Ghost of A Crisis Past

photo by Chandres

The Royal Bank of Scotland settled an investigation brought by New York Attorney General Schneiderman arising from mortgage-backed securities it issued in the run up to the financial crisis. RBS will pay a half a billion dollars. That’s a lot of money even in the context of the settlements that the federal government had wrangled from financial institutions in the aftermath to the financial crisis. The Settlement Agreement includes a Statement of Facts which RBS has acknowledged. Many settlement agreements do not include such a statement, leaving the dollar amount of the settlement to do all of the talking. We are lucky to see what facts exactly RBS is “acknowledging.”

The Statement of Facts found that assertions in the offering documents for the MBS were inaccurate and the securities have lost billions of dollars in collateral. These losses led to “shortfalls in principal and interest payments, as well as declines in the market value of their certificates.” (Appendix A at 2)

The Statement of Facts outlines just how RBS deviated from the statements it made in the offering documents:

RBS’s Representations to Investors

11. The Offering Documents for the Securitizations included, in varying forms, statements that the mortgage loans were “originated generally in accordance with” the originator’s underwriting guidelines, and that exceptions would be made on a “case-by-case basis…where compensating factors exist.” The Offering Documents further stated that such exceptions would be made “from time to time and in the ordinary course of business,” and disclosed that “[l]oans originated with exceptions may result in a higher number of delinquencies and loss severities than loans originated in strict compliance with the designated underwriting guidelines.”

12. The Offering Documents often contained statements, in varying forms, with respect to stated-income loans, that “the stated income is reasonable for the borrower’s employment and that the stated assets are consistent with the borrower’s income.”

13. The Offering Documents further contained statements, in varying forms, that each mortgage loan was originated “in compliance with applicable federal, state and local laws and regulations.”

14. The Offering Documents also included statements regarding the valuation of the mortgaged properties and the resulting loan-to-value (“LTV”) ratios, such as the weighted-average LTV and maximum LTV at origination of the securitized loans.

15. In addition, the Offering Documents typically stated that loans acquired by RBS for securitization were “subject to due diligence,” often described as including a “thorough credit and compliance review with loan level testing,” and stated that “the depositor will not include any loan in a trust fund if anything has come to the depositor’s attention that would cause it to believe that the representations and warranties of the related seller regarding that loan will not be accurate and complete in all material respects….”

The Actual Quality of the Mortgage Loans in the Securitizations

16. At times, RBS’s credit and compliance diligence vendors identified a number of loans as diligence exceptions because, in their view, they did not comply with underwriting guidelines and lacked adequate compensating factors or did not comply with applicable laws and regulations. Loans were also identified as diligence exceptions because of missing documents or other curable issues, or because of additional criteria specified by RBS for the review. In some instances, RBS disagreed with the vendor’s view. Certain of these loans were included in the Securitizations.

17. Additionally, some valuation diligence reports reflected variances between the appraised value of the mortgaged properties and the values obtained through other measures, such as automated valuation models (“AVMs”), broker-price opinions (“BPOs”), and drive-by reviews. In some instances, the LTVs calculated using AVM or BPO valuations exceeded the maximum LTV stated in the Offering Documents, which was calculated using the lower of the appraised value or the purchase price. Certain of these loans were included in the Securitizations.

18. RBS often purchased and securitized loans that were not part of the diligence sample without additional loan-file review. The Offering Documents did not include a description of the diligence reports prepared by RBS’s vendors, and did not state the size of the diligence sample or the number of loans with diligence exceptions or valuation variances identified during their reviews.

19. At times, RBS agreed with originators to limit the number of loan files it could review during its due diligence. Although RBS typically reserved the right to request additional loan-level diligence or not complete the loan purchase, in practice it rarely did so. These agreements with originators were not disclosed in the Offering Documents.

20. Finally, RBS performed post-securitization reviews of certain loans that defaulted shortly after securitization. These reviews identified a number of loans that appeared to breach the representations and warranties contained in the Offering Documents. Based on these reviews, RBS in some instances requested that the loan seller or loan originator repurchase certain loans. (Appendix A at 4-5)

Some of these inaccuracies are just straight-out misrepresentations, so they would not have been caught at the time by regulators, even if regulators had been looking. And that’s why, ten years later, we are still seeing financial crisis lawsuits being resolved.

