July 20, 2014

Analysis: Housing Market Back on Downward Slope

Inevitably, the housing market endures cycles of upswings and downturns. Generally, so long as those fluctuations remain within reasonable bounds, there is nothing amiss about it.instability.jpg

What we saw beginning in 2008, however, was a frightening aberration. Now, despite countless media reports touting our "ongoing recovery," our Miami foreclosure lawyers on the front lines of this issue understand the silver lining view may be a bit optimistic.

In fact, the "recovery" we saw may be more of an illusion than initially realized, and there is little doubt at this point that we are on track for another market downturn. The slide on the immediate horizon may not be as severe as the crash, but there is strong evidence to suggest the reports of incremental steps toward a positive change may have been premature.

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July 14, 2014

Citi to Record $7B Fine in Mortgage Settlement Agreement

For its role in hawking defective mortgage investments during the subprime housing boom, Citigroup Inc. has agreed to fork over $7 billion, in a combination of cash and consumer relief, to settle numerous state and federal investigations.
Our Miami foreclosure lawyers understand this could mean relief for those who are on the verge of a foreclosure and possibly compensation for those who have already lost their homes.

An investigation by the U.S. Justice Department indicated Citigroup's actions were part of what was at the core of the housing market bust: mortgage-backed securities that were marketed as safe investments, despite internal knowledge that they were doomed to collapse. When they did, the economy imploded like a house of cards, leading to a financial crisis from which the world is still recovering.

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June 24, 2014

Private Equity Firm Refuses to Install Pool Fence, With Tragic Results

Private equity firms have been praised by those in the real estate and finance worlds for the way in which these companies snapped up some 200,000 homes, mostly foreclosed, and transformed them into a rental empire.
It's true the process has served to raise home values, and has come to be known as a "rental-backed security."

But our Miami foreclosure lawyers know there are many problematic issues with this model, not the least of which is that these firms have a tendency to put profits over people - almost without exception. There is no concern for the families involved or investment in the communities. In some cases, these firms have even displayed flagrant disregard for the law. In one such case, the result was tragedy.

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June 20, 2014

New CFPB Report Spotlights Risky Debt Collection Tactics

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau recently issued a 29-page report, outlining its activities over the last several years.
Most interesting to our Miami consumer protection attorneys was the portion on debt collection practices, in which the bureau highlighted risky practices on the part of an industry where revenue has ballooned 600 percent from 2003 to 2012, reaching a peak of $143 billion that year, according to the Center for Responsible Lending.

Debt buyers typically spend only about 4.5 cents on the dollar for charged-off debt, but then turn around and aggressively pursue you - the consumer - to get whatever they can for it. Many times, there is no proof you even still owe it.

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June 14, 2014

Report: 92,000 Floridians Receive $9.1B in Mortgage Relief Deal

The latest report from the National Mortgage Settlement Monitor indicates that some 92,000 distressed homeowners in Florida have been granted some form of housing relief as part of a $9.12 billion deal brokered by Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi.
Initially, Bondi and her team were part of the crew that negotiated $4 billion for Florida in a $25 billion national deal with banks that had admitted a significant role in the perpetuation of the housing crisis, which left many borrowers underwater - or worse. Subsequently, Bondi worked out a deal between three of the biggest banks involved - JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo and Bank of America - that more than doubled what Florida homeowners would receive.

Florida was one of three states to work out a separate side deal. Bondi would later say this agreement was critical because Florida was the hardest-hit by the housing crisis - something our Miami foreclosure attorneys know all too well.

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June 11, 2014

Massachusetts Sues Fannie, Freddie For Refusing to Help Distressed Homeowners

Federal housing regulators and mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have the option of helping struggling, deeply underwater homeowners negotiate decreased loan terms that would help them remain in their homes and stay current on a fair-price mortgage. Not only that, it wouldn't cost them anything.
But they won't do it, according to the Massachusetts Attorney General's Office, which has filed suit against Fannie and Freddie, alleging their actions violate the state laws in place to help troubled borrowers.

"There's no reason" for the agencies to take the tack they have, according to AG Martha Coakley. She says not only do individual borrowers suffer, but so do neighbors, the community and the economy as a whole. Foreclosed properties sit vacant for months or years, blighted and then eventually auctioned off for a fraction of the price.

