Banks dealing with lengthy, complicated and frequently messy foreclosures are starting to see "short sales" as a quicker and cheaper way of getting bad loans off their books. The nation's biggest mortgage servicers- Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo - are beginning to step up their efforts to ease the short sale process for borrowers who are unsuccessful in getting loan modifications and face the threat of foreclosure. Servicers are attempting to reach out to borrowers and are paying out more incentives to those suffering financial hardship to help proceed with a short sale. They are also cutting down the time taken to approve short sales, although realtors still complain that the process takes too long.
JPMorgan has processed 120,000 short sales through its proprietary program since June 2009 and now averages 5,000 short sales a month. The bank says its average response time to approve a short sales transaction is 30 days. "We think the short sale is a good solution for many struggling homeowners and we let them know that it's an option," said Christine Holevas, spokesperson for JPMorgan in an email. "Our outreach efforts have increased in the past year or so. Foreclosure can be an expensive and lengthy process for all parties. It's a good deal for the homeowner and a good deal for us (a cheaper way to get a bad loan off the books.)"
The average time for the foreclosure process- from the time of notice to the completed foreclosure- is now 318 days in the U.S., according to RealtyTrac. The foreclosure process in the state of New York, which follows a judicial process, took 966 days on average for properties foreclosed in the second quarter. New Jersey and Florida followed with an average processing time of 944 days and 676 days respectively. The longer it takes for a foreclosure to be approved, the longer bad loans stay on banks' books. Foreclosures are also more expensive than short sales, because of the legal expenses involved as well as the expenses for maintenance and upkeep while the property is in foreclosure.
Wells Fargo, for instance, incurred expenses on repossessed homes to the tune of $305 million in the second quarter and $408 million in the first quarter, according to data from SNL. Data for the other big banks wasn't available. According to real estate analytics firm CoreLogic, the number of short sales in the market have tripled in the last two years and transactions are anticipated to grow by 25% in 2011. The markets with the largest short sale volume are California, Arizona, Colorado and Florida.
"Bank of America and Fidelity National Financial have reached an agreement confirming that Fidelity will provide title insurance on the sale of foreclosed properties," said B of A spokesman Dan Frahm.
Under the agreement, Fidelity will defend the new homeowner in court if a foreclosed owner challenges the title. B of A will cover the costs and, if necessary, any damages awarded to the previous owner.
"Bank of America and Fidelity National are taking this step to facilitate the continued availability of title insurance that is vital to the marketability of foreclosed properties," Frahm said.
The giant bank is seeking similar agreements with other title insurers.
American Land Title Association chief executive Kurt Pfotenhauer welcomed the B of A/Fidelity agreement.
“Title insurers are looking to lenders to provide appropriate indemnities," he said. ALTA also has approached the GSE regulator about title indemnifications.
"We will continue to work with federal and state regulators, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and lenders to bring certainty to the marketplace," Pfotenhauer said.
One in every 29 Nevada homes received a foreclosure filing during the third quarter. Looking at total numbers of foreclosures, neighboring California was worst, with 191,016, followed by Florida, Arizona, Illinois and Michigan. Combined, the five states accounted for half of all foreclosures last quarter. Of course, once the moratorium ends, we can expect a new tidal wave of foreclosures. John McGeough, a broker, said that the current foreclosure freeze may give distressed homeowners extra time to do a short sale and avoid having their homes repossessed by the banks. "Foreclosure should be the last resort."
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The 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage hit its lowest point in more than 50 years. The Freddie Mac Primary Mortgage Market Survey reported the average rate for a 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage at 4.19% with an average 0.8 origination point for the week ending Oct. 14, down from last week's average of 4.27%. A year ago the average was 4.92%. This is the lowest rate the survey has recorded since its inception in 1971. Mortgage rates were last at this level in April 1951, according to Freddie Mac. The Bankrate survey of large banks and thrifts reported the average rate for a 30-year, fixed mortgage is 4.47% with a 0.32 origination point, slightly above the 25-year-old survey's record low of 4.45% posted last month. Rates for 15-year FRMs are falling steeply, setting a new low for Freddie Mac.
The GSE said the rate was down to 3.62% with an average origination point of 0.8. The rate for a 15-year FRM was 4.37% a year earlier. Bankrate said the average rate for 15-year, FRMs of 3.85% is a new record low and down from 3.87% a week earlier. Frank Nothaft, vice president and chief economist at Freddie Mac, attributed the declining rates to the loss of 95,000 nonfarm payroll jobs in September. The GSE said the average for a 5-year, adjustable-rate mortgage is 3.47% with an average 0.6 origination point, down from 4.38% a year ago. The average remained flat with last week. Bankrate reported the average rate for a 5-year, ARM fell last week to 3.62% from 3.64% previously. The one-year Treasury-indexed ARM averaged 3.43% with an average 0.7 point up slightly from 3.4%. At this time last year, the one-year ARM averaged 4.6%.
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The mortgage-foreclosure crisis spilled into the financial markets on Thursday, driving down bank stocks and weighing on mortgage bonds as investors took a grim view of the potential costs. Shares of U.S. banks fell, while the broader stock market was essentially flat. Bank of America Corp., potentially among the most affected, dropped more than 5%. Bank bonds also fell, and the cost of buying protection against a possible debt default by banks climbed. "The level of uncertainty in the economy is at extraordinarily high levels to begin with," said Jack Scott, chief investment officer at BlackHawk Capital Management, a Charlotte, N.C., money manager that owns mortgage securities. "The foreclosure problem adds another layer of acute uncertainty."
So far, the foreclosure crisis hasn't affected consumer mortgage rates, which remain near record lows. They are closely linked to rates on U.S. Treasurys, which have tumbled in recent months. Until recently, investors hadn't fled financial stocks. If the issues raised about foreclosure practices in recent days are easily resolved technical glitches, with most foreclosures resuming after brief delays, then the impact on most investors would be small. "The [mortgage] market seems to be functioning relatively well, but that could change depending on how we see this play out," said BlackRock Inc. portfolio manager John Vibert. But some fear that it may be difficult to do any foreclosures for a while.
The risk is that foreclosure flaws are so widespread, or the political furor so heated, that the entire process grinds to a halt, as Citigroup analyst Joshua Levin said in a conference call this week. In some cases, that would choke off much of the cash flow used to pay mortgage bondholders. Another concern is that banks could be forced to modify billions of dollars in loans, including reducing principal, which could leave bondholders as big losers. Banks, meanwhile, could be hit with investor lawsuits, and foreclosure delays could bring short-term losses. Some investors are pushing for banks to take back nonperforming mortgages in cases of faulty documentation.