaning towards ruling against the lenders and want to limit the potentially disastrous effect it could have on existing titles and pending and future foreclosures. Interestingly, lenders in the U.S. Bank v. Ibanez case asked the SJC to apply its ruling prospectively, but it declined, thereby leaving hundreds to thousands of property owners and title insurers to clean up toxic foreclosure titles.

In my opinion, an adverse ruling against lenders in Eaton could be the apocalyptic scenario, rendering open to challenge any title with a previous foreclosure in it and inserting a fatal wedge into the current securitized mortgage system. Hopefully this time around the Court is more sensitive to how its ruling will impact the real estate community. It will be interesting to see how this case continues to develop. We will continue to monitor it.

_______________________________________________

Richard D. Vetstein, Esq. is an experienced Massachusetts real estate litigator and attorney. Please contact him if you are dealing with a Massachusetts foreclosure title dispute.

{ 11 comments }

It’s time again for our annual review of highlights in Massachusetts Real Estate Law for the past year. It’s been a very busy year. From the foreclosure fallout, to Occupy Boston, to the new homestead law, there’s been lots to report on. We’ll start in order of importance this year.

SJC Decides Controversial U.S. Bank v. Ibanez Case

2011 started off with a bang with the Supreme Judicial Court’s decision in the widely publicized foreclosure case of U.S. Bank v. Ibanez. Our coverage of the case can be read here and here. The Court’s ruling was rather elementary: you need to own the mortgage before you can foreclose. But it’s become much more complicated with the proliferation of securitized mortgages bought and sold numerous times on Wall Street. The Court held that the common industry practice of assigning a mortgage “in blank” — meaning without specifying to whom the mortgage would be assigned until after the fact — does not constitute a proper assignment, at least in Massachusetts. The ruling left many innocent homeowners and title insurance companies scrambling to deal with titles rendered defective due to the ruling. The fallout continues to this day with no resolution by lawmakers.

AG Coakley Sues Major Banks For Foreclosure Fraud

2011 was certainly the Year of Foreclosure Fallout. Earlier in December, Attorney General Martha Coakley filed a huge consumer protection lawsuit over wrongful foreclosures against the top 5 U.S. lenders, Bank of America Corp., J.P. Morgan Chase & Co., Wells Fargo & Co., Citigroup Inc. and Ally Financial. Coakley also names Mortgage Electronic Registration System, or MERS, the electronic mortgage registration system which proliferated during the securitization boom of the last decade. The lawsuit said it sought “to hold multiple banks accountable for their rampant violations of Massachusetts law and associated unfair and deceptive conduct amidst the foreclosure crisis that has gripped Massachusetts and the nation since 2007.” The case remains pending.

Massachusetts Real Estate Attorneys Win Legal Victory Ensuring Their Place At Closing Table

In the closely watched case of Real Estate Bar Association (REBA) v. National Estate Information Services (NREIS), Massachusetts real estate attorneys won a huge legal victory reaffirming their long-standing role to oversee the closing process and conduct closings in Massachusetts. The case pitted Mass. attorneys vs. out of state notary companies who were trying to conduct notary real estate closings without trained attorneys. Siding with the consumer, the court required “not only the presence but the substantive participation of an attorney on behalf of the mortgage lender.”

New Homestead Law

This year saw the passing of the long-awaited comprehensive revision to our outdated Homestead Act. Here is a summary:

  • All Massachusetts homeowners receive an automatic homestead exemption of $125,000 for protection against certain creditor claims on their principal residence without having to do anything.
  • All Mass. residents are eligible for a $500,000 “declared homestead exemption” by filing a declaration of homestead at the registry of deeds. For married couples, both spouses will now have to sign the form–which is a change from prior practice.
  • Homesteads are now available on 2-4 family homes, and for homes in trust.
  • The existing “elderly and disabled” homestead will remain available at $500,000.
  • If you have a homestead as a single person, and get married, the homestead automatically protects your new spouse. Homesteads now pass on to the surviving spouse and children who live in the home.
  • You do not have to re-file a homestead after a refinance.

