California Homeowners Bill of Rights – New Law for 2013.

The new California Homeowner Bill of Rights becomes law today. If you’re not familiar with this measure, it was a bill carried on behalf of California Attorney General Kamala Harris last year that sought to codify some of the measures set forth in the national mortgage settlement deal struck in early 2012. 

Initially opposed by the California Association of Realtors as well as the California Bankers Association and the California Mortgage Bankers Association, the bill was pushed through the legislature by a closed joint committee  of both houses so when the bill eventually reached the floor, it was voted on immediately and passed to the Governor. Total time in committee, floor and signature was measured in hours rather than days, months or years, as is typical for most bills. 

Due to the secretive nature of the committee structure, there was little opportunity for interest groups to provide input and there was great concern that what emerged would be a very flawed effort reflecting an over reaction to purported lender wrongdoing. However, CAR did have an opportunity to work with the committee to effect some modifications to the final version that removed our opposition to the bill. CAR was not supportive of the bill in its final version but adopted a neutral position, although banking groups remained steadfast in their opposition due to to concerns about meritless litigation that the bill opens up for aggreaved homeowners. 

Here’s what the bill does:

  • Stops dual tracking. Once the process has started for either a loan modification or short sale by the lender, the foreclosure process must be stopped. This is in response to cases where the property proceeds along multiple courses at the same time only to have the foreclosure process conclude days ahead of a short sale approval by another arm of the bank. As pointed out, this frequently resulted in the bank taking the property back and ultimately receiving thousands less in the foreclosure sale than they would have in a short sale. Of course we know the banks are covered either way and really don’t care but ultimately this should result in more short sales and fewer foreclosures, which is better for the recovering market.
  • Under the dual tracking provisions, banks must give an applicant a response to their loan modification before they can start the foreclosure process. If a homeowner has not applied for a loan modification, the bank must inform them of their right to do so before starting the foreclosure process.
  • No more robo signing.
  • Banks must provide a single point of contact to borrowers trying for a loan modification or short sale. Homeowners and Realtors are often frustrated by multiple points of contact and the handoff fr5om one agent to  another within a bank frequently resulting in the loss of paperwork sending the process back to square one while the foreclosure process continues apace in another department.
  • Allows the borrower to sue loan servicers if the borrower thinks they have violated any foreclosure laws. This is one of the most worrisome components of the bill in that it may open the door to frivolous lawsuits resulting in increased costs and unnecessary delays in an already costly and time consuming process. 

With nearly 1 million foreclosures recorded in the state since 2007, California remains one of the hardest hit areas of the country. However, foreclosures are down in most areas by 30% or more in the past year and with prices starting to climb across the state, the hope is that fewer and fewer people will be pushed into foreclosure anyway. Some 30% of state homeowners remain underwater in their loans but the combination of improving employment statistics and home price increases has decreased that by more than 5% in the past year.

The Homeowners Bill of Rights may well provide some relief for harried homeowners and produce further delays to the process, but it will do little to change the underlying ability of a homeowner to ultimately afford their home and will, in most cases, only delay the inevitable. If Sacramento and DC don’t screw it up, an improving economy will do more to aid homeowners than the HBR will ever accomplish – and ultimately that’s the best news for everybody. 

CAR OPPOSES AG’s Homeowner Bill of Rights.

California Homeowners Bill of Rights:

A Lesson in Political Expediency & Unintended Consequences.

California Attorney General Kamala Harris announced in a much heralded press release today that her ‘California Homeowners Bill of Rights’ has ‘taken a key step toward passage’. Here’s the key step – she bypassed every preliminary opportunity for the bill to be discussed, debated or voted on in either the Assembly or the Senate. What she did, or had her minions in the Legislature do for her, was have the bill introduced to a ‘two-house conference committee’ that voted this morning to pass the bill. That means tomorrow or, more probably Monday, the full Senate and Assembly will vote on the bills – SB 900 & AB 278 with no discussion.

You’ve heard me discuss the measures previously as the Nevada Suite of bills, so named for the deleterious results Nevada experienced after passing similar legislation last year. Did I mention the ‘special committee’ was made up of 4 Democrats and 2 Republicans? Now guess what the vote was? That’s called a ‘procedural matter’ in Sacramento. Roughly translated it means ‘bend over’.

Here’s C.A.R.’s take on the issue:

C.A.R. is OPPOSING conference report, AB 278, containing anti-foreclosure legislation sponsored by the state Attorney General. C.A.R. opposes provisions in this measure which will allow anyone to stop the foreclosure process by filing a lawsuit, merited or not, C.A.R. agrees that careful and balanced reforms to the foreclosure process are necessary. However, C.A.R. opposes this conference report because it will further delay the housing recovery by inviting bad-faith lawsuits and defaults, and making it difficult for even well qualified borrowers to obtain financing. Financing is already very difficult to get. This conference report will only make a difficult situation worse.

Initially the Attorney General had sponsored a package of bills; the so-called the “Homeowners Bill of Rights.” For procedural reasons, the majority of these bills have been under consideration by a Conference Committee made up of six legislators. REALTORS® had the opportunity to educate these legislators about C.A.R.’s concerns as part of Legislative Day and since then C.A.R. lobbyists have been working directly with the conferees and legislative staff to make them aware of the unintended consequences of some of these proposals. The Conference Committee has now issued its final report and it must be passed by both Houses of the legislature. These votes may occur as early as Monday, July 2nd.

Background

The Attorney General has sponsored a package of bills to place into California law an expanded version of the national settlement between major banks and state attorneys general. The contents of some of these bills have been under consideration by a Conference Committee comprised of six members who have just approved a conference report on a party-line vote. Some provisions will have the unintended effect of drying up mortgage loans for anyone but the most well-qualified borrowers, and increasing the costs of all mortgages.

One provision allows any borrower, no matter what the circumstances, to file a lawsuit. This will encourage opportunistic lawyers to pursue frivolous lawsuits, bringing unnecessary and unjustifiable delays to an already difficult and time consuming process. The language is so vaguely written that the borrower doesn’t even have to show that they have been harmed to file suit and be awarded damages.

One-sided  attorneys fees may still be awarded only to plaintiffs based on the very broad definition of a “prevailing party” in the report. And, of course, if lenders don’t have the remedy of foreclosure to ensure they can recover their security in appropriate situations, they will be less likely to lend, credit will be less available and the housing market recovery will limp along even more slowly.

