Category: Foreclosures

Kari Huus, msnbc

California woman’s case may show how movement can use its muscle against banks.

LA PUENTE, Calif. — Rose Gudiel and her family were squatters in their own home. They had lost a two-year battle against foreclosure, and the eviction date had arrived. They hunkered down in the house on Sept. 28, surrounded by dozens of homeowner advocates and friends, hoping to stave off forcible removal.

“(The bank) kept saying we can’t do anything. Your case is closed,” said Gudiel. “Our stand was, ‘No, we’re not leaving. This is our home. We worked hard for it and we’re just not going to leave.’”

But instead of the anticipated confrontation, there was a dramatic reversal of fortune. Fanny Mae canceled the eviction notice and offered the Gudiels a loan modification that could enable them keep their home.

Why? Fannie Mae and loan servicer OneWest won’t discuss the case. But nonprofit advocates say a series of bold protests — with reinforcements from the “Occupy Wall Street” movement — and a spate of media interest put Rose in the limelight and forced the banks to back down.

It was a small victory — and Gudiel still has to finalize her deal with the bank — but one that Southern California housing activists hope to repeat. It also provides an example of how the sprawling "Occupy" movement — often criticized for its lack of focus — can lend muscle to specific goals pursued by organizations and individuals.

Gudiel’s version of the foreclosure on the 1,200-square-foot home she has shared with her parents and a brother in this working-class suburb of Los Angeles since 2005 is starkly at odds with the limited information provided by the banks.

According to Gudiel, when she tried to make the $2,500-a-month mortgage payment two weeks late in November 2009, OneWest refused the payment and instructed her to pursue a loan modification, a long process that ultimately ended in rejection in January.

Gudiel said she fell behind when the family suffered a tragedy and two financial setbacks: Her brother, Michael, was killed in a drive-by shooting, meaning he was no longer contributing to the mortgage payment. At the same time, Gudiel was temporarily earning less in her job with the California Economic Development Department after being furloughed because of the state budget crisis.

Shortly thereafter, Rose Gudiel’s income returned to normal, and a second brother moved in to help with the mortgage.

Gudiel continued to work through the loan modification process but encountered obstacles at every turn, said Peter Kuhns, director of the Los Angeles branch of Association of Californians for Community Empowerment, a nonprofit that has been working on her case.

“Month after month, she supplied documentation to the bank for the modification,” he said. “At the same time, each month she saved the money she would have used to make the house payments so that she could make back payments (so) at any point OneWest could accept her money.”

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Yahoo! Real Estate

Million-dollar-and-up homes are the fastest-growing segment of the U.S. foreclosure market, with banks seizing some 335% more such properties last year than they did in 2007.

"We’re seeing evidence in our data that the high-end market is starting to get hit more," said Daren Blomquist of foreclosure watcher "I think high-end homeowners have a little more ‘padding’ to get through tough times if they experience a job loss or other trouble. But as the tough times continue, more and more of these homeowners are succumbing to foreclosure."

True, RealtyTrac’s latest figures show that homes with $1 million or higher mortgages represented just 2.3% of houses in foreclosure during the first 10 months of last year. But that’s nearly twice as many such houses as in 2007.

Blomquist suspects more rich people are falling into foreclosure because they had mortgages they could easily afford in good times, but can no longer cover in today’s tough economy.

"No matter how wealthy you are, there’s always that potential that you’ll lose your job," he said. "Even if you have a very high income, you’re always susceptible to not being able to make your mortgage payments."

The good news: Well-heeled house hunters may find they can pick up million-dollar-and-up foreclosures on the cheap. The latest available RealtyTrac figures show foreclosed homes sold for 27% less on average than nonforeclosed properties did during 2011’s first quarter.

Here are the five highest-priced U.S. foreclosures listed for sale on

The Villa Mar Vista Estate, Laguna Beach, CA
For sale: $19.95 million
Bedrooms: Four
Bathrooms: Seven
Square footage: 11,333
Built in: 2010

The estate has a heliport and a view of the nearby Pacific Ocean.
Photo: Engeland Volkers

This newly built estate’s listing describes the property as "a sublime junction of privacy, acreage, generous interiors, tasteful design, plentiful outdoor spaces and vast coastal vistas."