More Foreclosure Fallout With Bevilacqua and Eaton Cases

The U.S. Bank v. Ibanez case was the start, but certainly not the ending of the foreclosure fallout. The case of Bevilacqua v. Rodriguez considered property owners’ rights when they are saddled with defective titles stemming from improper foreclosures. The ruling with a mix of good and bad news. The bad news was that victims of defective foreclosure titles could not seek redress through the Land Court “quiet title” procedure. The good news was that the court left open whether owners could attempt to put their chains of title back together (like Humpty-Dumpty) and conduct new foreclosure sales to clear their titles.

Eaton v. Fannie Mae is the next foreclosure case awaiting final decision. As outlined in my prior post on the case, the Court is considering the very important question of whether a foreclosing lender must possess both the promissory note and the mortgage in order to foreclose. Using the “produce the note” defense which has been gaining steam across across the country, the borrower, Ms. Eaton, was able to obtain an injunction from the Superior Court halting her eviction by a foreclosing lender. The SJC heard arguments in the fall and is expected to issue a final ruling early in 2012. A ruling against lenders would be as big, or even bigger, than the Ibanez case.

Lastly, another case to watch for in 2012 is HSBC Bank v. Jodi Matt which will decide whether a lender holding a securitized mortgage has standing to even begin a foreclosure action in the Land Court under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act–one of the first steps in the Massachusetts foreclosure process. The case is should be ready for oral argument in late winter, early spring 2012.

Judge Evicts Occupy Boston Protesters

What would 2011 be without a homage to the Occupy Movement! Citing property and trespass law from centuries ago, Massachusetts Superior Court Justice Frances A. McIntyre issuing a ruling clearing the way for the eviction of the Occupy Boston protest which has taken over Dewey Square in downtown Boston. Our coverage of the ruling is here.

Well, that’s it for a very busy year 2011 in Massachusetts real estate law! The year 2012 is expected to be just as busy, and of course, we’ll be on top of all the breaking news here on the Blog.

______________________________________________

Richard D. Vetstein, Esq. is an experienced Massachusetts real estate litigator and attorney. Please contact him if you are dealing with a Massachusetts foreclosure title dispute.

{ 0 comments }

First Reported Mass. Ruling On Home Affordable Modification Program Liability

The fallout from the sub-prime and mortgage crisis continues in Massachusetts courts, and some judges are reacting in favor of sympathetic borrowers. In Parker v. Bank of America, Massachusetts Superior Court (Dec. 15, 2011), Judge Thomas Billings considered what is unfortunately now a very common fact pattern in borrowers’ quest to have their lenders approve loan modifications, or loan mods. The ruling is embedded below.

A Common Story of Lost Paperwork and Ineptitude

In 2007, Valerie Parker granted first and second mortgages on her home in Lowell to Bank of America. She paid the loans on time for the first 24 months. As the economy worsened, however, she anticipated difficulty in making payments, and so she called BofA for advice. The bank told her that because the loan was not in default they could not help her, and that she would have to cease payments if she wanted their assistance. (Is this not one of the most ridiculous, yet common, responses lenders give to troubled borrowers?)

After a lengthy period of lost and repeatedly re-submitted paperwork, BofA informed Parker she qualified for HAMP (Home Affordable Modification Program) relief, underwent a lengthy financial audit over the telephone, and was promised followup documentation and a halt to further collection and foreclosure efforts. BofA repeatedly lost her paperwork; she had to submit and re-submit documents; and she spent hours at a time on hold, waiting to speak with a human being. She did, however, receive the bank’s verbal assurance that she was “pre-qualified” for the HAMP program and that confirmatory paperwork would be forthcoming. BofA never sent the promised documentation, however, and refused to approve a loan modification. Lengthy and repeated telephone calls produced no documents, no approval, and no progress. Finally, BofA told Parker there was no record of her having qualified for the program. She requested and was given the opportunity to reapply, but the documentation still never came. All while, the collection calls continued and the late fees kept mounting, and the loan was at some point placed in foreclosure.

“Inertia Is Not An Option”

Parker asserted a number of different claims against BofA, but the two which stuck, according to the judge, were her claims for fraud and breach of contract. The judge went through a lengthy history of the recent sub-prime crisis, the TARP bailout plan, and the HAMP program, concluding that BofA’s actions against Parker were unfair under these consumer protection programs.