C.A.R. is OPPOSED to the conference report because:

 

  • The housing market recovery is still fragile. About half of all sales are of distressed properties. By restricting a lender’s ability to foreclose and exposing them to unnecessary liability, this report will dry up inventory, and it will further discourage lending other than to the most highly qualified borrowers. Additionally, these bills will artificially slow down the foreclosure process, keeping properties off the market that are legitimately in foreclosure. Finally, by removing the threat of foreclosure, the bill erodes the incentive for short sales as well.
  • The bill invites bad-faith defaults and lawsuits. By broadly defining under what circumstances a lawsuit can be filed, even those legitimately in foreclosure can “game” the system. Additionally, the bill creates an incentive for plaintiffs’ attorneys to file frivolous lawsuits even if no harm has been done to the borrower. The courts are already overwhelmed. This bill, by inviting frivolous lawsuits puts an additional strain on the already underfunded courts
  • Lending is already tight. Even the most well-qualified borrowers are finding it difficult to obtain financing. By stopping legitimate foreclosures, banks will be forced to further tighten lending standards at the expense of homebuyers.

 

We’re not intimating that everything contained in the bills is bad and we have been supportive of some of the issues. We also have a competing dual-tracking bill in play that we feel is more balanced and less vague. But this is a take-it-or-leave-it kind of bill – you have to eat the whole enchilada and there are no amendments allowed at this point. All the bad will be with us as law along with the few good things it might accomplish. Sound familiar?

This is also what is referred to as a ‘gut & amend’ bill. For 1 1/2 years some bills have been floating around the Legislature knowing full well they weren’t going anywhere. They were being held for just such a vehicle as this to rise from the ashes and require a last minute vote – often with only minutes of notice.

So this bill will pass UNLESS you can convince your Democratic Legislator to vote against it. Otherwise it’s a simple exercise in vote counting (53 – 27) to ascertain that our housing market will take another hit – a victim of increased frivolous lawsuits, further restrictions on foreclosures and tightened lending standards.

So now you know the proverbial ‘other side of the story’ and it’s not pretty. I encourage you to read the bill at  AB 278 and then read the AG’s release below. While the release summarizes a much glossed over purview of the bills, the devil is in the details. So go to work on your Democratic Legislators and let them know how Realtors® feel, and every homeowner and landlord who doesn’t feel like paying the price this bill will cost.

 

 

NEWS RELEASE

June 27, 2012

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
(415) 703-5837

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California Homeowner Bill of Rights Takes Key Step to Passage

SACRAMENTO — Attorney General Kamala D. Harris today announced the passage of two central elements of the California Homeowner Bill of Rights through a special two-house conference committee. The 4 to 1 vote sends the bills to an expected vote next week in both the Assembly and Senate.

The two bills approved by the conference committee are the Foreclosure Reduction Act, which restricts the process of “dual-tracked” foreclosures and the Due Process Rights Act, which guarantees a reliable contact for struggling homeowners to discuss their loan with and which for the first time imposes civil penalties on the practice of fraudulently signing foreclosure documents without verifying their accuracy, a practice commonly known as “robo-signing.” The proposed legislation also includes meaningful enforcement for borrowers whose rights are violated.

The full Homeowner Bill of Rights includes additional provisions to reduce blight, ensure appropriate law enforcement response to mortgage fraud and crime, and protect tenants.  The bills containing these protections are also advancing through the Legislature.

“I am gratified by this vote, which represents one more step toward our goal of achieving a Homeowner Bill of Rights for California,” said Attorney General Harris. “The mortgage and foreclosure crisis in our state demands urgent efforts to help Californians keep their homes. The legislature will now have the opportunity to cast a vote on behalf of California’s struggling homeowners.”

The California Homeowner Bill of Rights was introduced February 29, 2012 at a press conference featuring Assembly Speaker John A. Perez and Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg and bill authors from the Assembly and Senate. The goal of the Homeowner Bill of Rights is to take many of the mortgage reforms extracted from banks in a national mortgage settlement and write them into California law so they could apply to all mortgage-holders in the state.

“The mortgage and foreclosure abuse in California ends here,” said Noreen Evans (D-Santa Rosa), co-chair of the Joint Conference Committee. “This committee has passed historic legislation that codifies the
protections eligible homeowners deserve, while helping to stabilize the foreclosure crisis that has thwarted California’s economic recovery. The Legislature has studied, listened and engaged Californians and
industry to find a solution that is fair and effective to mitigate this crisis. I look forward to the full support of the Legislature and Governor in implementing this package.”

“This bill is the result of a long and difficult process in which we received input from all interested parties; including homeowners and the banks and found that foreclosures benefit no one,” said Assemblymember Mike Eng (D-Alhambra). “We ended such dubious practices as having a bank foreclose while a homeowner is in the process of modifying a loan and cut through confusion by making sure that there is a ‘single point of contact’ with mortgage servicers.  With half a million California homes at risk of foreclosure, this action was urgently needed.”

The California Homeowner Bill of Rights extends Attorney General Harris’ response to the state’s foreclosure and mortgage crisis. Attorney General Harris created a Mortgage Fraud Strike Force in March, 2011 to investigate and prosecute misconduct related to mortgages and foreclosures. In February 2012 Attorney General Harris extracted a commitment from the nation’s five largest banks of an estimated $18 billion for California borrowers.

More details about the California Homeowner Bill of Rights are found on the attached fact sheet.  To learn more about how the bills impact California homeowners, review the slideshow at: www.oag.ca.gov.

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You may view the full account of this posting, including possible attachments, in the News & Alerts section of our website at: http://oag.ca.gov/news/press-releases/california-homeowner-bill-rights-takes-key-step-passage

 

Your February Housing Report

Housing stats for Southwest California for January 2011. Sales volume, median price, foreclosures, trends & commentary.

Spirit Cleansing – how to move that house that just won’t sell.

Move over Feng Shue, look out Wabi Sabi,  there’s a new process home buyers and sellers are turning to in an effort to make sure a property is livable – spirit cleansing. I kid you not.

We’ve always known that some homes appear to be haunted – heck I own a 120 year old home myself that some folks will swear has a spectral resident. There are entire industries that have sprung up around that phenomenon including exorcisms, TV shows and movies.

bad vibesBut there’s a new form of home that’s appeared on the market – the house of bad vibes. Apparently what we in the business casually refer to as a ‘distressed’ property may actually be distressed in more ways than financially. It may have all sorts of negative vibes, residues or ‘energy imprints’ associated with it as a result of arguments, emotions, money problems and loss.

And of course where there’s an opportunity, there are opportunists. While it’s not unusual for some religious or ethnic groups to have their homes blessed occasionally, this new group is at the beck and call of home buyers and sellers to help rid a house of the funk either before it is put up for sale or before it closes escrow.

Practitioners of the art utilize a wide variety of customs and items in their cleansing treatment. Ringing bells, according to some, breaks up the negative energy. Iron, especially iron swords, are effective at keeping evil spirits away if placed before windows and doors. Kosher salt, candles, fresh flowers, scented oils, spices and incense can also play a role in the ceremony and in maintaining the ongoing positive aura of the home.

abaloinePractitioners of native arts insist that the same power can be derived from smudging ceremonies involving sage, cedar and sweetgrass applied to the person and the home. If you prefer this method, make sure to use a clay or stone bowl rather than an abalone shell. As we all know, abalone shells should only be used in water ceremonies, not burining rituals,  at the risk of offending Grandmother Ocean.