Located about an hour south of Los Angeles in tony Laguna Beach, the Contemporary-style home features four bedroom suites, six full bathrooms and one half-bath, an in-home theater, an infinity-edge pool, a spa, a 20-car garage and private heliport.

Craftsman windows and French doors look out over the property’s gardens and terraces and out to the Pacific Ocean, which is less than a half-mile away. You’re also just a few blocks from the Aliso Creek Golf Course.

The Razor, La Jolla, CA
For sale: $25 million
Bedrooms: Four
Bathrooms: Eight
Square footage: 11,000
Built in: 2007

The oceanside residence has been the site of commercial shoots.
Photo: Hurwitz James Co

You’ll have to act fast if you want to buy the Razor residence, because it’s going up for auction Sept. 28 if it hasn’t sold by then. Bidding will start at $16 million — cash only, please.

Located on bluffs some 15 miles north of San Diego, the Razor (named after a bluff at the nearby Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve state park) overlooks the Pacific Ocean from just a few hundred feet away.

The 11,000-square-foot Contemporary-style home features four bedrooms, six full bathrooms, two half-baths, two fireplaces, a heated pool, a dog run, an eight-car garage and a two-space carport.

Architectural Digest profiled the house in 2008, while Calvin Klein used it as the backdrop for a TV spot for its new high-end Calvin Klein Collection. Visa also shot a commercial there for its top-of-the-line Visa Black Card.

The house is near the University of California at San Diego, the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, the Del Mar thoroughbred race track and the Torrey Pines Golf Course, site of the 2008 U.S. Open.

"This home is truly one of a kind," listing broker Bob Hurwitz says. "With today’s building restrictions, nothing like it could ever possibly be built again in this location."

East Mockingbird Lane, Paradise Valley, AZ
For sale: $17.995 million
Bedrooms: Seven
Bathrooms: Ten
Square footage: 17,015
Built in: 2009

Among the amenities are a robot Elvis and 21-car garage.
Photo: John Hall & Associates

This estate features a main house with five bedrooms, three family rooms, two libraries, a billiard room, a wine room, a piano room and a hidden "panic room." There’s also a mahogany in-home theater with a Dolby sound system and 13 seats that move in sync with the screen action. (A talking, singing Elvis Presley robot greets you at the theater’s glass entrance booth.)

Other amenities include a two-bedroom guest house, two swimming pools, an on-site solar-power station and a $1.2 million security system. There’s climate-controlled garage space for 21 cars — including a four-car "show garage" outfitted with restored genuine gas pumps from the 1920s and ’30s.

Located just outside Phoenix and Scottsdale, Ariz., the estate is a mile or so from the Phoenix Mountains Preserve, the Camelback Golf Club and the McCormick Ranch Golf Course.

The Wyndham Estate, Newport, RI
For sale: $7.9 million
Bedrooms: Seven
Bathrooms: Eight
Square footage: 12,500
Built in: 1891

The Baronial-style mansion looks out toward Martha’s Vineyard.
Photo: Gustave White Sotheby’s International Realty

Located less than a mile from Newport Harbor on the Atlantic Ocean, the Wyndham Estate combines classic 19th century looks with 21st century updates.

The Baronial-style mansion features seven bedrooms, eight bathrooms, four fireplaces, a ballroom, a music room and a rooftop deck and whirlpool with ocean views out to Martha’s Vineyard some 20 miles away. The manicured grounds also host a man-made pond, waterfall and garage space for nine cars.

The Newport Country Club, New York Yacht Club and Ocean Drive State Park are nearby.

Biltmore Estates Drive, Phoenix, AZ
For sale: $6.95 million
Bedrooms: Nine
Bathrooms: Eleven
Square footage: 17,799
Built in: 2002

Country clubs and a golf course lie near the estate.
Photo: Russ Lyon Sotheby’s International

Located in Phoenix next to the Arizona Biltmore Golf Course, this 1-acre estate features nine bedrooms, 11 bathrooms, five fireplaces, an in-home theater, library, wine cavern and al fresco patios, balconies and outdoor dining/dancing terraces. The rear courtyard hosts a massive heated pool and an adjacent spa.

