July 11, 2014

What Should the 21st Century Mortgage Market Look Like?

By David Reiss

Treasury is requesting Public Input on Development of Responsible Private Label Securities (PLS) Market.  Comments are due on August 8, 2014. The request for information wants input on the following questions:

1. What is the appropriate role for new issue PLS in the current and future housing finance system? What is the appropriate interaction between the guaranteed and non-guaranteed market segments? Are there particular segments of the mortgage market where PLS can or should be most active and competitive in providing a channel for funding mortgage credit?

2. What are the key obstacles to the growth of the PLS market? How would you address these obstacles? What are the existing market failures? What are necessary conditions for securitizers and investors to return at scale?

3. How should new issue PLS support safe and sound market practices?

4. What are the costs and benefits of various methods of investor protection? In particular, please address the costs and benefits of requiring the trustee to have a fiduciary duty to investors or requiring an independent collateral manager to oversee issuances?

5. What is the appropriate or necessary role for private industry participants to address the factors cited in your answer to Question #2? What can private market participants undertake either as part of industry groups or independently?

6. What is the appropriate or necessary role for government in addressing the key factors cited in your answer to Question #2? What actions could government agencies take? Are there actions that require legislation?

7. What are the current pricing characteristics of PLS issuance (both on a standalone basis and relative to other mortgage finance channels)? How might the pricing characteristics change should key challenges be addressed? What is the current and potential demand from investors should key challenges be addressed?

8. Why have we seen strong issuance and investor demand for other types of asset-backed securitizations (e.g., securitizations of commercial real estate, leveraged loans, and auto loans) but not residential mortgages? Do these or other asset classes offer insights that can help inform the development of market practices and standards in the new issue PLS market?

These are all important questions that go way beyond Treasury’s portfolio and touch on those of the FHFA, the FHA and the CFPB to name a few. Nonetheless, it is important that Treasury is framing the issue so broadly because it gets to the 10 Trillion Dollar Question:  Who Should Be Providing Mortgage Credit to American Households?

Some clearly believe that the federal government is the only entity that can do so in a stable way and certainly history is on their side.  Since the Great Depression,when the Home Owners Loan Corporation, the Federal Housing Administration and Fannie Mae were created, the federal government has had a central role in the housing finance market.

Others (including me) believe that private capital can, and should, take a bigger role in the provision of mortgage finance. There is some question as to how much capacity private capital has, given the size of the residential mortgage market (more than ten trillion dollars). But there is no doubt that it can do more than the measly ten percent share or so of new mortgages that it has been originating in recent years.

Treasury should think big here and ask — what do we want our mortgage finance to look like for the next eight or nine decades? Our last system lasted for that long, so our next one might too. The issue cannot be decided by empirical means alone. There is an ideological component to it. I am in favor of a system in which private capital (albeit heavily-regulated private capital) should be put at risk for a large swath of residential mortgages and the taxpayer should only be on the hook for major liquidity crises.

I also favor a significant role for government through the FHA which would still create a market for first-time homebuyers and low- and moderate-income borrowers. But otherwise, we would look to private capital to price risk and fund mortgages to the extent that it can do so.  Round out the system with strong consumer protection regulation from the CFPB, and you have a system that may last through the end of the 21st century.

Comments are due August 8th, so make your views known too!

July 11, 2014 | Permalink | No Comments

July 10, 2014

No MERS-Y for Maine Lenders

By David Reiss

The Maine Supreme Judicial Court seems to be on a roll against the mortgage industry, having recently issued an opinion that effectively wiped out a mortgage because of the lenders bad faith negotiations during a foreclosure proceeding.

And now, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court issued an opinion in Bank of America, N.A. v. Greenleaf et al., 2014 ME 89 (July 3, 2014), that casts into doubt whether MERS has any life left in it in Maine.  The case’s reasoning is, however, somewhat suspect. The Greenleaf court held that the bank did not have standing to seek foreclosure even though it was the holder of the mortgage note. The court stated that

The interest in the note is only part of the standing analysis, however;  to be able to foreclose, a plaintiff must also show the requisite interest in the mortgage. Unlike a note, a mortgage is not a negotiable instrument. See 5 Emily S. Bernheim, Tiffany Real Property § 1455 n.14 (3d ed. Supp. 2000). Thus, whereas a plaintiff who merely holds or possesses—but does not necessarily own—the note satisfies the note portion of the standing analysis, the mortgage portion of the standing analysis requires the plaintiff to establish ownership of the mortgage. (8)