Consultants, astral healers or in some cases, witches, advise on a number of procedures including a thorough top-to-bottom house cleaning and airing-out as a precursor to the spiritual cleansing or invocation. Herbal mixtures, or just a sea salt and water concoction, can be used to sprinkle the house or actually wash down the place if the vibes are really bad. This is accompanied by a blessing, incantation or charm session, lighted candles in every room and the application of more herbs and fresh flowers to keep the negative energy at bay.

But as always, there’s a caution. Advocates warn that by doing this you are entering into a relationship with an unseen power of the plants and spirits which must be treated with respect and honor. Worse yet, you may actually remove a beneficial spirit that will result in even greater harm to you after the ceremony. You are advised to know what effects the spirits are having on your environment before you take any action.

As always, as with any phase of our business, it’s best to hire a professional.

Long overdue – Stonewood scam goes to trial

At long last the trial has begun for the perpetrators of the so-called Stonewood Scam in Southwest Riverside County. Long time readers are acquainted with the basics of this story from my years-long chronicle of events. Our local association tried to bring this to the attention of law enforcement beginning in late 2004 but were unsuccessful in catching anybody’s ear until the scam had nearly run its course and started to collapse under its own weight.

The real estate part of it consisted of representatives from Stonewood Financial buying homes at significant premiums over asking price. As this was at a time our housing market was appreciating 20% – 30% a year, the fact that someone would pay a 25% or 30% premium on a home purchase was not enough to warrant investigation by the authorities. Homes listed at $500,000 were routinely selling for $600,000 or more. Targeting specific neighborhoods, after the first two or three sales were obtained with fraudulent appraisals, it became a self-feeding scheme since subsequent appraisals were now based on actual sales, albeit fraudulent. Turns out many of the buyers were either made of straw, or people talked into buying multiple properties they couldn’t begin to afford. Naturally other buyers into those neighborhoods also became victims since selling prices became predicated on fraudulently inflated values. In addition to the 200+ documented cases, many more innocent victims lost their homes when prices tumbled by more than 2/3 in some cases.

How did they do it? Well, partially through affinity fraud – many of the buyers were either members of the same ethnicity as the perpetrators or were nurses at the same facility where one of the perpetrators worked. They were also promised that the properties could be rented, that any shortage between the rental income and the mortgage payment would be paid for them, and that the $100,000+ overage collected by Stonewood or a related entity, would be paid to an investment account with the promise of even greater dividends to come.

Naturally there was no investment account to produce income, after a month or two the promised rental offset payments dried up and houses started going into foreclosure by tens, then by hundreds. When we became aware that something smelled bad here, we documented about 60 homes and about $40 million dollars in potential scams. By the time authorities finally acted on it the result was over 200 homes with the perpetrators indicated for over $120 million dollars. Our local District Attorney did not see fit to take action until the SEC, FBI and US Attorneys Office had finally acted, then he stood up on the podium all puffed up taking the credit. I like to hope in some small way it was part of the reason he was soundly defeated in his recent re-election campaign by a relative unknown.

Anyway, in addition to our local real estate fraud task force, reporters Chris Bagley from the Californian and Leslie Berkman from the Press Enterprise payed significant roles in shining the spotlight on these nefarious activities and our own attorney John Giardinelli and an attorney for some of the plaintiffs Richard Ackerman were pivotal in keeping the focus on.

It took too damn long and cost too many people – not to mention the damage done to entire neighborhoods and our cities – but as they say – sometimes the wheels of justice grind slowly. Let’s hope in this case they also grind exceedingly fine.

You can read the whole story and related elements here.

Press Enterprise – Fraud Trail Begins

gad blog ar eml fb swcahomes rltr
The opinions in this commentary are strictly Gene Wunderlich’s personal opinions. While any reasonable and/or rational indivdual should agree wholeheartedly, the opinons reflected herein may not necessarily be those of the Southwest Riverside County AOR,  or any local or state government or other mental institution.

A Raspberry to Michael T. Pines & Others

raspberry

The Californian today bestowed a raspberry entitled:

The “Uncommon Law’ award.

A raspberry to attorney Michael T. Pines, who has been advising his clients to break into their foreclosed homes.

Pines claims the actions are justified because lenders committed loan fraud and violated the Truth in Lending Act of 1968. A bankruptcy judge called his ideas frivolous and ordered him to pay $16,.430 in legal fees to the defendants in one case for wasting their time. Other local real estate lawyers are skeptical about his interpretation of the law.

While not every homeowner facing foreclosure is a victim, many are. They really don’t need one more expert giving them questionable advice that may further complicate their lives. They’ve gotten enough of that already.

To the Californian I say – AMEN. Folks, if it sounds too good to be true – you know the rest. And the same goes for those agents and attorneys advising their clients about short sale gimmicks through a series of trusts as well as those advising their clients they enable you to live in their homes indefinitely without paying. Our profession doesn’t need you, the market doesn’t need you and neither do people who have already been victimized once too often.

California Joins Multi-State Coalition to Protect Homeowners Facing Foreclosure

SAN FRANCISCO – Attorney General Edmund G. Brown Jr. announced today that California has joined a coalition of 49 attorneys general and dozens of state banking regulators in a multi-state effort to demand that lenders find solutions to serious and potentially widespread problems in the foreclosure process across the country.

“While California continues its own vigorous efforts to ensure that homeowners facing foreclosure are treated fairly and lawfully,” Brown said, “we are now working together with other attorneys general and regulators to seek solutions that reach across state lines to protect all borrowers at risk of losing their homes in this foreclosure crisis.”

On Friday, Brown called on all lenders in California to halt foreclosing on California homes until they can demonstrate that they are complying with state law. Earlier, Brown sent letters to Ally Financial and J.P. Morgan Chase directing them either to prove they are in compliance with state law or else halt foreclosures. His office also has been in discussions with other lenders, including Wells Fargo, One West and Bank of America. Brown’s office will continue its independent efforts to protect homeowners facing foreclosure.

Bank of America announced on Friday that it was temporarily halting foreclosures nationwide.

The multi-state group will review how lenders verify foreclosure documents nationally. The group was formed after several lenders and loan services admitted that officials, dubbed “robo-signers,” had vouched for the accuracy and completeness of foreclosure documents without reviewing them. Such sham verifications may constitute a deceptive and unfair practice or otherwise violate state laws.

Regulators in the states involved, including California, have already started examining whether mortgage servicers have submitted improper affidavits or other foreclosure documents.

Although each state has its own foreclosure laws, all attorneys general and financial regulators have a common goal of making certain that every lender and servicer conduct a good faith review of foreclosure documents, only foreclose on homeowners after confirming all requirements have been met, and obey all state laws.

California law prohibits lenders from recording notices of default on mortgages made between Jan. 1, 2003, and Dec. 31, 2007, unless – with certain exceptions — the lender contacts or tries diligently to contact the borrower to determine eligibility for loan modification. A notice of default must include a declaration of compliance with California law.