In addition to the Arizona Biltmore Golf Course, nearby attractions include the Phoenix Mountains Preserve and Paradise Valley and Arizona country clubs some two miles away.

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  –CNN Money

Charles and Jill Segal have not made a mortgage payment in nearly five years — but they continue to live in their five-bedroom West Palm Beach, Fla. home.

Lynn, from St. Petersburg, Fla., has been living without paying for three years.

In Thousand Oaks, Calif., an actor has missed 30 payments, and still, he has not lost his home.

They’re not alone.

Some 4.2 million mortgage borrowers are either seriously delinquent or have had their cases referred to lawyers to pursue foreclosure auctions, according to LPS Applied Analytics. Of those, two-thirds have made no payments at all for at least a year, and nearly one-third have gone more than two years.

These cases can go on and on. Nationwide, it takes an average of 565 days to foreclose on borrowers in default from their first missed payments to the final auction. In New York, the average is 800 days and in Florida, where the "robo-signing" issue is particularly combative, it’s 807.

If they want to fight evictions hard, borrowers can remain in their homes even longer while their cases are being worked through.

The Segals have been doing that — in court. They bought their home in 2003 with an adjustable rate mortgage. After a few years, their monthly payments tripled to $3,000, just as their home-inspection business was cratering.

The Segals want the bank to modify the mortgage so payments are affordable, and they think the court will agree that their lender put them into a toxic loan.

"The evidence will show that we were defrauded," said Jill Segal.

Walk away from your mortgage? Time to get ruthless

If they lose, of course, they’ll finally have to leave. And, unfortunately, more than 50 months of missed mortgage payments hasn’t translated into big savings.

"It’s very hard to save," said Jill Segal. "Our company’s billing is 90% off and my husband is only working about four days a week."

Lynn, who didn’t want her last name used, purchased a two-bedroom on Tampa Bay in 1998 for $135,000.

As the waterfront property’s value skyrocketed, eventually reaching $750,000, she refinanced twice (once to expand a business), and took out a second mortgage. She now owes more than $600,000 on the home, which is worth only $235,000.

Living in this foreclosure limbo is "Hell," Lynn said. "I feel like I’m locked in a box. I work for a financial organization and if this came out, it could cost me my job."

She’s still hoping to negotiate the loan. In the meantime, small things bother her. "A couple years ago, I lost my dog and I can’t decide on getting a new one," she said. If she has to move, she can’t be sure she’ll go somewhere that allows pets.

The actor from Thousand Oaks, Calif. began having problems during the screenwriters’ strike in late 2007, followed by a threat of a strike by the Screen Actors Guild.

He’s working with his lender toward a mortgage modification, submitting page after page of documents, which the bank has often misplaced or waited so long to examine them that they had grown too old to use.

His ideal outcome is get the loan modified and get all his late fees waived. He feels entitled to that because the bank advised him to stopped paying in the first place to qualify for one of the government’s foreclosure programs. Before that, he had missed only one payment.

Meanwhile, he has cobbled together some income streams — small acting parts, teaching acting classes and even handyman work.

"In a way, I feel like I’m lucky because I haven’t had to pay any ‘rent’ for 30 months," he said.

But he feels like he’s always under a cloud. "I haven’t slept in three years," he said. "It’s terrifying. I have to have the ultimate poker face in front of my kids."

10 dirt cheap housing markets

Ruben Martinez, a Staten Island, N.Y., man trapped in a particularly bad adjustable rate mortgage, stopped paying more than three years ago. His attorney, Robert Brown, has managed to stave off one foreclosure.

Martinez, still struggling to find work, has little in savings despite the missed payments. He’s earning some income as a pastor and consulting for a non-profit family counseling organization.

"There’s pressure on me every day," he said. "I have a wife, three daughters and two grandchildren. Where are we going to live?" 