This seems to go against the weight of authority. The influential Report of The Permanent Editorial Board for The Uniform Commercial Code, Application of The Uniform Commercial Code to Selected Issues Relating to Mortgage Notes (November 14, 2011), states that

the UCC is unambiguous: the sale of a mortgage note (or other grant of a security interest in the note) not accompanied by a separate conveyance of the mortgage securing the note does not result in the mortgage being severed from the note. . . . UCC Section 9-308(e) goes on to state that, if the secured party’s security interest in the note is perfected, the secured party’s security interest in the mortgage securing the note is also perfected . . .. (12-13, footnotes omitted)

The Maine Supreme Judicial Court is the ultimate authority on the meaning of Maine’s foreclosure statute, of course, but their reasoning is still open to criticism.

July 10, 2014 | Permalink | No Comments

U.S. Bank Had Standing to Bring Action

By Ebube Okoli

The court in deciding United States Bank Nat’l Ass’n v. McHugh, 2013-Ohio-5473 (Ohio Ct. App., Lucas County, 2013) affirmed the judgment of the Lucas County Court of Common Pleas.

In their sole assignment of error, McHugh argued that US Bank did not have standing to pursue the underlying foreclosure action. US Bank responded by arguing that McHugh’s argument was misplaced in that it failed to address the applicable standard for a motion for relief from judgment under Civ.R. 60(B). Further, US Bank argued that the trial court’s decision was proper in light of McHugh’s failure to meet the standard for Civ.R. 60(B) motions.

Ultimately the court concluded that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying their Civ.R. 60(B) motion.

July 10, 2014 | Permalink | No Comments

Connecticut Court Denies All Five of Defendant’s Special Defenses to Foreclosure Action

By Ebube Okoli

The court in deciding Bank of Am., N.A. v. Samaha, 2013 Conn. Super. (Conn. Super. Ct., 2013) granted the plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment.

In this action, the plaintiff sought to foreclose a mortgage executed by Joseph Samaha and Denise Samaha in favor of the Webster Bank.

The defendant raised several special defenses to this foreclosure action. First, the defendant asserted that the plaintiff did not have standing to bring this litigation. Second, defendant claimed that as a result of the death of one of the makers of the note, Joseph Samaha, that his estate had an indivisible interest in the subject property and was subject to probate court jurisdiction. Third, the defendant challenged the authority of MERS to assign this mortgage to the plaintiff. Fourth, the defendant alleged that she had tendered payment with regard to the note and she alleged accord and satisfaction. Fifth, the defendant challenged whether or not the note in question was a negotiable instrument.

With regard to the first special defense, the court found that the affidavits supplied by the plaintiff established that they had standing for the purposes of doing this litigation.

In regards to the second defense, the court found that there was simply no authority for this assertion. The third special defense challenged the authority of the MERS to assign the note and mortgage. The court found that there were no facts alleged in the special defense and there was no affidavit from the defendant providing any factual foundation for her assertions.

The court found that the fourth defense was a mere assertion, without any evidence to support it, and thereby contest or create a material issue of fact for a motion of summary judgment is insufficient. Finally, the fifth special defense was deemed to be an assertion of a legal conclusion.

July 10, 2014 | Permalink | No Comments

July 9, 2014

Input on Housing Counseling

By David Reiss

HUD has issued a Notice, Federal Housing Administration (FHA): Homeowners Armed With Knowledge (HAWK) for New Homebuyers (Docket No. FR-5786-N-01).

HAWK is a pilot that will

provide FHA insurance pricing incentives to first-time homebuyers who participate in housing counseling and education that covers how to evaluate housing affordability and mortgage alternatives, to better manage their finances, and to understand the rights and responsibilities of homeownership. The goals of the HAWK for New Homebuyers pilot (HAWK Pilot) are to test and evaluate program designs that meet these objectives:

•To improve the loan performance of participants and reduce claims paid by FHA’s Mutual Mortgage Insurance Fund (MMIF).