California homeowners who experience problems with foreclosures, or other consumer issues, can file a complaint online with the Attorney General’s office at: www.ag.ca.gov/consumers/general.php.

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More housing delays from Brown – thanks Jerry

Pandering for a few more votes, Jerry Brown is calling for a halt to foreclosures in California. Super. Let’s let more people stay in their homes indefinitely without making payments and stall off the inevitable for a few more months. That’s what our market needs. Thanks Clueless. What a tool.

Brown Calls on Banks to Halt Foreclosures In California

SAN FRANCISCO – Following his office’s negotiations with the state’s top loan servicers and today’s announcement by Bank of America that it is temporarily halting foreclosures nationwide, Attorney General Edmund G. Brown Jr. today called on the state’s other lenders to halt foreclosing on California homes until the banks can demonstrate that they are complying with state law.

“All lenders should halt foreclosures until they clear up this mess and ensure that the process is fair and complies with California law,” Brown said. “Bank of America has taken an important step, and the other major lenders should follow its lead.”

California law prohibits lenders from recording notices of default on mortgages made between January 1, 2003 and December 31, 2007, unless, subject to limited exceptions, the lender contacts or tries diligently to contact the borrower to determine eligibility for a loan modification. A notice of default must include a declaration of compliance with California law.

In the past few weeks, Brown’s office has been in discussions with Bank of America, Ally Financial, JP Morgan Chase, Wells Fargo and OneWest to ascertain whether they are complying with California law. Brown’s office has called on those banks to show they are complying with state law before continuing with foreclosures.

JP Morgan Chase, the nation’s third largest loan servicer, Ally Financial and One West have admitted that employees approved and signed foreclosure documents without first fully reviewing the borrowers’ loan files. As a result, those borrowers lost their homes based on affidavits the bank never confirmed were accurate.

Ally Financial and JP Morgan have suspended foreclosures in 23 other states that, unlike California, require a court order for foreclosures.

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July housing stats for Southwest CA. Making sense of the nonsensical.

Everything you need to sound like you know what you’re talking about in the local real estate market.
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FHA Announces Short Refinance Program for Non-FHA Borrowers

On August 6, 2010, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced details for its new refinancing program to assist homeowners who owe more on their non-FHA mortgages than their home is worth. HUD originally announced the program in March. Beginning September 7, 2010, the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) will offer qualified non-FHA borrowers the opportunity to refinance with a FHA-insured mortgage on their primary residence. Borrowers must be current on their existing mortgage, qualify under FHA underwriting requirements, and have a credit score of at least 500. The first lien holder must agree to write off at least 10% of the remaining amount owed under the mortgage bringing the combined loan-to-value ratio (LTV) of all mortgages to 115% or less. The LTV for the new FHA mortgage may not exceed 97.75%. The Treasury Department will provide incentives to second lien holders who agree to forgive all or part of their liens. Additional information and guidelines can be found on the HUD website.

HUD Press Release
HUD Mortgagee Letter 2010-23, FHA Refinance of Borrowers in Negative Equity Positions

B of A & Chase release HAFA Guidelines. Thanks NAR?

A couple weeks ago at our GAD Institute, NAR President Vicki Cox-Golder discussed how she and Ron Phipps have been meeting with banking executives around the country in an effort to get some uniformity in short-sale practices and to find out what problems are preventing these large institutions from doing short-sales expeditiously in the best interest of our entire industry. They had met with B of A exec’s just prior to her visit with us and said that in addition to B of A promising to work on the problems, they had also extracted a promise to reduce the time to transact a short sale by nearly half – from about 112 days to just 57 days.

Well, I know we’ve all had smoke blown up our nether regions repeatedly by the big banks about releasing REO’s,  loan mod’s and short sales, (to name but a few) but maybe – just maybe, we are making some progress. Our leaders are meeting, or have met, with B of A, Chase, Wells Fargo and two more, who slip my mind right now. Maybe as a result of these meetings – or maybe just because they felt like it, both B of A and Chase have recently released guidelines that Realtors® will find  helpful to comply with each banks HAFA programs.

Will they work and will the process be as easy-cheesy, lemon squeezy as they claim? Only your Realtor® will know for sure – but it’s a start.

Click here for the 10 page B of A ‘Home Affordable Foreclosure Alternative (HAFA)  Short Sale Program & Guide for Agents

Or click here for a one page synopsis of Chase Bank Home Affordable Foreclosure Alternatives (HAFA) Program.

Loan Mod Scammers Bagged – Casino Boiler Room

State of  California - Office of the Attorney General, Edmund G. Brown Jr.

News Release

May 20, 2010
For Immediate Release
Contact: (510) 622-4500

Four Arrested, Five Wanted for Fleecing Hundreds of Homeowners Seeking Foreclosure Relief

**NOTE: Contact information for victims willing to speak with the press is available upon request**

LOS ANGELES – Attorney General Edmund G. Brown Jr. today announced that nine men engaged in a Southern California boiler room, tricked out in high-roller style with a roulette wheel and other casino equipment, have been charged with 97 criminal counts for stealing at least $2.3 million from more than 1,500 desperate homeowners who were promised loan modifications but received no relief.

Arrested Tuesday and Wednesday night were Gregg Scott Quinn, 37, of Camarillo and Juan Pierre Washington, 40, of Winnetka, who worked as company sales managers and supervisors. They are being held at Los Angeles County Jail.

Gary Arnold Eisenberg, 71, of Westwood, a top telemarketer with the company, and Ira Itskowitz, 58, a sales manager, each spent more than five years in federal prison for previous fraud convictions and are already in federal custody for violating parole in connection with their participation in the scheme.

The four principal owners of the business, Niv Iskin, 30, of Reseda, Reviv Karpman, 38, of Tarzana, Tomer Kogman, 29, of Receda and Avraham Yechizkia, 34, of Encino; and a sales manager, Barel Iskin, 23, of Woodland Hills, are still being pursued by law enforcement.

“This company was just a boiler room, long on promises and upfront fees but short on foreclosure relief,” Brown said. “Its operators cruelly defrauded citizens trying valiantly to hang on to their homes.”

Brown’s office initiated its investigation in March 2009 in response to numerous consumer complaints against the defendants’ Canoga Park-based loan modification business, which operated as Mason Capital Group, LLC and Gretchen Fox and Associates.

When agents executed a search warrant at the office, they found a Las Vegas casino-themed sales floor complete with craps, poker and black jack tables fashioned as workstations, and a roulette wheel that top-selling telemarketers spun for cash bonuses (see photos attached).

Between January 2008 and June 2009, the four owners took in at least $2.3 million in up-front fees, which ranged from $1,000 to $5,000, from more than 1,500 homeowners throughout the country. In almost every case, no loan modifications were completed, as promised. Financial records indicate that the four owners spent hundreds of thousands on private school tuition, travel, entertainment, shopping and other personal expenses while running Mason Capital Group, LLC and Gretchen Fox and Associates.