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June 8, 2014

Black Knight Mortgage Monitor: 40% of Modified Loans Facing Resets are Underwater

When the housing market unraveled back in 2008, one of the quick-fixes promoted by the Obama Administration was loan modification, specifically through the Home Affordable Loan Modification Program.
Those facing foreclosure in Miami may be familiar with the fact that this program offers reduced interest rates for homeowners - but only for a limited time. And now, for many, time's up.

Those who first obtained relief through this program the first year it was available will now start to see their interest rates gradually increase. In some cases, according to the special inspector general for the Troubled Asset Relief Program, mortgage could rise by $1,000 a month.

Our Miami foreclosure defense lawyers recognize how potentially devastating this could be for many households. In fact, a new report by mortgage analysis firm Black Knight Mortgage Monitor indicates that 40 percent of the 2 million homes up for a reset of interests rates this year are underwater. That means the homeowner owes more on the home than what it is worth.

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June 6, 2014

Banks Allegedly Overcharged Government for Foreclosure Expenses

Federal prosecutors in New York have launched an investigation into the practices of at least five banks to determine whether they overcharged taxpayers for expenses incurred during foreclosures of federally-backed mortgage loans.
Reuters reports that five banks have disclosed they have received subpoenas from the U.S. Attorney's Office in Manhattan, requesting information on claims regarding foreclosed loans that were either guaranteed by Freddie Mac or Fannie Mae or insured by the Federal Housing Administration.

Miami foreclosure defense lawyers understand these requests come several years after the peak of the housing crisis. Despite some pointed efforts to salvage the integrity of the mortgage servicing system, the fact is we are seeing the same issues over and over again.

The director of the National Association of Consumer Advocates was recently quoted as saying the problem stems from the fact that the entire mortgage servicing model is built on efforts to try to nickle-and-dime everyone, collecting as many fees as possible along the way.

The investigation was launched as part of the Financial Institutions Reform, Recovery and Enforcement Act. This law was passed back in the 1980s, in the wake of the savings-and-loan crisis. It's one of the primary tools that the U.S. Justice Department has in prosecuting banks for illegal acts. It hasn't been used nearly as often as we would have liked to have seen in the wake of the housing bubble burst and economic meltdown.

Still, there was one earlier investigation by this same office under this same law (as well as under the False Claims Act) that resulted in a $1.1 billion settlement with four major banks, including JPMorgan Chase. A separate claim resulted in a $2.1 billion settlement with Bank of America, following a jury finding that the firm's derivative, Countrywide, sold defective mortgages to both Freddie and Fannie.

It's estimated that roughly 10 percent of the loans serviced by big U.S. firms from 2009 through 2012 either became delinquent or foreclosed. The dollar losses topped $7 trillion.

Part of what the current probe is analyzing, according to those close to the investigation, are the practices of foreclosure-related costs incurred by the bank's legal representatives. There is some question about whether those law firms misrepresented the costs of their representation in foreclosure cases. Those costs were then ultimately passed on to investors, purchasers and taxpayers - which would be a violation of the law.

While on average, foreclosures cost between $1,000 and $3,000 (depending on the state and the kind of foreclosure it is), these firms were allegedly indicating that foreclosures were costing hundreds of dollars more than they were. For example, one firm charged $150 to post a notice of foreclosure on the property door. That service should have only cost about $25. There were other instances wherein firms indicated they were paying some $225 more per filing than they in fact were.

These costs were then passed on to the government - i.e., the taxpayers.

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June 5, 2014

Report: Debt Collectors Use New Strategy to Hose Consumers

Any consumer who has struggled periodically to keep up with their bills is no doubt familiar with the harassment of debt collectors. These efforts range from obnoxious, late-night calls to sometimes scary visits in-person.
However, as federal regulators have cracked down on these strategies, debt collectors have found a new one: Sue, and count on the likelihood no one will fight back.