• To expand the number of families who improve their budgeting skills and housing decisions through access to HUD-approved housing counseling agency services; and

• To increase access to sustainable home mortgages for homebuyers underserved by the current market. (27896)

I have already noted that HAWK is based upon some pretty sketchy research about the efficacy of housing counseling. The Notice presents additional research (in footnotes 5-8) that supports its goals, but I have to say that it seems cherry picked to me. The notice says, for instance, “some studies show” and “Several major studies have recently noted a correlation . . ..” But the Notice does not seem to contextualize these studies at all. A meta-analysis (see here too) of financial education initiatives is decidedly less optimistic.

It seems that the FHA and the CFPB have gone whole hog on counseling even though the evidence is not there to support such strong support. On the bright side, HAWK is a pilot program and the FHA will evaluate it to see whether it meets its goal of “improving loan performance.” (27903) I am just worried a bit worried though, because the FHA’s materials seem to show an unwarranted bias toward counseling that a review of the relevant literature does not seem to bear out.

The HAWK Notice requests comments by July 14, 2014, so you’d better act fast if you have something to say!

July 9, 2014 | Permalink | No Comments

July 8, 2014

Independent Foreclosure Review: Case Closed?

By David Reiss

The Federal Reserve Board issued its Independent Foreclosure Review. By way of background,

Between April 2011 and April 2012, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC), the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (“Federal Reserve”), and the Office of Thrift Supervision (OTS) issued formal enforcement actions against 16 mortgage servicing companies to address a pattern of misconduct and negligence related to deficient practices in residential mortgage loan servicing and foreclosure processing identified by examiners during reviews conducted from November 2010 to January 2011. Beginning in January 2013, 15 of the mortgage servicing companies subject to enforcement actions for deficient practices in mortgage loan servicing and foreclosure processing reached agreements with the OCC and the Federal Reserve (collectively, the “regulators”) to provide approximately $3.9 billion in direct cash payments to borrowers and approximately $6.1 billion in other foreclosure prevention assistance, such as loan modifications and the forgiveness of deficiency judgments. For participating servicers, fulfillment of these agreements satisfies the foreclosure file review requirements of the enforcement actions issued by the OCC, the Federal Reserve, and the OTS in 2011 and 2012. (1)

The government’s actions regarding the Independent Foreclosure Review have been its controversial, with some believing that it was completed too hastily. I am less interested in that debate than in FRB’s sense of the the servicing sector going forward.

The report states that “the initial supervisory review of the servicer and holding company action plans has shown that the banking organizations under Consent Orders have implemented significant corrective actions with regard to their mortgage servicing and foreclosure processes, but that some additional actions need to be taken.” (24) Overall, the report reflects an optimism that endemic servicer problems are a thing of the past.

drumbeat of reports and cases seems to be at odds with that assessment, although there is obviously a significant lag between the occurrence of  problems and the report of them in official sources. As a close observer of the mortgage industry, however, I am not yet convinced that regulators have their hands around the problems in the servicer industry. Careful monitoring remains the order of the day.

July 8, 2014 | Permalink | No Comments

July 7, 2014

Servicer Safety & Soundness and Consumer Protection

By David Reiss

The FHFA’s Inspector General issued an audit, FHFA Actions to Manage Enterprise Risks from Nonbank Servicers Specializing in Troubled Mortgages. The audit identified two major risks in the current environment:

  • Using short-term financing to buy servicing rights for troubled mortgage loans that may only begin to pay out after long-term work to resolve their difficulties. This practice can jeopardize the companies’ operations and also the Enterprises’ timely payment guarantees and reputation for loans they back; and
  • Assuming responsibilities for servicing large volumes of mortgage loans that may be beyond what their infrastructures can handle. For example, of the 30 largest mortgage servicers, those that were not banks held a 17% share of the mortgage servicing market at the end of 2013, up from 9% at the end of 2012, and 6% at the end of 2011. This rise in nonbank special servicers has been accompanied by consumer complaints, lawsuits, and other regulatory actions as the servicers’ workload outstrips their processing capacity. (1-2)

The audit notes that “nonbank special servicers do not have a prudential safety and soundness regulator at the federal level for their mortgage servicing operations.” (6)

I think the important story here is more about consumer protection than it is about safety and soundness regulation. That is not to say that the Inspector General’s audit ignored consumer protection. Indeed, it it does spend a significant amount of time addressing that topic, noting that other federal regulators such as the CFPB have also zeroed in on the impact that non-bank servicers have on consumers.

But the safety and soundness risks may a bit overblown. A significant number of consumers, on the other hand, continue to be treated poorly, poorly, poorly by servicers.

July 7, 2014 | Permalink | No Comments