To corral sales, the four owners used a telemarketing operation that targeted homeowners facing mortgage payment increases or foreclosure. During an initial call, the telemarketers touted the company’s team of “attorneys, forensic accounting personnel, and loan negotiators” available to negotiate reductions in interest rates, monthly payments and principal balances; their supposed 90% to 100% loan modification success rate and refund guarantee. The telemarketers then collected financial information from homeowners to determine if they “qualified” for the company’s services.

Soon after the initial call, homeowners received a follow-up call to inform them that their case had been “reviewed” and “approved.” Telemarketers closed sales by insisting the approval would expire unless homeowners acted quickly, while reminding them about the refund guarantee if promised results were not achieved.

In fact, the company completed very few loan modifications, rarely contacted lenders, failed to honor the refund guarantee, employed unlicensed “loan processors” and had no legal staff negotiating with lenders.

While homeowners waited, they were told their loan modifications, or refunds, would be voided if they tried independently to contact their lender. Many lost their homes to foreclosure as a result.

To skirt the state’s foreclosure laws, avoid paying refunds and conceal profits, the owners changed company names, claimed bankruptcy and shifted loan modification files to another business they created called, American Financial Group, LLC.

Investigators located victims in dozens of California cities, including: American Canyon, Anaheim, Antioch, Artesia, Atwater, Bakersfield, Ceres, Chico, Cotati, Cloverdale, Crestline, Delano, Elk Grove, Encino, Fountain Valley, Fremont, Fresno, Guerneville, Hanford, Hayward, Hercules, Hood, Indio, La Jolla, Lancaster, Laguna Hills, Lodi, Long Beach, Los Angeles, Manteca, Modesto, Montclair, N. Hollywood, Newhall, Newman, North Highlands, Oakdale, Oakland, Ontario, Palmdale, Pittsburg, Pleasanton, Poplar, Porterville, Redding, Richmond, Riverbank, Rodeo, Sacramento, San Jose, San Pablo, Santa Clara, Santa Rosa, Sebastopol, Stanton, Stockton, Tracy, Tulare, Turlock, Union City, Upland, Valley Village, Van Nuys, Visalia, W. Sacramento and Yuba City.

Brown’s office will seek restitution for victims of this scam.

By law, all individuals and businesses offering mortgage foreclosure consulting or loan modification and foreclosure assistance services must register with Brown’s office and post a $100,000 bond. It is also illegal for loan modification consultants to charge up-front fees for their services.

Non-profit housing counselors certified by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development provide free help to homeowners. To find a counselor in your area, call 1-800-569-4287.

If you are a homeowner who has been scammed, contact Brown’s office at 1-800-952-5225 or file a complaint online at: www.ag.ca.gov/consumers/general.php.

Brown has sought court orders to shut down more than 30 fraudulent foreclosure relief companies and has brought criminal charges and obtained lengthy prison sentences for dozens of other deceptive loan modification consultants. For more information on Brown’s action against loan modification fraud visit: http://ag.ca.gov/loanmod.

The 97 criminal counts filed against the nine defendants, include 63 counts of grand theft, 26 counts of unlawful foreclosure consulting, 7 counts of tax evasion and 1 count of conspiracy.

The United States Postal Inspection Service assisted in the investigation.

Copies of the complaint, filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court, and the Arrest Warrant are attached.

FHA Commissioner Dave Stevens Speaks. WE made the mess. THEY’ll clean it up. Oboy.

dave stevensThis morning we were treated to an hour long conference call with FHA Commissioner Dave Stevens, courtesy of NAR. Long-time readers know I’m a fan of Stevens, even got a nice comment from him on a blog I wrote last fall following his address at NAR. I think it’s a good thing to have somebody in his position who actually knows real estate, knows what it takes to sell a house, get a mortgage, work a short sale, etc. As introduced this morning, they said it’s ‘refreshing to have someone who knows our industry.’ I concur.

Stevens started his talk saying these are ‘unprecedented times’ in the housing industry. ‘The good news is that the housing industry has never received this much attention. The bad news is that the housing industry has never received this much attention.’ The housing industry brought the U.S. economy to it’s knees and nearly took the world economy with it.  We had a severe hiccup when people lost sight of housing as shelter and started viewing it as an investment strategy.

He then ran through some of the stats that most of us are aware of. Exotic mortgages nearly wiped out the FHA base. With their 3% down, 30 year fixed mortgages they were too boring, couldn’t complete with ‘0’ down, no interest, no doc loans – they were irrelevant and shrank to less than 3% of the market. Today they are back up to 30+% and growing. They originate 50% of loans to Blacks, 45% of loans to Hispanics and 80% of loans to 1st time homebuyers.

He also talked about some of the changes FHA has made to protect their base things like increasing the down payment amount in for some buyers and decreasing the amount of seller contributions. He noted those things are vital to protect FHA and he quoted numerous studies showing the rise in failure rates between buyers getting 3% seller contributions and those getting 6%. He also talked about the SAFE Act, which he believes will go a long ways toward eliminating the type of ‘rogue’ lender that contributed so much to questionable lending. He sees this as a good step toward rebuilding consumer confidence in the market.

He also stated that, in hindsight, it’s clear that everybody should not have become homeowners as was the mantra for the first half of the decade, and through their policies they intend to make sure everybody doesn’t become a homeowner going forward – only those who should be, who can demonstrate the fiscal ability to meet the responsibility they are undertaking. He realizes that some of the policies sound harsh and that some innocent people will be hurt, but in the interest in returning credibility, confidence and integrity to the market, these are steps that need to be taken. And with 95% of the financial market under the control of the Federal Government, they are in a position to set those rules.

And for the most part I find myself in agreement with what Stevens said – up to a point. He started losing me when he said that the belief in Washington is that THEY  need to act to restore confidence in the market because WE failed. WE collectively built this market – all of us, according to Stevens, but it is the Obama administration that now sees the mandate to ride to the rescue. He credits this administration with stabilizing the market at a time it was in free-fall. He believes the HAMP & HARP and other programs have been resounding successes and that without them the crisis would have gotten much worse.

That’s all partially true but it strikes me that in some respects Dave has been drinking the Kool-Aid. And that’s OK – I mean he works for the administration and his job depends on toeing the company line on this kind of stuff – just don’t expect everybody else to believe it without question. And we were all too polite to question it on the call this morning.

I just sent out my monthly newsletter in which I pretty much said the same thing Stevens did about it being a unique market and that the government has their finger in darn near every aspect of the market. Where we diverge is that while Stevens thinks more government intervention and manipulation is a good thing, I think it has artificially propped the market up and has kept us from a true stabilization, reaching a real bottom and starting a sustainable recovery. We simply don’t know what the government is going to do next – and that creates instability – especially when the  majority of people don’t have much confidence in that government.