In a great line, the judge said that “inertia is not an option” when a lender considers a borrower’s legitimate request for a HAMP loan modification. Under HAMP, there are strict deadlines by which lenders must respond to a borrower’s application, and foreclosure activity must stop during the consideration period. The judge lamented that federal regulators had failed to pass enforcement mechanisms to protect borrowers from lenders dragging their heels on loan modifications. Noting that borrowers have no other forum in which their claims may be heard and adjudicated other than the courts, Judge Billings held that Parker could claim “third party beneficiary” status of BofA’s participation in the TARP/HAMP program–diverging from several colleagues opinions to the contrary.

Lastly, in a boon for borrowers, the court left open whether lenders could face Chapter 93A liability — with its triple damages and attorneys’ fees — for similar conduct. While Parker’s counsel dropped the ball by not sending BofA a required demand letter prior to filing suit, this option may be open for other borrowers.

Impact of Ruling

This is one of the first court rulings siding with a borrower on a lender’s liability for dropping the HAMP ball. Clearly, this particular judge is well-educated on what’s been going on with the mortgage crisis and was likely fed up with lenders’ shoddy treatment of some borrowers. But is his legal reasoning correct? The judge can certainly be accused of legislating from the bench here, as the vast majority of other court rulings have rejected his reasoning. (At least 6 opinions by my count, mostly from federal court).

But his reasoning does have some intrinsic appeal inasmuch as HAMP is clearly a consumer driven program and the judge is basically saying that lenders must treat HAMP applicants fairly in accordance with the program rules. If what Ms. Parker says is true, there is a minimum level of fairness that she did not receive. But the problem is what if she simply doesn’t qualify for a loan modification? And every lender who entertains a modification request can be subject to civil liability for rejecting an applicant? Would that chill HAMP modifications even more? Rest assured, we will see more cases like Parker reaching the Superior Court and the Massachusetts appellate courts in the near future.

________________________________________________________________

Richard D. Vetstein, Esq. is an experienced Massachusetts Real Estate Litigation Attorney who has litigated hundreds of cases in the Massachusetts Land and Superior Courts. For further information you can contact him at info@vetsteinlawgroup.com.

Parker v. Bank of America (BofA)

{ 0 comments }

A Guest Post by Brian Cavanaugh of SmarterBorrowing.com.

Inquire within for current Mortgage Rates or Guidelines   bc@SmarterBorrowing.com  617.771.5021

Overall, I am expecting to see some movement in the markets and mortgage rates, especially if we get some surprising results from the week’s data or news about Europe’s financial crisis. Despite the holiday season, we need to keep a cautious approach toward rates because we are likely to see very thin trading (light volume) as a result of many traders keeping short hours or home for the holiday altogether. This means that firms that trade bonds will likely be keeping only a skeleton staff the latter part of the week and raises the possibility of a stronger reaction to surprises in the economic data than we normally would see.

The least important day for mortgage rates will likely be tomorrow unless something drastic happens overnight. We will probably see the most movement in rates Friday, but Thursday’s economic data can also move mortgage pricing noticeably. With the Christmas holiday next weekend, it is being observed next Monday. The bond market will close early this Friday afternoon ahead of the holiday and will reopen next Tuesday morning. Accordingly, proceed cautiously this week if still floating an interest rate and closing by the end of the year.  proceed cautiously this week if still floating an interest rate and closing by the end of the year.

If I were considering financing/refinancing a home, I would….

LOCK if my closing was taking place within 7 days…

LOCK if my closing was taking place between 8 and 20 days…

LOCK if my closing was taking place between 21 and 60 days…

FLOAT if my closing was taking place over 60 days from now…

This is only my opinion of what I would do if I were financing a home. It is only an opinion and cannot be guaranteed.

{ 0 comments }

Brian Cavanaugh of SmarterBorrowing.com is back with his Massachusetts Weekly Mortgage Rate Update. Scroll to the bottom for Brian’s valuable Massachusetts Mortgage Rate Lock Advice!

