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Tracking Loans Through a Firm That Holds Millions: MERS

Tracking Loans Through a Firm That Holds Millions: MERS

Kevin P. Casey for The New York Times: Darlene and Robert Blendheim of Seattle are struggling to keep their home after their subprime lender went out of business.

By MIKE McINTIRE NYTimes
Published: April 23, 2009

Judge Walt Logan had seen enough. As a county judge in Florida, he had 28 cases pending in which an entity called MERS wanted to foreclose on homeowners even though it had never lent them any money.

Into the Mortgage NetherworldGraphicInto the Mortgage Netherworld

MERS, a tiny data-management company, claimed the right to foreclose, but would not explain how it came to possess the mortgage notes originally issued by banks. Judge Logan summoned a MERS lawyer to the Pinellas County courthouse and insisted that that fundamental question be answered before he permitted the drastic step of seizing someone’s home.

Daniel Rosenbaum for The New York Times R. K. Arnold, MERS president, said the company helped reduce mortgage fraud and imposed order on the industry.

“You don’t think that’s reasonable?” the judge asked.

“I don’t,” the lawyer replied. “And in fact, not only do I think it’s not reasonable, often that’s going to be impossible.”

Judge Logan had entered the murky realm of MERS. Although the average person has never heard of it, MERS — short for Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems — holds 60 million mortgages on American homes, through a legal maneuver that has saved banks more than $1 billion over the last decade but made life maddeningly difficult for some troubled homeowners.

Created by lenders seeking to save millions of dollars on paperwork and public recording fees every time a loan changes hands, MERS is a confidential computer registry for trading mortgage loans. From an office in the Washington suburbs, it played an integral, if unsung, role in the proliferation of mortgage-backed securities that fueled the housing boom. But with the collapse of the housing market, the name of MERS has been popping up on foreclosure notices and on court dockets across the country, raising many questions about the way this controversial but legal process obscures the tortuous paths of mortgage ownership.

If MERS began as a convenience, it has, in effect, become a corporate cloak: no matter how many times a mortgage is bundled, sliced up or resold, the public record often begins and ends with MERS. In the last few years, banks have initiated tens of thousands of foreclosures in the name of MERS — about 13,000 in the New York region alone since 2005 — confounding homeowners seeking relief directly from lenders and judges trying to help borrowers untangle loan ownership. What is more, the way MERS obscures loan ownership makes it difficult for communities to identify predatory lenders whose practices led to the high foreclosure rates that have blighted some neighborhoods.

In Brooklyn, an elderly homeowner pursuing fraud claims had to go to court to learn the identity of the bank holding his mortgage note, which was concealed in the MERS system. In distressed neighborhoods of Atlanta, where MERS appeared as the most frequent filer of foreclosures, advocates wanting to engage lenders “face a challenge even finding someone with whom to begin the conversation,” according to a report by NeighborWorks America, a community development group.

To a number of critics, MERS has served to cushion banks from the fallout of their reckless lending practices.

“I’m convinced that part of the scheme here is to exhaust the resources of consumers and their advocates,” said Marie McDonnell, a mortgage analyst in Orleans, Mass., who is a consultant for lawyers suing lenders. “This system removes transparency over what’s happening to these mortgage obligations and sows confusion, which can only benefit the banks.”

A recent visitor to the MERS offices in Reston, Va., found the receptionist answering a telephone call from a befuddled borrower: “I’m sorry, ma’am, we can’t help you with your loan.” MERS officials say they frequently get such calls, and they offer a phone line and Web page where homeowners can look up the actual servicer of their mortgage.

In an interview, the president of MERS, R. K. Arnold, said that his company had benefited not only banks, but also millions of borrowers who could not have obtained loans without the money-saving efficiencies it brought to the mortgage trade. He said that far from posing a hurdle for homeowners, MERS had helped reduce mortgage fraud and imposed order on a sprawling industry where, in the past, lenders might have gone out of business and left no contact information for borrowers seeking assistance.

