Storm-Induced Delinquencies

The Urban Institute’s Housing Finance Policy Center has released its November 2017 Housing Finance at a Glance Chartbook. The Introduction looks out how this summer’s big storms have pushed up delinquency rates:

The Mortgage Bankers Association recently released the results of its National Delinquency Survey (NDS) for Q3 2017. The non-seasonally adjusted NDS data for Q3 2017 showed a significant increase in delinquency rates across all past due categories (30-59 days, 60-89 days and 90 days and over). The increase was largest–and most noteworthy–for the 30-59 day category, spiking by 57 basis points from 2.27 percent in Q2 2017 to 2.84 percent in Q3. The D60 rate increased by a much smaller 12 basis points, from 0.74 to 0.86 percent, while the D90 rate increased the least, by 9 basis points, from 1.20 to 1.29 percent. The rise in delinquencies was broad based, affecting FHA, VA and Conventional channels with FHA D30 seeing the largest increase (4.57 to 5.92 percent).
While early payment delinquency rates were expected to increase in the wake of the storms Harvey, Irma and Maria for the affected states, the magnitude of increase in the D30 rate is quite remarkable. The reported Q3 2017 D30 rate is the highest in nearly four years. The 57 basis points increase in a single quarter was also the largest in recent history. The last time D30 rate increased by more than 50 bps in one quarter was in Q4 2000, when it rose by 61 bps. In comparison, both D60 and D90 rates, while slightly higher in Q3, are well within their recent range.
MBA’s state level NDS data confirms that storms were a major driver behind the increase. For Florida, the non-seasonally adjusted D30 rate more than doubled from 2.12 to 4.64 percent, the highest ever D30 rate recorded. The D30 rate for Puerto Rico also nearly doubled from 4.98 to 9.12 percent, while Texas D30 rate increased from 5.05 to 7.38 percent. The increase in FL and PR was larger than in TX because of the statewide impact of hurricanes Irma and Maria. In contrast Harvey’s impact was limited to Houston and surrounding areas. The increase in the D90 rate is not storm-related as not enough time has elapsed since the storms made landfall (Harvey made landfall in Houston on August 25, Irma made landfall in Florida on September 9, and Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico on September 20).
Besides storms, there are other factors that are driving the D30 rate higher. As the figure shows, there is a very strong seasonal pattern associated with 30 day delinquencies. The D30 rate typically witnesses an uptick in the second half of each calendar year after declining in the first half because of tax refunds. Another reason for the Q3 increase is that the last day of September was a Saturday, which means that payments received on this day were not processed until Monday Oct 2nd and were identified as past due (mortgage payments are due on the 1st of the month; D30 rate is based on mortgages unpaid as of 30th of the month).
There is one more thing worth pointing out. Many borrowers affected by recent storms have received forbearance plans that allow them to defer mortgage payments for a few months. Under the NDS methodology, these borrowers are considered delinquent. Many will likely resume making monthly payments once they regain their financial footing or after forbearance ends. Others unable to afford payments could get a loan modification. Therefore, although it will take several quarters before the eventual impact of storms on delinquency rates becomes clear, many borrowers who are currently 30-days delinquent might not enter D60 or D90 status.
While the Chartbook does not look at the longer term impact of climate change on mortgage markets, it is clear that policy makers need to account for it in terms of mortgage servicing, flood insurance, land use and building code regulation.

Principal-ed Forgiveness

photo by Vic

The Federal Housing Finance Agency announced a new program to implement principal reduction for seriously delinquent, underwater homeowners who meet the following criteria:

  • Are owner-occupants.
  • Are at least 90 days delinquent as of March 1, 2016.
  • Have an unpaid principal balance of $250,000 or less.
  • Have a mark-to-market loan-to-value ratio of more than 115% after capitalization. (1)

The program’s “modification terms include capitalization of outstanding arrearages, an interest rate reduction down to the current market rate, an extension of the loan term to 40 years, and forbearance of principal and/or arrearages up to a certain amount to be converted later to forgiveness.” (1) Once the borrower completes three timely payments, the principal forbearance amount can be forgiven.

This program can help just a small proportion of homeowners who have been underwater on their mortgages. Most importantly, it is being implemented years after the foreclosure crisis swamped the nation’s housing markets. But as can be seen from the criteria above, it is targeted just to homeowners with below-average principal balances on their mortgages and who are severely underwater. There are all sorts of political reasons that principal reduction was not a key component of the post-crisis housing finance reform agenda. But it is worth asking now — should we deploy it more quickly in the next crisis? What would be the principled reasons for doing that?

Many argued that principal forgiveness would reward homeowners for making bad, even immoral, decisions. With the benefit of hindsight, it would have been better to put that questions aside and ask what the best policy option for the country would have been. If outstanding principal balances could have been aligned more closely to the new normal of the post-financial crisis economy, the recovery could have proceeded more quickly.

Now would be the time for the FHFA to implement regulations to deal with the next great recession. If principal forgiveness makes sense under certain conditions, let’s identify them now and then have an easier time of it down the road.

Whitman on Servicer Lies

Professor Dale Whitman posted a commentary on Quintana v. Bank of America, No. CV 11–2301–PHX, 2014 WL 690906 (D.Ariz. Feb. 24, 2014) (not reported in F.Supp.2d) on the Dirt listserv:

Synopsis: A borrowers who is “jerked around” by a mortgage servicer may have claims in fraud or on other theories.

Karoly Quintana’s home mortgage loan was serviced by Bank of America, When she began having difficulty making her payments in 2009, she was told by B of A that she would have to miss three payments to be considered for a loan modification, and that the servicer would forbear foreclosure while it did so. She missed the payments and applied for a modification, but (she alleged) B of A did not consider it, and instead accelerated her loan and commenced foreclosure.

Quintana filed a suit in federal court to stop the foreclosure. In March 2012 the suit was dismissed voluntarily on the assurance that B of A would again consider a loan modification, but again it did not do so. (Oddly, B of A’s counsel conceded these facts.)

The court held that the allegations of both the 2009 and 2012 conduct of B of A stated claims of fraud, sufficient to withstand a motion to dismiss. The statements that she would be considered for a modification were false, she relied upon them, and was damaged. Her damages were the expenditure of additional attorney’s fees, and the court found this sufficient, even though in general attorneys’ fees are not recoverable in a fraud action.

The court also held that the plaintiff’s count for breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing survived a motion to dismiss. While the loan documents did not require the servicer to consider the mortgage modification or to forbear foreclosure, when it promised to do so and then did not, it breached the implied covenant. The promise was only oral, and B of A asserted it was inadmissible under the Statute of Frauds, but the court found that Quintana’s detrimental reliance (in missing the payments) provided a basis for promissory estoppel, overcoming the Statute of Frauds defense.

However, the court dismissed Quintana’s claim under the Arizona Consumer Fraud Act (on the ground that it was barred by the 1-year statute of limitations). There’s a convoluted argument about whether B of A can be liable under the FDCPA, but the court ultimately refused to dismiss that claim.

Comment: Borrowers have often tried to claim that they should have received loan modifications, but have not in fact received them. In general, of course, there’s no legal right to a modification. But this court holds that a false promise to consider a modification is enough to make out a claim of fraud.