Inquire within for current Mortgage Rates or Guidelines   bc@SmarterBorrowing.com  617.771.5021

Overall, I am expecting to see a much more active week in the financial markets and mortgage pricing than last week. The most important day of the week is either Tuesday or Friday due to the reports being posted those days and the FOMC meeting scheduled. Please maintain contact with your mortgage professional if you have not locked an interest rate yet because we may see sizable changes to mortgage pricing more than one day this week.

If I were considering financing/refinancing a home, I would….

LOCK if my closing was taking place within 7 days…

LOCK if my closing was taking place between 8 and 20 days…

LOCK if my closing was taking place between 21 and 60 days…

LOCK if my closing was taking place over 60 days from now…

Busy Week Ahead

This week is fairly busy in terms of the number of economic releases and other events scheduled that may influence mortgage rates. There are only four pieces of economic data for us to watch, but three of them are highly important to the markets. In addition to the economic reports, we also have the last FOMC meeting of the year and two important Treasury auctions that are likely to impact bond trading and mortgage pricing. Those events, coupled with the likelihood of further overseas developments from Europe and possibly others, make it highly likely that we will see plenty of movement in the markets and mortgage rates this week.

There is nothing of relevance scheduled for tomorrow. This means we can expect the stock markets to drive bond trading and mortgage rates again. If the major stock indexes open the week with gains tomorrow morning, bonds may move lower, pushing mortgage rates higher. But a weak open in stocks could lead to slightly lower mortgage rates tomorrow. We could also see traders position themselves ahead of the week’s agenda, so even though there is nothing concerning on the calendar, we could see mortgage rates change.

Consumer Price Index Out

The week’s most important economic data comes Friday morning when November’s Consumer Price Index (CPI) is posted. It is similar to Thursday’s Producer Price Index, except it tracks inflationary pressures at the more important consumer level of the economy. Current forecasts call for an increase of 0.1% in the overall index and a 0.1% rise in the core data reading. The core data is watched more closely because it excludes more volatile food and energy prices, giving a more stable reading for analysts to consider. This data is one of the most watched inflation indexes, which is extremely important to long-term securities such as mortgage related bonds. Rising inflation erodes the value of a bond’s future fixed interest payments, making them less appealing to investors. That translates into falling bond prices and rising mortgage rates.

Retail Sales Report

Tuesday has two important events, starting with November’s Retail Sales report. This 8:30 AM ET release will give us a key measurement of consumer spending by tracking sales at retail level establishments. This data is highly important to the markets because consumer spending makes up two-thirds of the U.S. economy. Rapidly rising consumer spending raises the possibility of seeing solid economic growth. Since long-term securities such as mortgage bonds are usually more appealing to investors during weaker economic conditions, a large increase in retail sales will likely drive bond prices lower and mortgage rates higher Tuesday. Current forecasts are calling for an increase of 0.6% in November’s sales.

Last Fed Meeting

The last FOMC meeting of the year will also be held Tuesday, adjourning at 2:15 PM ET. There is not much debate about what the Fed will do at this meeting with no chance of them raising key short-term interest rates. Therefore, the post meeting statement will likely be the sole source of a market reaction. This statement has the potential to have a significant influence on the markets and mortgage rates as investors look for any indication of what and when the Fed may do next. One potential move would be more debt purchases by the Fed. An announcement of another round of quantitative easing (QE3) could help boost bond prices and improve mortgage rates Tuesday afternoon. Besides that, it is believed that there isn’t much more the Fed can do to help boost economic activity.

Treasury Auctions

There are Treasury auctions scheduled for several days this week, but the two important ones are the 10-year Note sale Tuesday and the 30-year Bond sale Wednesday. Tuesday’s auction is the more important of the two and will likely influence mortgage rates more. Results of each sale will be posted at 1:00 PM ET. If they were met with a strong demand from investors, particularly international buyers, we should see afternoon strength in bonds and improvements to mortgage pricing those days. On the other hand, a weak interest in the auctions could lead to upward revisions to mortgage rates during afternoon hours.