“We’re not this big bad animal,” Mr. Arnold said. “This crisis that we’ve had in the mortgage business would have been a lot worse without MERS.”

About 3,000 financial services firms pay annual fees for access to MERS, which has 44 employees and is owned by two dozen of the nation’s largest lenders, including Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo. It was the brainchild of the Mortgage Bankers Association, along with Fannie MaeFreddie Mac and Ginnie Mae, the mortgage finance giants, who produced a white paper in 1993 on the need to modernize the trading of mortgages.

At the time, the secondary market was gaining momentum, and Wall Street banks and institutional investors were making millions of dollars from the creative bundling and reselling of loans. But unlike common stocks, whose ownership has traditionally been hidden, mortgage-backed securities are based on loans whose details were long available in public land records kept by county clerks, who collect fees for each filing. The “tyranny of these forms,” the white paper said, was costing the industry $164 million a year.

“Before MERS,” said John A. Courson, president of the Mortgage Bankers Association, “the problem was that every time those documents or a file changed hands, you had to file a paper assignment, and that becomes terribly debilitating.”

Although several courts have raised questions over the years about the secrecy afforded mortgage owners by MERS, the legality has ultimately been upheld. The issue has surfaced again because so many homeowners facing foreclosure are dealing with MERS.

Advocates for borrowers complain that the system’s secrecy makes it impossible to seek help from the unidentified investors who own their loans. Avi Shenkar, whose company, the GMA Modification Corporation in North Miami Beach, Fla., helps homeowners renegotiate mortgages, said loan servicers frequently argued that “investor guidelines” prevented them from modifying loan terms.

“But when you ask what those guidelines are, or who the investor is so you can talk to them directly, you can’t find out,” he said.

MERS has considered making information about secondary ownership of mortgages available to borrowers, Mr. Arnold said, but he expressed doubts that it would be useful. Banks appoint a servicer to manage individual mortgages so “investors are not in the business of dealing with borrowers,” he said. “It seems like anything that bypasses the servicer is counterproductive,” he added.

When foreclosures do occur, MERS becomes responsible for initiating them as the mortgage holder of record. But because MERS occupies that role in name only, the bank actually servicing the loan deputizes its employees to act for MERS and has its lawyers file foreclosures in the name of MERS.

The potential for confusion is multiplied when the high-tech MERS system collides with the paper-driven foreclosure process. Banks using MERS to consummate mortgage trades with “electronic handshakes” must later prove their legal standing to foreclose. But without the chain of title that MERS removed from the public record, banks sometimes recreate paper assignments long after the fact or try to replace mortgage notes lost in the securitization process.

This maneuvering has been attacked by judges, who say it reflects a cavalier attitude toward legal safeguards for property owners, and exploited by borrowers hoping to delay foreclosure. Judge Logan in Florida, among the first to raise questions about the role of MERS, stopped accepting MERS foreclosures in 2005 after his colloquy with the company lawyer. MERS appealed and won two years later, although it has asked banks not to foreclose in its name in Florida because of lingering concerns.

Last February, a State Supreme Court justice in Brooklyn, Arthur M. Schack, rejected a foreclosure based on a document in which a Bank of New York executive identified herself as a vice president of MERS. Calling her “a milliner’s delight by virtue of the number of hats she wears,” Judge Schack wondered if the banker was “engaged in a subterfuge.”

In Seattle, Ms. McDonnell has raised similar questions about bankers with dual identities and sloppily prepared documents, helping to delay foreclosure on the home of Darlene and Robert Blendheim, whose subprime lender went out of business and left a confusing paper trail.

“I had never heard of MERS until this happened,” Mrs. Blendheim said. “It became an issue with us, because the bank didn’t have the paperwork to prove they owned the mortgage and basically recreated what they needed.”

The avalanche of foreclosures — three million last year, up 81 percent from 2007 — has also caused unforeseen problems for the people who run MERS, who take obvious pride in their unheralded role as a fulcrum of the American mortgage industry.