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The Orange County Register

If all goes as scheduled, luxury home icon John McMonigle will lose his offices on Wednesday. Thirteen days later, his pet project of the past eight years, the Villa del Lago estate, goes on the auction block.

In the 22 years since the Oklahoma native came to O.C., he has risen from humble beginnings to top luxury home salesman in the county. Now he’s in bankruptcy court seeking protection from about $50 million in unpaid debts.

Here are highlights of his career and what led to his financial unraveling:

1989: John McMonigle leaves Oklahoma for Orange County, arriving with $73 in his pocket.

1993: McMonigle breaks into luxury real estate, working for mentor Bill Feeney at Waterfront Homes in Newport Beach.

1995: McMonigle marries Robin Weller, daughter of the CEO for Nestle USA.

2000: McMonigle and partners co-found Strada Properties, an independent brokerage near Fashion Island.

2003: Strada is sold to the Coldwell Banker real estate chain. McMonigle and partners buy 12 ½ inland acres in Newport Coast and plan the Villa del Lago estate.

2005: McMonigle raises price for Villa del Lago to $50 million. A month later, McMonigle is named Coldwell Banker’s top salesman based on dollar volume of homes sold. He holds that title for three consecutive years. The McMonigle team sells 34 homes for a combined total of $206 million in 2005, tops for O.C., according to Brea consultant Pat Veling.

May 2006: McMonigle lists the Portabello Estate in Corona del Mar for $75 million. Some say the home was overpriced.

April 2007: La Jolla Bank gives McMonigle’s partnership a $21.6 million construction loan for Villa del Lago.

November 2007: La Jolla gives McMonigle a $9.4 million construction loan for his new headquarters building.

October 2008: Nervous about the market, McMonigle sells his 10,700-square-foot Shady Canyon home – listed for $10.9 million at one point – and moves into a rental.

February 2009: Portabello temporarily taken off market. McMonigle tentatively raises price for Villa del Lago to $87 million on his website.

April 2009: McMonigle opens 20,000-square-foot headquarters building near Fashion Island, with plans to lease out some of the space to tenants. Lease commitments, however, “evaporate.”

August 2009: Robin McMonigle and children move to Dallas.

December 2009: Federal banking regulators close La Jolla Bank and transfer assets to OneWest Bank.

January 2010: OneWest decides to withhold just under $2 million from Villa del Lago’s construction loan and denies access to $4.25 million in cash being held as collateral. Construction stalls. Monigle defaults on La Jolla/OneWest loans for two Newport Beach condos, saying later he did so in retaliation for the bank’s “breach.”

May 2010: Villa del Lago officially hits the market at $57 million.

July 2010: Portabello Estate comes back on the market with $25.4 million price chop. McMonigle defaults on the Villa del Lago construction loan. McMonigle also has stopped making payments on two other OneWest loans, including one for his headquarters building.

October 2010: Portabello Estate sells for $34.1 million, less than half its original asking price. McMonigle announces that he has formed an independent brokerage.

January 2011: McMonigle drops Villa del Lago price to $37 million.

February 2011:
OneWest files suit seeking to foreclose on Villa del Lago, the McMonigle Group headquarters and three other properties.

April 2011: Robin McMonigle files for divorce. McMonigle files for personal bankruptcy one week later.

June 2011: Foreclosure auctions scheduled for the headquarters on June 8 and for Villa del Lago on June 20.

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CNN Money

The number of foreclosure filings issued in April plunged 34% from a year ago — the seventh straight month of declines.

And there were just 69,532 homes repossessed last month, a 32% fall from the peak last September just before the eruption of the "robo-signing" scandal, in which banks were found to be mishandling the foreclosure process.

Will the seeming good news continue? No way, said Rick Sharga of RealtyTrac, which issued the latest monthly figures on Thursday.

Even with the drop, there were nearly 220,000 foreclosure filings during the month, including notices of default, scheduled auctions and bank repossessions. And there are 3.7 million borrowers at least 90 days late on payments. Normally a large percentage of them would already be in foreclosure. They are not — for two reasons.