Wednesday has little to be concerned with, except for the 30-year Bond auction. November’s Producer Price Index (PPI) will be posted early Thursday morning. It measures inflationary pressures at the producer level of the economy. There are two portions of the index that are used- the overall reading and the core data reading. The core data is the more important of the two because it excludes more volatile food and energy prices. If Thursday’s release reveals stronger than expected readings, indicating that inflationary pressures are rising, the bond market will probably react negatively and drive mortgage rates higher. If we see in-line or weaker than expected numbers, the bond market should respond well and mortgage rates should fall. Current forecasts are showing a 0.2% increase in the overall index and a 0.1% rise in the core data.

Nov. Industrial Production Report

November’s Industrial Production data is also scheduled to be posted Thursday morning, but a little later than the PPI. This report gives us a measurement of manufacturing sector strength by tracking output at U.S. factories, mines and utilities. Analysts are expecting it to show a 0.2% increase in output, indicating modest manufacturing growth. A smaller than expected rise would be good news for bonds, while a stronger reading may result in slightly higher mortgage pricing. However, the PPI release is more important to the markets than this data is.

  • Are you a possible Massachusetts First Time Homebuyer?
  • Do you have a Real Estate client inquiring about current Mortgage Rates?
  • Do you have any Refinancing questions?
  • Should you be thinking about Refinancing out of your ARM (Adjustable Rate Mortgage)?
  • Have your Real Estate clients been Pre Approved?

bc@smarterborrowing.com  617.771.5021

This is only my opinion of what I would do if I were financing a home. It is only an opinion and cannot be guaranteed to be in the best interest of all/any other borrowers.

{ 0 comments }

Updated (1/14/13): SJC Rules Against Lender, Holds That Ownership of Mortgage Must Be Established

Court May Decide Lenders’ Standing In All Foreclosure Cases Involving Securitized Mortgages

With all the hoopla yesterday surrounding Attorney General Martha Coakley’s monumental lawsuit against the big banks over foreclosure practices, the Supreme Judicial Court on November 29, 2011 quietly agreed to hear an appeal over whether a lender holding a securitized mortgage has standing to even begin a foreclosure action in the Land Court under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act–one of the first steps in the Massachusetts foreclosure process.

The case is HSBC Bank v. Jodi Matt. The docket can be downloaded here.

The SJC will ostensibly decide whether lenders holding mortgages held in a securitized pool, with questions whether they in fact were validly assigned those mortgages, can start foreclosures in Massachusetts.

First Steps: The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act

The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act is one of the first steps in the foreclosure process. Lenders must file a complaint in the Land Court under the Act to ensure the borrower is not in active military service. Once the Land Court determines the borrower’s status in the military, then the lender can proceed to advertise and hold a public foreclosure auction. Historically, the Servicemembers action was rather perfunctory, but today borrowers have begun to challenge lenders’ right to start foreclosures in these initial Land Court proceedings.

Lower Court Opinion

In the lower court, Land Court Judge Keith Long (the judge in both the landmark U.S. Bank v. Ibanez and Bevilacqua cases), ruled that HSBC Bank had standing to start the foreclosure process under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, despite serious questions as to whether HSBC validly held the mortgage. The original mortgage was held by New Century, which was in bankruptcy when it purported to assign the mortgage to HSBC. There was no evidence the assignment was authorized by the bankruptcy trustee and whether the signatory had any office or authority to transfer New Century’s bankrupt assets to other parties. Despite these questions, Judge Long ruled that HSBC, through a securitized pooling and servicing agreement, had the contractual right to become the holder of the mortgage, thereby conferring enough standing to start the foreclosure process.

SJC Takes Appeal Sua Sponte

The SJC, in a rare move, took the appeal on its own initiative (sua sponte in legalese) from the Appeals Court. It has not yet released an argument schedule. We’ll be following the case here, so stay tuned.

Notably, foreclosure defense attorney Glenn Russell, Esq., the attorney who prevailed before the SJC in the Ibanez case, is representing the home owner in this case.

The Land Court’s ruling is embedded below.