Debt collection lawsuits in Miami are becoming frighteningly common. Our consumer rights lawyers recognize the worst part is that many people assume a verdict in favor of the collections firm is a foregone conclusion, so they don't even attempt to mount a defense. In turn, they suffer with liens on their homes, garnished wages, seizure of assets and even frozen bank accounts. These outcomes are often avoidable, even in cases where the debt is undisputed, but it requires the debtor actually show up to court and fight back.

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June 4, 2014

Report: Data Brokers Collect Invasive Information About Your Life

The Federal Trade Commission is calling for a greater degree of transparency and accountability in its 110-page report entitled, "Data Brokers."
The kinds of information collected, the depth of this data and how it's being used - largely without consumers' knowledge - is cause for alarm, the commission asserts. Miami consumer rights attorneys understand that the information includes things like your financial situation, your relationship status, your hobbies, your career, whether you have a dog, whether you smoke, whether you have allergies (or some other illness), whether you have children and how many and whether you're a Justin Bieber fan - or not.

Virtually every American is tracked, but for the most part, you would have no idea this information is being culled or by whom or for what purposes.The FTC says it's time to change that.

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June 2, 2014

Expensive Home Sales Skew Housing Market Figures

When we talk about the housing market recovery, many sources cite small but steady growth. However, there is reason to believe those figures are skewed by the higher-end market - specifically, those homes belonging to the top one percent.
A recent report by Redfin, a California-based real estate researcher, shows that while sales of top-tier expensive homes are soaring, those involving the other 99 percent of homes are still falling - or climbing only incrementally.

Miami foreclosure defense lawyers point to Miami as a prime example. Here, while the number of homes sold from January through April of this year increased by 1 percent for the majority, homes in the top one percent price range increased by more than 56 percent.

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May 31, 2014

Non-Disclosure Agreements for Mortgage Loan Modifications?

An out-of-state banking regulator has launched an investigation into whether a mortgage servicing firm required struggling homeowners to sign an agreement not to publicly deride the firm if they hoped to have their loan modified.
Reuters reports that such contracts may have been required by more than one firm, including Ocwen Financial Corp., which is being investigated by New York's Financial Services Superintendent Benjamin Lawsky.

Foreclosure defense lawyers in Miami know that between the housing market crash and the robo-signing foreclosure fraud scandal (to say nothing of a host of other issues), these companies have had their names dragged through the mud.

But here's the thing: There is every indication that the criticism was well-placed and deserved.

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May 29, 2014

Report: CEO Pay Soars, While Regular Workers Suffer

A new report highlights the increasingly bloated salaries of top corporate executives in America, while glossing over the fact that wages for almost everyone else have fallen or remained stagnant.
While some politicians tout the "trickle-down effect" that supposedly occurs when wealth is distributed so heavily at the top, we have yet to see that bear out in terms of job numbers or economic recovery.

Miami foreclosure lawyers know this has a direct impact on the housing market, and on the ability of people to maintain their mortgages, especially those who are still clinging to homes for which they are underwater.

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May 27, 2014

Accountability for Mortgage Fraud Abuts Statute of Limitations

It's been well-established that Washington's effort to hold Wall Street accountable for the financial crimes that kicked off the housing crisis have been lackluster. But if they ever hope to turn that around, they will have to act soon.
In some cases, the statute of limitations has already passed. In others, we are getting precariously close the deadline.

Miami foreclosure defense attorneys know that for securities fraud - as well as most other federal offenses - prosecutors have to file their cases within five years, or forever give up the right to pursue those claims.

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May 24, 2014

Geithner's "Stress Test" Puts Spotlight on Government Shortfalls

Former Treasury secretary Timothy Geithner recently penned a memoir entitled, "Stress Test," focusing largely on the U.S. financial crisis and why he and his colleagues made the decisions they did.
Some of the financial wounds of those decisions have been lasting, particularly for homeowners. The book is also raising fresh questions about why the government didn't do more to help homeowners who were drowning in debt.

Miami foreclosure defense lawyers know that homeowners were the ones who bore the greatest burden during the recession, despite the fact that their blame in the situation was primarily incidental. While the banks have been able to successfully paint a picture of borrower greed, the reality is that banks were not only approving loans that were so obviously and egregiously risky, they were pushing them - hard.

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