One is that ongoing regulatory issues. Banks want to make sure their procedures are all in place. Second, the banks have already saturated many markets with repossessions they’ve put back on the market. "Banks can’t move inventory fast enough, at prices high enough, that they’re excited about foreclosing on any more homes," said Sharga.

On the other hand, there are a couple of reasons to believe the conditions may be improving. Hiring has picked up, enabling some borrowers to resume paying their bills. Banks are also doing more to keep borrowers in their homes. In March, banks completed 77,000 mortgage modifications without government assistance, according to Hope Now, a coalition of mortgage servicers, investors and private counselors. That was 26% more than in February.

"What’s important," said Faith Schwartz, the head of Hope Now, "is that these modifications are much more affordable. They should perform much better."

Home prices, however, continue to erode. That’s a problem because it pushes more borrowers "underwater," with home loans worth more than the value of their homes. That removes an important financial cushion should the borrower run into financial problems. And it given incentive to "strategically default," or walk away from their homes and mortgage payments.

The percentage of underwater owners of single-family homes has now reached 28.4%, according to real estate web site Zillow. That will worsen if home prices fall further.

"Home value declines are currently equal to those we experienced during the darkest days of the housing recession," said Zillow Chief Economist Stan Humphries. "That’s going to put more homeowners in default." Home prices have fallen so fast lately that Humphries changed his 2011 outlook, forecasting a 7% to 9% price drop for the year, up from 5% to 7%.

Just as falling home prices result in more foreclosures, rising foreclosures hurt home prices by swamping housing markets with repossessed homes. Bottom line is that the crisis could last for years, according to Sharga. It could be 2014 before the housing market returns to a more normal condition. 

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Wall Street Journal

Moves by banks to ditch law firms snared in the "robo-signing" mess are spreading delays and confusion to borrowers, while angering judges grappling with thousands of foreclosure cases now trapped in limbo.

The trouble began when U.S. banks and government-owned mortgage giants lost confidence in some law firms that handled a huge volume of foreclosures. After controversy erupted last fall over the shoddy review of loan documents known as robo-signing, banks dropped some law firms.

Finding replacement lawyers who can pick up the slack quickly has been a struggle. While the resulting slowdown means that fewer houses are being seized, late fees are piling up for homeowners seeking a loan modifications. Investors who own bonds backed by those mortgages could face higher costs from the snags.

"It’s causing chaos because nobody knows who’s representing whom," says Thomas Ice, a foreclosure defense lawyer in Royal Palm Beach, Fla.

The problems are particularly acute in Florida, one of 23 U.S. states where foreclosures must be processed through courts. Last fall, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac terminated their relationship with the Law Offices of David J. Stern. At its peak, the Plantation, Fla., firm handled nearly 20% of all foreclosures in the state.

In March, the Stern law firm told judges across Florida that it was unable to file the necessary paperwork to withdraw from 100,000 cases. Florida’s attorney general is investigating allegations that the firm routinely forged notarized documents. The firm denies the accusations and is challenging the attorney general’s jurisdiction in court.

"There’s nobody to call to expedite any of these things. My clients are in limbo every day," says Craig Lynd, a founding partner of KEL Attorneys, an Orlando, Fla., law firm.

Two of his clients, 58-year-old Ruth Diehl and her husband, have been in talks with a J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. unit for more than two years about a loan modification on their home in Ocoee, Fla. The bank agreed to offer different loan terms at a court-ordered mediation session last summer, where it was represented by the Stern law firm.

But the deal wasn’t finished, Mr. Lynd says, and efforts to force compliance with the agreement in court was hampered by the removal of the Stern firm from the case. A different law firm was assigned to the case, and J.P. Morgan asked the new firm to reach out to Mr. Lynd, said a J.P. Morgan spokesman.

Ally Financial Inc., the GMAC Mortgage parent in which the U.S. government owns a 73% stake, transferred to other lawyers its foreclosures previously assigned to the Stern firm.