As Ben Bernanke recently commented to the Dallas Regional Chamber, “We have yet top see evidence of a sustained recovery for the housing market. Mortgage delinquencies for both prime and sub-prime loans continue to  rise as do foreclosures.”

It’s cyclical. The market would never have peaked as high or as boisterously as it did without government intervention. When Barney Frank and Bill Clinton decided everybody who could fog a mirror should buy a house, the die was cast. When the financial markets, including the GSE’s responded with vigor and with increasingly exotic products and Barney Frank and George W encouraged it, we were toast and didn’t know it. So when Stevens said WE built this market, he should have expanded his collective WE to include all the federal cronies who are now charged with straightening out the mess they helped create in the first place. Dave didn’t mention that.

Oh well,. As always, we at the street level are left to deal with what plops in steaming piles from the bowels of Congress. Thus has it always been. Obama didn’t create the mess and he sure as heck ain’t cleaning it up, though when the cycle ultimately turns you can bet he’ll be leading the parade to take credit for it. The rest of us will just keep working and trying to eke out a living and stashing as much as we can before higher taxes and interest rates take it. That’s the fun part. As Dave Stevens closed today he quoted that thing that makes each of us get up in the morning and do what we do – “We still own the American Dream business.” Well, at least the part the administration doesn’t lay claim to.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent the official position of anybody who matters.
If you don’t like it (Martin), don’t read it – but quit yer whinin’. OK?

Tax Upsides & Downsides of Mortgage Debt Relief

Upside – Downside of Debt Forgiveness.

As you are aware, California just passed SB401 which brings the state of California into compliance with the Federal Mortgage Debt Relief Act of 2007. Essentially what that means is that, like the federal program, California homeowners who have benefited from a short-sale or foreclosure (benefited? That’s questionable), qualify for relief.

upside downMost of you already know what it means but for any first-time readers, this means if you took out a loan from a lender to buy a house and that house is now worth half what it was when you bought – you are upside down in your house. You owe more than you can sell it for.

But say you lost your job or have to relocate or the adjustable interest rate grew faster than your income and you can no longer afford your home you either have to get them to modify your loan (good luck) sell it as a short-sale (good luck), or let the bank take it back either through a foreclosure or a deed-in-lieu. Regardless, the bank is going to take a hit because they can’t recoup the amount of money they originally lent you.

Prior to the Tax Forgiveness Act, the difference between what you owe and what they end up with could be considered income because you no longer had the obligation to repay the lender. The IRS could, and did, tax that as income in the year it occurred. So if you bought a home for $400,000 and sold or lost it for $200,000, the bank would report that $200,000 differential as income and it got tacked onto whatever else you made that year and you got taxed on it – even though you never saw a penny of the cash.

Under the Mortgage Debt Relief Act, and now California SB401, you will no longer be liable for moneys used to purchase your principle residence as the result of foreclosure, short-sale or loan modification.

However, there are caveats that some folks are finding out at tax time at their own detriment. For example:

  1. If you took out a 2nd mortgage or refinanced your home and took cash out to buy toys, take a vacation or otherwise squandered the cash – you may still be on the hook.
  2. If you used a HELOC (home equity line of credit) to buy toys, take a vacation, pay for education or otherwise squandered the cash – you may still be on the hook.
  3. You used the money to buy a vacation home and lost that to foreclosure – you may still be on the hook.
  4. If the property is over $2 million dollars and you lose it. The Act covers only the first $2 mil. After that, you are on the hook..
So there are many definite benefits to the Act as well as SB401, but it doesn’t resolve all your issues. In California a lot of folks used their homes like ATM machines taking out $50 or $100k every few months during the run-up. You are still on the hook.

In addition, as noted in earlier posts, California’s SB401 is a ‘revenue neutral’ bill which means that for every dollar of forgiveness accrued to somebody, somebody else is paying a buck’s worth of new tax. If you’re not one of the ones getting tax relief, then you’re one of the ones paying more. Actually, even if you get relief you will still be paying higher taxes in other areas. And while the debt foregiveness portion of the bill sunsets in 2012 with the federal program, the other taxes go on and on and on and…

And you thought lunch was free…

More information, including detailed examples can be found in Publication 4681, Canceled Debts, Foreclosures, Repossessions, and Abandonments. Also see IRS news release IR-2008-17.

Realtor Action Fund – Your Best Investment in Real Estate

racAs a Realtor® you are part of one of the largest special interest groups in this country – the Realtor® Party, and you have a noble cause – preservation of the American Dream of home ownership. You may not like the idea of being a ‘special interest’ and you may disavow any inclination to participate in the political process that supports it, but that doesn’t change the facts.

Pericles summarized the concept in 500 BC when he said “Just because you don’t take an interest in politics doesn’t mean politics won’t take an interest in you.” I’ve updated that somewhat with the Wunderlich codicil “If you’re not at the table, you’ll probably be on the menu.”

If you think the business of real estate is just about buying and selling houses, you only know half the story. The National Association of Realtors® is the largest grassroots political action group in this country representing more than 1.1 million Realtors® in our nation’s Capitol. Last year we invested more money in candidate elections and special campaigns than almost any other group. That’s the other business of real estate – the part that allows you to stay in your business.

A few members have voiced concerns over the recent decision by the California Association of Realtors® to increase our dues by $49 to cover this vital piece of our business. But in reading through those comments (comment summary on $49 investment), I realized some of you are simply not aware of what these critical funds are used for and the direct benefit you derive. For less than the price of 1 latte a month, you are insuring your political survival and generating a real and measurable impact to your bottom line.

So let’s break down what YOU get for that $49 investment.

  • Just last week we defeated a proposal from CA Senate President Darrell Steinberg that sought to impose a 3% accelerated withholding tax on independent  contractorsthat’s you. If you sold a $100,000 condo, the withholding from your commission check would be $90. On a median price home in Temecula last year that would have taken an additional $260.89 out of your check – every check all year long. If it wasn’t for our successful lobbying efforts you’d be  paying that already because Darrell tried the same thing 3 times last year. Is that worth $49 to you?
  • 1stHave you sold a home to a first-time homebuyer in the past year? Over 1.2 million first-time prospects have become owners since the inception of the tax credit last year – 450,000 of those would not have jumped into the market without that incentive. Who do you think lobbied to get that measure passed last February and then worked extra hard to get it extended and expanded in November against long odds? Selling side commission on a median price home in Murrieta last year was about $8,133. Is that worth $49 to you?
  • Last year Canyon Lake proposed an ordinance requiring every Realtor® to pay a $90 business license fee every year. If you worked in, advertised in, sold a home in, or even mentioned Canyon Lake in your website – you would get a bill for $90. We worked hard to modify that ordinance – not just for Canyon Lake but so that other Southwest California cities didn’t get the idea they could just reach into your pocket without a fight. Is that worth $49 to you?
  • Last election cycle we supported candidates in 9 local city council races. 8 of our candidates won including 3 Realtors®. Do you think it might be helpful to have people serving on our local councils and water boards who understand property rights issues, eminent domain, sign ordinances, zoning and so forth? How about in Sacramento? Or Washington DC? If we had more legislators in place who understood real estate or banking or appraisal issues do you think we’d be having some of the problems we’re having today? Is that worth $49 to you?
  • Would the loss of the mortgage interest tax deduction have any impact on home ownership? How about capital gains tax benefits for home owners? The  mortgage interest tax deduction and capital gains benefits are on the table every couple years in Washington DC as a source of potentially significant tax revenue. They will be again this year. Without your NAR lobby, these significant advantages to homeownership would have disappeared along with a chunk of your business during the past decade. It that worth $49 to you?
  • Would your business be impacted if a buyer could walk into any bank and buy a home from the same salaried employee who gave them a loan? NAR fought an 8 year battle to eliminate a loophole banks were trying to exploit to do just that. We won that fight in 2009. Is that worth $49 to you?