HSBC Bank v. Jodi Matt

{ 3 comments }

Mass. AG Martha Coakley Credit: Reuters

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness…” — Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

AG Martha Coakley Files Major Civil Action Against Big Banks

First, the big news. Attorney General Martha Coakley has filed a huge consumer protection lawsuit over wrongful foreclosures against the top 5 U.S. lenders, Bank of America Corp., J.P. Morgan Chase & Co., Wells Fargo & Co., Citigroup Inc. and Ally Financial. Coakley also names Mortgage Electronic Registration System, or MERS, the electronic mortgage registration system which proliferated during the securitization boom of the last decade. The lawsuit said it sought “to hold multiple banks accountable for their rampant violations of Massachusetts law and associated unfair and deceptive conduct amidst the foreclosure crisis that has gripped Massachusetts and the nation since 2007.” Specifically, Coakley blames the banks for not complying with the U.S. Bank v. Ibanez decision in foreclosing mortgages without evidence of legal ownership of the underlying debt, improper statutory foreclosure notices and illegal “robo-signing.”

I’m sure Coakley will be able to extract a sizable settlement from the banks, but the question remains, what about the foreclosure mess and toxic titles left in its wake? I hope Coakley seriously considers setting up a toxic title monetary fund to assist homeowners who lack title insurance with clearing their titles due to bungled foreclosures in their chain of title.

Here is a link to the AG’s Complaint.

Culhane v. Aurora Loan Servicers: Federal Judge William Young Grapples With Legality Of MERS System

While AG Coakley was putting the finishing touches on her lawsuit, across the way at the Moakley Courthouse at Fan Pier, U.S. District Judge William G. Young and his cadre of law clerks were attempting to work their way through the legal maze which is the MERS (Mortgage Electronic Registration System) system. The case is Culhane v. Aurora Loan Services of Nebraska. We’ve written about MERS quite a bit here on the blog.

I can say with confidence that Judge Young is one of the smartest jurists on the federal bench and in the Commonwealth. I know this first-hand because I clerked for him in law school.

It took him 59 pages to sort though the myriad of legal issues implicated by the complex MERS system, and he had some very choice (and funny) remarks about the system:

“MERS is the Wikipedia of Land Registration Systems.” . . . “A MERS certifying officer is more akin to an Admiral in the Georgia navy or a Kentucky Colonel with benefits than he is to any genuine financial officer.”

Judge William G. Young

But ultimately, Judge Young concluded that MERS did not run afoul of Massachusetts law, by the “thinnest of venires.” So there you have it. MERS is kosher in Massachusetts, at least according to Judge Young.

However, Judge Young’s ruling came with some important caveats. First, he held that MERS does not have the power to foreclose in its own name. This is no longer an issue as MERS new policy is not to foreclosure in its name. But what about prior foreclosures in MERS’ name? Are those still considered valid?

Second, in accordance with Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 183, sec. 54B, he ruled that assignments from MERS’ vice presidents to loan servicers or holders are valid despite the signer’s lack of personal knowledge or proof of actual authority. This is a direct contradiction with AG Coakley’s claim that the MERS assignments are invalid.

Lastly, the most important aspect of Judge Young’s ruling was his agreement that foreclosing lenders must hold both the loan (promissory note) and the mortgage together in unity, to foreclose, following the controversial Superior Court opinion in Eaton v. FNMA which is now on appeal with the Supreme Judicial Court. However, Judge Young added an important distinction to this rule, saying that that loan servicers could foreclose in their names where the loan is held in a pooled securitized trust, provided they otherwise comply with Massachusetts foreclosure law. This is a very important distinction as a fair amount of foreclosures are brought in the name of the loan servicer. I’m not so sure Judge Young got this one right as a loan servicer rarely if ever holds the note as assignee, as Professor Adam Levitin notes, but the ruling certainly assists the industry.

So all eyes are back on the SJC awaiting its ruling in the Eaton case which could have even far more impact than the Ibanez decision. Of course, these two events underscore that foreclosures are still a mess crying out for legislative help (which hasn’t come at all), and the crucial importance of title insurance, which all buyers should elect at their closings.

I’ve done a quick video analysis and embedded Judge Young’s opinion below.

Culhane v. Aurora Loan Services

{ 7 comments }

Final Say Will Come Soon At SJC In Eaton v. FNMA

In Adamson v. MERS (embedded below), Superior Court Judge Raymond Brassard became the second Massachusetts trial judge to endorse the so-called “produce the note” defense in a foreclosure defense case. The question of whether a foreclosing lender must hold both the promissory note and the mortgage at the same time is now before the Supreme Judicial Court in the eagerly awaited case of Eaton v. Fannie Mae.