Lisa Butterfield, who is trying to surrender her Middleburg, Fla., home to GMAC through a "deed-in-lieu" of foreclosure, says she has heard nothing from the new lawyer who was assigned her case. "You finally think, ‘I’m finally going to get this settled,’ and then it’s not," she says. She moved last year to take care of her parents but still pays the utilities in hopes of reaching a deal with GMAC.

An Ally spokeswoman says the "situation in Florida is challenging, given the large number of borrowers in foreclosure and the number of quality law firms to manage these cases." She declined to comment on Ms. Butterfield’s situation.

Mr. Stern has blamed former foreclosure clients for failing "to take into consideration any succession planning" when they terminated his firm, according to a written response to a Florida judge. Jeffrey Tew, a lawyer for Mr. Stern, says banks have withheld millions in legal fees and are to blame for delays.

A Fannie spokeswoman says transfers of foreclosure files from terminated firms to new lawyers have been completed. Fannie has approved 16 law firms to handle its cases in the state, up from nine firms last year. Freddie uses 14 law firms in Florida, up from four.

Peter Blanc, the chief judge in Palm Beach County, Fla., with nearly 9,000 cases from the Stern firm, last month urged Mr. Stern to reconsider his decision to walk away from cases. Another problem: Two law firms that got some of the Stern cases were later dropped by Fannie, Freddie and banks.

"Whatever anyone thinks the cost of David Stern’s implosion is, quadruple it," says Richard Shuster, a real-estate lawyer in Miami.

On Friday, Judge Blanc will start convening special hearings to reassign hundreds of cases a day until the backlog is cleared. "If nobody shows up" on behalf of the banks, "we will dismiss the cases," he says. If that happens, banks would have to essentially start over.

In February, Fannie terminated its relationship with Ben-Ezra & Katz after the Fort Lauderdale firm notified Fannie that some paralegals took inappropriate technical shortcuts. Marc Ben-Ezra, a principal at the law firm, says the firm is trying to withdraw from 15,000 cases "cooperatively and responsibly."

But other firms taking over those foreclosures "tend to be overwhelmed," while some clients have seized files and told his firm to no longer act on their behalf. "It’s bad for everybody," Mr. Ben-Ezra says. On Thursday, the law firm said it is suspending its foreclosure practice until further notice.

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Banks displayed “critical weaknesses” in foreclosure processes, resulting “in unsafe and unsound practices and violations of applicable federal and state law and requirements,” according to a report released Wednesday by federal regulators regarding foreclosure practices among major mortgage servicers. The report was conducted by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, the Federal Reserve, and the Office of Thrift Supervision, and is separate from the investigation being conducted by the 50 states’ attorneys general, which is still ongoing.

The report accompanies new regulations for foreclosure procedures, which John Walsh, acting Comptroller of the Currency, stated Wednesday will “require major reforms in mortgage servicing operations.” However, the enforcement actions—which are being taken against 14 mortgage servicers, including Bank of America, JPMorgan, and Wells Fargo—have been widely criticized as letting banks off too easily.

“The agreements are a huge disappointment. They rubber stamp the status quo,” Alys Cohen of the National Consumer law Center told The New York Times. “The banks who caused the economic crisis and received government bailouts are getting a free pass while homeowners still struggle to save their homes.”

According to the new stipulations, banks will be required to establish compliance programs to ensure their foreclosure operations meet legal requirements. They will also be required to create a single point of contact for customers going through the modification and foreclosure process, and will be prohibited from pursuing a foreclosure once a mortgage is approved for modification.

Each affected bank will have to hire an independent firm to review all foreclosure actions taken in 2009 and 2010, and will need to create a plan to remediate financial harm caused to customers through improper foreclosure actions, should errors be found by their independent consultants.

The regulators found an unspecified number of cases "in which foreclosures should not have proceeded due to an intervening event of condition."

Penalties on banks of an undetermined amount will be enforced at a later date.

While the report is long on criticism of the banks’ practices, it runs short of specifics of how enforcement will be conducted, leaving many observers skeptical of it having any actual impact.