Those are just a few of the things your $49 does. Here’s a few things it doesn’t do:

  • Realtor Action Funds do not support a political party platform or agenda – they support the Realtor® Party. We support candidates who understand our issues at the local, state and national level regardless of party affiliation. Historically our expenditures are split almost down the middle at the federal level.
  • Realtor Action Funds do not support issues or legislation that is not real estate related. At the state level our analysts comb through every one of the 3,300 bills submitted in an average session. About 1,500 of these may be flagged as having some potential impact on either Realtors® or property rights. Our state directors discuss each of those bills to determine whether the Association will support it, oppose it, maintain a neutral position or if it really isn’t real estate related at all. We also sponsor our own bills to address specific real estate issues of concern to our members. You can read about the eight bills CAR  authored for 2010 here.
  • Realtor Action Funds do not support travel by Directors, they don’t pay for lobbyists salaries and they don’t pay for ‘pet projects’. If it doesn’t directly support a candidate or real estate related issue or campaign, it doesn’t come out of these funds. They are too precious to squander and the real need is growing exponentially.

rpacI hope this gives you a better feel for why this latest move was made by our state association. It was not a capricious decision and was discussed in detail for more than a year. In order to continue to be effective at the level our members have come to demand, we
must have the support of all members. 10% or 20% can’t continue to pay for benefits demanded and enjoyed by 100% of the membership. That’s neither fair nor equitable.

We welcome your input and questions and I encourage you to visit http://gadblog.srcar.org/ to take part in the discussion.

gadpol


CAR Sponsors Eight Bills in 2010 Session

After a successful year spent playing defense against a variety of point-of-sale bills and several tax measures aimed at Realtors®, the California Association of Realtors® is going back on the offense this year with eight new bills we are sponsoring. A sponsored bill is one that we author and then find a legislative sponsor – either Senator or Assembly member – to carry the bill for us. The selection of an author is a critical process as some bills have greater appeal to Democrats, others have more appeal to Republicans, some appeal to both in equal measure and some have no appeal at all. It’s a fascinating process that I’ll explain to you sometime if you’re interested.

The eight bills we’ll be sponsoring this year include:

SB206 (Dutton) – REO Homebuyer Tax Credit. As introduced, SB206 would have created a program similar to the federal first time homebuyer program providing a tax credit up to $8,000 for the purchase of a principle residence. Due to the state’s fiscal crisis it was later determined modofied to limit the tax credit to purchases of REO properties. At our recent BOD meeting, the language was further modified to include supporting a recent proposal by the Governor for the purchase of new or existing homes IF a reliable source of funding is found. This means if the Governor sponsors a bill to address substantially the same issue, we will abandon SB206 and sign on to support the Governor’s efforts assuming anybody can find money to fund such a program.

Local Property Maintenance Ordinance – (No author yet). This legislation will pre-empt over-reaching local vacant property ordinances that may adversely affect the market and unfairly expose Realtors® and homeowners to liability. While many cities, including those in Southwest County, have adopted workable ordinances to address abandoned property maintenance and blight issues, other cities have determined these ordinances are excellent sources of revenue for their cash-flow and have levied substantial fines. In some cases, the level of the fine is in excess of the value of the property. This bill would supersede local ordinances.

Anti Deficiency Protection (Corbett) – This bill would extend the existing borrower protections against personal liability for a purchase money loan to either refi the property or for improvements that increase the value of the property. Current policy states that any refinance, even with no cash out just to reduce interest rates, automatically shifts the loan from non-recourse to recourse. This bill addresses that.

CID Unit Owner Right To Rent – In 2008 we sponsored AB2259 (Mullin) which would have allowed current property owners within an HOA to continue to use their rental rights until such time as they sold the property even if the HOA decided to restrict rentals. Approved almost unanimously in both houses, it was vetoed by the Governor. This bill would require a 2/3 approval in a CID for any amendment that would prohibit owners from renting or leasing their units.

Portable Appraisals (Correia) – Current law permits, but does not require, lenders to utilize an appraisal ordered by a different lender. This bill states that if an appraisal is ordered and prepared by one lender, a second lender would be required to accept the appraisal to support the mortgage.

Appraisal Management Company (AMC) Regulatory Oversight (Hall) – Driven by the HVCC, Appraisal Management Companies have grown
enormously in both scope and power over the past two years. In 2009 CAR supported SB237 (Calderon) which subjects AMC’s to review by the Office of Real Estate Appraisers (OREA). This bill clarifies and expands OREA’s oversight of these behemoths. Since we can’t seem to stop HVCC at the federal level, we are trying to at least establish some control and oversight at the state level. By the way, HVCC technically sunsets this year but nobody is betting that the process or the AMC’s will simply pack it in and go home.

DRE ‘Poison Pill’ Reserve Protections – During the 1990’s the Governor and Legislature raided Department of Real Estate funds to help balance the budget. CAR sponsored legislation stating that if the funds were taken it would trigger a rollback of license fees to 1982 levels. The bill passed. Years later the state again  raided the DRE money but stated that it was borrowed by the general fund so the rollback was not triggered. We again addressed the matter legislatively and closed that avenue of pilferage. In 2009 DRE coffers were again raided in a manner than again did not trigger a rollback as the funds were not stolen, not borrowed, but loaned not to the general fund but directly to another department, the DOJ. Back to the drawing board yet again.

Advance Fee Definition Clarification (Hayashi) – Last year we supported SB 94 (Calderon) to prohibit ‘cash up front’ loan modification contracts. However, the language that emerged in the final bill requires some clarification of the definition of advance fees for services such that it cannot be construed to include a listing agreement – which is technically a fee agreement for future services to be rendered.

The legislative deadline for identifying authors and obtaining bill numbers is February 15 so we will keep you apprised of developments and successes in our 2010 advocacy efforts as they occur. Stay tuned for RED ALERTS as we elicit your support to persuade legislators of the importance of these measures.