It is not clear that these types of problems can be kept from infiltrating the capital market once greed overcomes fear over the course of the business cycle. That’s why it is important for individual actors to suffer consequences when they allow greed to take the driver’s seat. We still have not figured out how to effectively address tho individual actions that result in systemic harm.

Buying after Bankruptcy

Realtor.com quoted me in Buying a House After Bankruptcy? How Long to Wait and What to Do. It opens,

Buying a house after bankruptcy may sound like an impossible feat. Blame it on all those Monopoly games, but bankruptcy has a very bad rap, painting the filer as someone who should never be loaned money. The reality is that of the 800,000 Americans who file for bankruptcy every year, most are well-intentioned, responsible people to whom life threw a curveball that made them struggle to pay off past debts.

Sometimes filing for bankruptcy is the only way out of a crushing financial situation, and taking this step can really help these cash-strapped individuals get back on their feet. And yes, many go on to eventually buy a home. Only how?

Being aware of what a lender expects post-bankruptcy will help you navigate the mortgage application process efficiently and effectively. Here are the steps on buying a house after bankruptcy, and the top things you need to know.

Types of bankruptcy: The best and the worst

There are two ways to file for bankruptcy: Chapter 7 and Chapter 13. With Chapter 7, filers are typically released from their obligation to pay back unsecured debt—think credit cards, medical bills, or loans extended without collateral. Chapter 13 filers have to pay back their debt, only it’s reorganized to come up with a new repayment schedule that makes monthly payments more affordable.

Since Chapter 13 filers are still paying back their debts, mortgage lenders generally look more favorably on these consumers than those who file for Chapter 7, says David Carey, vice president and residential lending manager at New York’s Tompkins Mahopac Bank.

How long after bankruptcy should you wait before buying a house?

Most people applying for a loan will need to wait two years after bankruptcy before lenders will consider their application. That said, it could be up to a four-year ban, depending on the individual and type of loan. This is because lenders have different “seasoning” requirements, which is a specified amount of time that needs to pass.

Fannie Mae, for example, has a minimum two-year ban on borrowers who have filed for bankruptcy, says David Reiss, professor of law and academic programs director at the Center for Urban Business Entrepreneurship at Brooklyn Law School. The FHA, on the other hand, has a minimum one-year ban in place after a bankruptcy. The time is measured starting from the date of discharge or dismissal of the bankruptcy action. Generally the more time that passes, the less risky a once-bankrupt borrower looks in the eyes of a lender.

Manafort Indicted for Real Estate Fraud

Special Counsel Mueller

Paul Manafort and his protege, Richard Gates III, were indicted on a variety of charges, including conspiracy, failure to file requirement financial reports and the making of false statements. The indictment was signed by Special Counsel Mueller. A number of the allegations involve real estate transactions. Here are the highlights (lowlights?) of the allegations that document how money can be laundered through real estate:

Manafort used his hidden overseas wealth to enjoy a lavish lifestyle in the United States, without paying taxes on that income.  Manafort, without reporting the income to his tax preparer or the United States, spent millions of dollars on luxury goods and services for himself and his extended family through payments wired from offshore nominee accounts to  United States vendors.  Manafort also used these offshore accounts to purchase multi-million dollar properties in the United Sates.  Manafort then borrower millions of dollars in loans using these properties as collateral, thereby obtaining cash in the United States without reporting and paying taxes on the income.  In order to increase the amount of money he could access in the United States, Manafort defrauded the institutions that loaned money on these properties so that they would lend him more money at more favorable rates than he would otherwise be able to obtain. (para 4)

More than $75,000,000 flowed through Manafort and Gate’s 15 offshore accounts. They also had 17 US corporations through which some of these funds flowed as well. In order to avoid paying taxes on this money, Manafort and Gates made millions of dollars in wire transfers to pay “for goods, services and real estate.” (para. 15) Manafort spent more than $12,000,000 on personal items including home improvement services, clothing, cars and housekeeping. He also bought four properties for over $6,000,000.

After Manafort bought these properties, “he took out mortgages on the properties thereby allowing Manafort to have the benefits of liquid income without paying taxes on it. Further, Manafort defrauded the banks that loaned him the money so that he could withdraw more money at a cheaper rate than he otherwise would have been permitted.” (para. 33) He did this by wrongfully claiming on a loan application that an investment property was owner-occupied (banks generally give you a more favorable interest rate if the property is owner-occupied). He was also able to borrow more money by claiming that part of the proceeds of a loan would be used to fund a renovation when in fact he did not intend to use the funds for that purpose.