In Adamson, Mortgage Electronic Registration System (MERS) claimed to be the holder of the mortgage at the behest of Deutsche Bank. America’s Servicing acted as the servicer. This was a classic sub-prime mortgage with $440,000 in principal at 8.5% interest, with a balloon payment of $370,000 at the end of 30 years. (No wonder the borrower couldn’t keep up with the payments).

The kicker in this case was when America’s Servicing sent the borrower a denial letter for a loan modification stating that it would not foreclose in the next 30 days under the federal HAMP program to give the borrower a chance to explore other modification option. It foreclosed the next day. Ouch.

Unification Theory

Relying on the Judge McIntyre’s earlier decision in the Eaton case, Judge Brassard was persuaded that Massachusetts still holds on to the unification theory where a foreclosing lender must hold both the note and the mortgage at the time of foreclosure. Judge Brassard expressed concern that separating the mortgage from the note could lead to double liability for the borrower (first, a foreclosure, then an attempt to collect the note).

In a ruling which will make foreclosure defense attorneys salivate, Judge Brassard found merit to the borrower’s claim that the lender and the servicer violated the Massachusetts Consumer Protection Act, Chapter 93A, for foreclosing the day after the denial letter was issued, in violation of the 30 day safe harbor period.

Impact & What’s Next?

With two Superior Court judges endorsing this theory and several bankruptcy court judges rejecting it, all eyes are now on the Supreme Judicial Court’s decision in the Eaton v. Fannie Mae case which will be the final say in the matter. If the SJC accepts the unification theory, it will be a bigger bombshell than the U.S. Bank v. Ibanez case last year.

Until the SJC decides the Eaton case, this ruling will continue to slow down the pace of foreclosures in Massachusetts. This will, in turn, keep the inventory of REO properties high, causing further drag on the troubled housing market.

Thank you to the blogging attorneys at the Massachusetts Land Use Monitor for bringing this case to my attention.

Adamson v. MERS Decision

{ 0 comments }

Home Affordable Refinance Program (HARP) Revamped

Homeowners who have not been able to refinance because they are “underwater” — their loans are more than the value of their home due to depressed real estate values — are being thrown a lifeline by the Obama Administration’s latest housing market rescue plan, announced yesterday.

Regulators are revamping a program rolled out in 2009, the Home Affordable Refinance Program, or HARP, which lets borrowers with homes whose values have dropped to refinance. So far, only 894,000 borrowers have used it, of which just 70,000 are significantly underwater. The refinancing program is open to homeowners whose mortgages are owned or guaranteed by Fannie Mae (FNMA) or Freddie Mac (FMCC), the two government-controlled mortgage giants whose rescue three years ago has cost taxpayers $141 billion to date.

The FHFA said the changes could at least double the number of homeowners enrolled. Analysts at Barclays Capital, however, estimated that between 1.9 million and 3.1 million homeowners could be eligible for help.

But underwater homeowners, as long as they have made all their mortgage payments on time in the past six months and meet a few other basic criteria, such as being gainfully employed, would be eligible for a new refinance product just rolled out by the Obama Administration.

According to Scott Van Voorhis at Boston.com, an estimated 230,000 homeowners across Massachusetts are underwater on their mortgages, owing an average of $120,000 more than what their properties are actually worth now. The savings could prove substantial, with $3,000 in savings each year on a $200,000 mortgage that is refinanced from 6 percent down to 4.5 percent, according to this explanatory piece put out by the Associated Press.

Given higher home prices here in Greater Boston, that could amount to $6,000 in savings a year for a homeowner with a $400,000 mortgage — nothing to sneeze at.

If this HARP finally sings a tune, it will be cause for joy among borrowers, mortgage bankers, and closing attorneys across the state. Let’s keep our fingers crossed.

________________________________________________

Richard D. Vetstein, Esq. is an experienced Massachusetts real estate closing attorney. Please contact him if you need a mortgage referral or assistance with a refinance or purchase transaction.

{ 1 comment }

Real Time Analytics