“It has no teeth. No specificity,” said Thomas Martin, president of America’s Watchdog in an interview with Builder on Wednesday. “We’ve all seen how well banks have done at regulating themselves.”

As for whether the new stipulations will affect the number of foreclosures that will come onto the markets, Martin foresees “no impact whatsoever on the number of foreclosures that come down.”

Patrick Newport, U.S. economist at IHS Global Insight, says “the new requirements will help a little, but not much.”

Newport believes lenders are more open to negotiating to avoid foreclosures now than they were six months ago thanks to the “bad news reports” as well as “pressure from regulators and politicians.” But in lots of situations, he contends, there’s not much that can stop the tide of foreclosures hitting the markets.

“The problem is that so many homes are deeply underwater, and house prices are still dropping. In most cases, there is little that can be done to prevent these homes from being foreclosed,” he wrote in an email to Builder.

As far as Newport is concerned, the new regulations have “no bearing on the housing outlook.”

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By NGOC NGUYEN –The New York Times

Estrella Bryant was at risk of losing her San Francisco town house last year.

Ms. Bryant, 70, had not fallen behind on her mortgage payments. Instead, she owed $560 in dues to the Parkview Heights Homeowners Association. The association turned over the case to a collection agency and threatened to foreclose unless Ms. Bryant paid off her debt, which increased tenfold because of fees and interest.

“It’s been a nightmare,” said Ms. Bryant, a Filipina immigrant who lives on Social Security and occasional bookkeeping jobs. She said she repeatedly asked Parkview Heights representatives why she was dealing with a debt collector instead of the association.

“Aren’t you supposed to help homeowners?” she asked.

With the help of a lawyer, Ms. Bryant worked out a payment plan and saved her home. But her ordeal reveals another dimension to the foreclosure crisis, in which homeowners associations nationwide have the same powers as banks and mortgage lenders, and they can exercise a little-known right to foreclose on homes. California law permits associations to initiate foreclosure proceedings when a debt exceeds $1,800, or if a lower amount of dues is owed for more than one year.

One out of every four California homeowners belongs to a homeowners association — entities that sell property and provide services in residential subdivisions with support from member dues. There are more than 15,000 associations in Northern California, according to Levy, Erlanger & Company, a professional services firm that caters to them.

Last year, associations foreclosed on about 300 Bay Area homes — twice as many as five years ago, according to an analysis by New America Media, a nonprofit news organization. The study used data from Foreclosure, an independent Web site.

Association-initiated foreclosures are still a small fraction of the overall total in the Bay Area and elsewhere. But advocates for housing rights said the problem ran much deeper, as associations used the threat of foreclosure to intensify pressure on troubled homeowners. The associations often work with debt collectors who add fees and collection costs, causing the debt to skyrocket.

“People come up with money through a painful process; their home is being held hostage and the debt collector knows it,” said Marjorie Murray, who directs the Center for California Homeowner Association Law, an Oakland advocacy group.

Last week, the California Senate Judiciary Committee passed a bill to curtail predatory practices by collection agencies that can lead to ballooning debt and foreclosure proceedings. It would close a loophole that enables collection agencies to apply payments to their own fees and collection costs before paying down the original debt to homeowners associations. Current law forbids this, but debt collectors exploit vagueness in it to get homeowners to waive their rights.

Senator Ellen M. Corbett, Democrat of San Leandro, who co-sponsored the bill with the Center for California Homeowner Association Law, said the legislation was designed to give struggling homeowners a chance to catch up on payments to homeowners associations.

“Unscrupulous debt collectors are increasing the amount owed based on penalties and fees, and foreclosing on people’s homes,” Ms. Corbett said in an interview. “It’s a terrible practice. The penalties are just way too harsh.”

But Bay Area homeowners associations say they are feeling the same squeeze as the homeowners. Ken Johnson, president of the Eden Shores Homeowners Association in Hayward, said most homeowner associations were run by volunteers, who have neither the time nor the expertise to chase down delinquent homeowners.