The allegations in the indictment provide a nice case study of how real estate is used in money laundering.

What Is a Promissory Note?

by Zoli Erdos

Realtor.com quoted me in What Is a Promissory Note? What You’re Really Promising, Revealed. It opens,

If you get a mortgage to buy a home, you will end up signing something called a promissory note. So what exactly is a promissory note?

In the most basic terms, it’s a legal document you sign containing a written “promise” to pay a lender, says Scott A. Marcus, a shareholder in Becker & Poliakoff’s Real Estate Practice Group, in Fort Lauderdale, FL.

Promissory notes are a standard part of all real estate financing contracts and include basic information such as:

Promissory notes are an important yet often misunderstood part of the loan process.

“The worst mistake someone signing a promissory note can make is to sign a note without reading and understanding all of its terms,” says Marcus.

So let’s clear up a few common misconceptions, shall we?

Promissory note vs. a mortgage: What’s the difference?

Many home buyers mistakenly think that the mortgage—another contract they sign—is their promise to pay back the loan.

Well, they’re wrong! The promissory note is your promise to do that, plain and simple. The mortgage, on the other hand, is a contract that kicks in more when things go wrong.

In a nutshell, a mortgage (also called a deed of trust) is a pledge you sign to put up your property as collateral in case you default on your loan, according to David Reiss, professor of law at Brooklyn Law School and editor of REFinBlog.com.

In other words, if you suddenly find yourself unable to repay your home loan, your lender will eventually confiscate your property and sell it as a foreclosure to help it recoup its losses from lending you all that money.

Wednesday’s Academic Roundup

Optimizing Mortgage Availability

"Barack Obama speaks to press in Diplomatic Reception Room 2-25-09" by Pete Souza - http://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/09/02/25/Overhaul/. Licensed via ttps://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Barack_Obama_speaks_to_press_in_Diplomatic_Reception_Room_2-25-09.jpg#/media/File:Barack_Obama_speaks_to_press_in_Diplomatic_Reception_Room_2-25-09.jpg

The United States Government Accountability Office (GAO) has issued a report, Mortgage Reforms: Actions Needed to Help Assess Effects of New Regulations. The GAO did this study to predict the effects of the Qualified Mortgage (QM) and Qualified Residential Mortgage (QRM) regulations. The GAO found

Federal agency officials, market participants, and observers estimated that the qualified mortgage (QM) and qualified residential mortgage (QRM) regulations would have limited initial effects because most loans originated in recent years largely conformed with QM criteria.

  • The QM regulations, which address lenders’ responsibilities to determine a borrower’s ability to repay a loan, set forth standards that include prohibitions on risky loan features (such as interest-only or balloon payments) and limits on points and fees. Lenders that originate QM loans receive certain liability protections.
  • Securities collateralized exclusively by residential mortgages that are “qualified residential mortgages” are exempt from risk-retention requirements. The QRM regulations align the QRM definition with QM; thus, securities collateralized solely by QM loans are not subject to risk-retention requirements.

The analyses GAO reviewed estimated limited effects on the availability of mortgages for most borrowers and that any cost increases (for borrowers, lenders, and investors) would mostly stem from litigation and compliance issues. According to agency officials and observers, the QRM regulations were unlikely to have a significant initial effect on the availability or securitization of mortgages in the current market, largely because the majority of loans originated were expected to be QM loans. However, questions remain about the size and viability of the secondary market for non-QRM-backed securities.

This last bit — questions about the non-QRM-backed market — is very important.

Some consumer advocates believe that there should not be any non-QRM mortgages. I disagree. There should be some sort of market for mortgages that do not comply with the strict (and, in the main, beneficial) QRM limitations.

Some homeowners will not be eligible for a plain vanilla QM/QRM mortgage but could still handle a mortgage responsibly. The mortgage markets would not be healthy without some kind of non-QRM-backed securities market for those consumers.

So far, that non-QRM market has been very small, smaller than expected. Regulators should continue to study the effects of the new mortgage regulations to ensure that they incentivize making the socially optimal amount of non-QRM mortgage credit available to homeowners.

Wednesday’s Academic Roundup