There are also hundreds of ‘bills of interest’ in the process of being introduced by others. At future meetings CAR will evaluate those bills and members will be asked to take a position.

For a complete (as of January 2010) summary of both CAR sponsored bills as well as a list of these others bills of interest, please go to:
http://www.car.org/governmentaffairs/

raf

Foreclosure Rescue Agents Beaten, Robbed.

In a case that smacks of poetic justice, though not necessarily justice served, 5 people in Los Angeles have been charged with torturing and robbing two men they claim swindled them in a foreclosure rescue scheme.

Prosecutors claim that two of the individuals hired two loan modification agents in hopes of saving their home but believe the men just took their money and did nothing. WOW! That’s hard to believe, eh? Prosecutors claim the ‘victims’ were lured to an office where they were held for hours, beaten and robbed before one of them escaped and notified authorities. “The two allegedly sought loan modification assistance from the victims but believed that nothing was being done and wanted their money back,” a statement from the district attorney’s office said.

What makes this case noteworthy (at least to me) is that in customary news media fashion, the names of the the accused have been well publicized but the name of the alleged swindlers is being withheld for their protection. This is one reason fraud continues to flourish – the names of the true victims is often published while the perpetrators (in this case identified as ‘victims’) is withheld.

Of course I am not in a position to know whether the ‘victims’ in this case were truly victims or if they were scam artists who got a much deserved ass-whooping. I suspect if more fraud perpetrators were treated to a good old fashioned ass-whoopin’, we would start to see a lot less prevalence of the problem.

I’m hoping the LA Prosecutor manages to devote as much time to finding out if these people were really innocent legitimate business people or if they were among the multitude of scam artists cluttering up our industry. I’m hoping the next headline I see is: ‘Torture Victims Released From Hospital – Taken Directly to Jail For Mortgage Fraud Scheme.’

Ironically, this happened the same day Los Angeles housing advocates launched a campaign warning consumers of  mortgage rescue scams.

The world is all topsy toivy.


Jerry Brown – Kicking Ass & Taking Names

Gotta love this. AG Jerry Brown to 386 ‘mortgage foreclosure consultants’ – pay up or face the consequences. Including names of all the companies currently not in compliance. SWEET!

Here’s the link to see non-compliant companies in your area. Taking names and kicking ass – love ya Jerry.

News Release

August 12, 2009
For Immediate Release
Contact: (916) 324-5500

Brown Orders Mortgage Foreclosure Consultants to Post $100,000 Bond or Face Prosecution

Los Angeles – Threatening possible criminal and civil prosecution, Attorney General Edmund G. Brown Jr. today ordered 386 mortgage foreclosure consultants to post $100,000 bonds and register with his office.

He also ordered more than two dozen companies to justify suspicious loan modification claims made in “slick advertising,” online and through the mail.

“Hoping to lower their mortgage payments, thousands of homeowners were instead duped by slick advertising and money-back guarantees,” Brown said. “The time for accountability is at hand, and this rogue industry must clean itself up or face legal action,” Brown added.

Brown also unveiled a new website ( http://ag.ca.gov/loanmod) that provides homeowners tips to avoid loan modification fraud, allows them to determine if a company is registered with his office and makes it easier to file complaints.

Brown today joined with the California Department of Real Estate and the State Bar of California in a new partnership to combat loan modification and foreclosure fraud.

Brown has sent letters directing 386 mortgage foreclosure consultants to register with his office within 10 days and post $100,000 bond, or demonstrate why they are not required to. If the consultants are required to register and have failed to do so, they are subject to criminal penalties of up to a year in jail and fines ranging from $1,000 to $25,000 per violation. Eighty-five of these consultants are based in Los Angeles County, 133 in Orange County, 47 in the Inland Empire, 68 in San Diego County and seven in the Bay Area.

Additionally, Brown sent letters today demanding that 27 loan consultants substantiate suspect claims made on the internet and in direct mail advertising. For instance:

· Brown directed Irsfeld, Irsfeld & Younger, LLP of Glendale, Calif. to substantiate its claims including: “Our team has 10 years of success in negotiating 90% of all mortgage loan modification requests to a successful outcome….For the modification requests we accept, our modification failure rate is less than 1%.”

· Brown directed 21st Century Real Estate Investment Corporation of Rancho Cucamonga to substantiate its written solicitations including: “[y]our proposed loan modification is a 30 year fixed/3.5% interest rate with a monthly payment of $495. Your monthly savings is $705. Total savings over a 30-year period is $253,800. . . . Your first payment will be negotiated to begin March 2009 – payable to your current lender for $495.”

· Brown directed Mortgage Modification Solutions of Irvine to substantiate its claims including: “Our services are due to the FEDERAL MANDATE which makes it mandatory for mortgagees, upon the default of a single family mortgage, to engage in loss mitigation actions” and “Why $3995.00 is nothing compared to what you can accomplish in return? #1- It’s 10 times more expensive to hire a CPA or a Financial Advisor to exclusively analyze & Research your financial affairs to create a plan acceptable to the Banking standards.”

· Brown directed Alliance Law Center of San Diego to substantiate its letters to consumers stating: “Final Notice: 3/11/09, our review of certain information indicates you may be a victim of federal disclosure violations and/or predatory lending violations, therefore your loan may be invalid, and you may qualify for a loan modification saving you thousands of dollars.”

The State Bar of California today announced that it has obtained resignations from two lawyers and filed charges against a third for their loan modification activities. The State Bar’s special team on loan modification complaints continues to investigate more than four hundred active complaints from consumers about lawyers’ roles in loan modification scams.

Brown has made it a top priority to combat loan modification fraud. As part of a nationwide sweep last month, Brown filed suits against 21 individuals and 14 companies who ripped off thousands of homeowners seeking mortgage relief. In total, Brown has sought court orders to shut down 32 companies and has brought criminal charges and obtained lengthy prison sentences for deceptive loan modification consultants.

Copies of the letters and a list of consultants who have not registered are attached.

You may view the full account of this posting, including attachments, in the News & Alerts section of our website at: http://ag.ca.gov/newsalerts/release.php?id=1780

at&t / Yahoo Poll. 1 question? Simple answers. Pretty easy.

A One Question Poll.

DO NOT MISS YOUR CHANCE TO CAST YOUR VOTE:  Election Day

This is your chance to vote on Obama’s performance on this at&t /Yahoo Poll….
NOTE: this is a simple and unbiased poll. The question is stated very simply… and, to the point. No tricks. No hidden messages. No nothing.

JUST A SINGLE, SIMPLE QUESTION. There is no way that anyone can say that it was not a fair poll… or, that it was “phrased” in a way that it can be interpreted later… to fit someone else’s desired
answer. In other words… it is a spin-doctor’s “nightmare.”

poll

http://js.polls.yahoo.com/quiz/quiziframe.php?poll_id=46067

NOTE: After
you vote, you will see a second page that shows
the running total and what the opinions are.