Mr. Johnson said roughly half of his development’s 500 tract homes are in some stage of foreclosure, primarily because of mortgage defaults. Many of those homeowners are also delinquent on their assessments, he said. That means Eden Shores has less money to provide services, including maintenance of common areas like streets, swimming pools and parks.

Mr. Johnson said associations were not interested in taking over distressed properties. “They don’t want to be liable for it; they just want the funds,” he said.

Andrew Fortin, a spokesman for the Community Associations Institute, an organization that supports homeowners associations nationwide, said the ability to collect dues was essential to ensure that associations were able to provide crucial services.

“You can understand why an association would want to be on top of collecting assessments, or everyone’s property value becomes zero,” Mr. Fortin said.

For homeowners, however, that process can be painful.

Ms. Bryant said she got into trouble when her bookkeeping assignments started to dwindle in the depressed economy. She began to pay her assessments every other month and fell two months behind. She said she had no idea her home was at risk until she received a notice from a collection agency.

By then, the agency, Association Lien Services, had applied an additional $1,000 in fees, documents show. To stave off foreclosure, Ms. Bryant said, she was desperate to work out a payment plan, but the agency’s offer required her to sign an agreement to allow her payments to go toward collection costs before being applied to her delinquent dues, circumventing a state law requiring that payments go toward the original debt before being applied to fees.

Instead of signing the document, Ms. Bryant obtained a pro bono lawyer. She recently paid the full amount she owed the association and worked out a deal to pay a fifth of the nearly $2,500 in collection costs.

Jane Fay, president of the Parkview Heights Homeowners Association, said that she sympathized with Ms. Bryant but that she believed the board acted responsibly in trying to collect the overdue assessments.

She did not agree with all of her debt collector’s practices, Ms. Fay said, but homeowners associations have few options besides pursuing the debt. Delinquents must shoulder part of the blame, she said.

“You’re an adult,” she said. “You haven’t paid, and you know you haven’t paid. There are repercussions.”

Ms. Fay said she was named president of the association in the middle of Ms. Bryant’s dispute and did not have enough information to know “right or wrong.” She said the association waived some late charges and interest.

“We don’t want the association to be making money off of homeowners who are in dire financial straits,” Ms. Fay said.

For collection agencies, however, the foreclosure process can be profitable.

David Swedelson is managing partner of Swedelson & Gottlieb, a Southern California law firm that operates Association Lien Services. Mr. Swedelson said homeowners associations contracted with collection agencies because the latter could cut through “government red tape and requirements” and resolve cases “a lot faster.”

Mr. Swedelson’s law firm boasts on its Web site that it can collect delinquent assessments, costs and fees in “90 percent of cases,” and said it believed that “foreclosure is the fastest and most effective way to collect overdue assessments.”

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Banks continue to receive backlash for their handling of a flood of foreclosures across the country. A new report released this week by federal regulators finds that banks failed to do a good job in handling foreclosures and sometimes evicted home owners when they clearly should not have.
The problems were “significant and pervasive” and added up to “a pattern of misconduct and negligence,” according to the Federal Reserve. The Fed says it soon plans to announce monetary penalties against mortgage servicers.
The report revealed several cases “in which foreclosures should not have proceeded due to an intervening event or condition,” such as families in bankruptcy or home owners who were eligible for a loan modification or even in the process of doing a loan modification.
The report also noted that banks had inadequate and poorly-trained staffs and improperly submitted paperwork to the courts.
In response to the report, several mortgage servicers signed a consent agreement this week, agreeing to changes that include new oversight procedures of foreclosures and reimbursing home owners who were wrongly foreclosed upon. One of the servicers signing the agreement, JPMorgan Chase, says it would add up to 3,000 employees to meet the new regulatory procedures.
“The banks are going to have to do substantial work, bear substantial expense, to fix the problem,” says John Walsh, the acting comptroller of the currency.
About two million households are in foreclosure, and several million home owners have already lost their home to foreclosure.

More Penalties Coming
The banks still face punishment and settlement talks with other agencies. The state attorneys general are conducting their own probe into shoddy foreclosure procedures and working with the Obama administration to overhaul the foreclosure process to prevent future abuses.

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