In Delaware, MERS is facing a class-action lawsuit by homeowners who contend it should be held accountable for fraudulent fees charged by banks that foreclose in MERS’s name.

Sometimes, banks have held title to foreclosed homes in the name of MERS, rather than their own. When local officials call and complain about vacant properties falling into disrepair, MERS tries to track down the lender for them, and has also created a registry to locate property managers responsible for foreclosed homes.

“But at the end of the day,” said Mr. Arnold, president of MERS, “if that lawn is not getting mowed and we cannot find the party who’s responsible for that, I have to get out there and mow that lawn.”

Posted in CitiGroup, concealment, conspiracy, fannie mae, foreclosure, foreclosure fraud, foreclosure mills, forensic loan audit, forensic mortgage investigation audit, Freddie Mac, investigation, jpmorgan chase, judge arthur schack, MERS, mortgage bankers association, MORTGAGE ELECTRONIC REGISTRATION SYSTEMS INC., Mortgage Foreclosure Fraud, mortgage modification, note, R.K. Arnold, securitization, wells fargo0 Comments

After foreclosure: How long until you can buy again? CNNMoney

After foreclosure: How long until you can buy again? CNNMoney

Again, FAIR ISAAC CORPORATION aka FICO: Now Worthless……It’s another scam taken over by wallstreet/mba to make us *think* we are worth a number!

By Les Christie, staff writerMay 28, 2010: 7:58 AM ET

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) — Walking away from a mortgage you can still afford to pay has consequences; everyone knows that. Your credit score is shot and it can be impossible to get credit.

Some homeowners, no doubt, believe that the credit score hit is worth getting out from a deeply underwater mortgage. They may owe, say, $500,000 when their house value is only valued at $350,000. And, they figure, there’s no way it will ever be worth what they owe so it’s better to get out from underneath the burden.

After default, they reason, they can raise their FICO scores by paying all their bills on time and eventually finance another home purchase.

Don’t count on it.

While homeowners who default due to economic hardship, such as a job loss or divorce, normally must wait two to five years before buying a home again, walkaways may face double that time.

“It could be well over seven or eight years before [walkaways] are able to obtain a mortgage to buy a home again,” said Jay Brinkmann, chief economist for the Mortgage Bankers Association.

How foreclosure impacts your credit score
“Credit scores are only one component of a complete credit decision,” Brinkmann said. “[In these cases] credit scores are not a good indicator of their willingness to continue to pay their mortgage.”

But future underwriters will scrutinize their records very closely, and if they find no precipitating factors leading to the defaults — no job loss, no health issues –the repaired credit score won’t overshadow the black mark of a walkaway.

“If you made a strategic decision to default on paying your mortgage, it will work against you,” said Bill Merrell of the National Association of Review Appraisers and Mortgage Underwriters.

Merrell, who teaches underwriting, said banks are looking at several factors in determining whether to grant mortgages: the amount of money borrowers have in the bank; employment histories; payment history.

However, banks may be far more lenient if the default resulted from factors somewhat beyond the borrower’s control, such as from local economic problems. “They’ll give you more consideration if it’s job related,” he said. But, he added, banks look at strategic defaults “very negatively.”

That said, it’s not impossible to get a loan. Banks still want to make interest payments, so they might be willing to gamble with a walkaway.

“It might be a little more difficult for them to borrow, but [banks’] drive for market share — to profit from making loans — will trump that caution,” said Keith Gumbinger, of the mortgage information publisher HSH Associates. “I don’t think we’ll see a full denial.”

It’s hard to foresee the state of mortgage lending six or seven months from now, let alone seven or eight years into the future. So lenders may look at applications from one-time strategic defaulters and say, “Yes, they walked away but it’s a whole different market now,” according to Gumbinger.

Even so, lenders may require more from borrowers who walked away than those who didn’t.

“To the extent they could get a mortgage,” said Brinkmann, “they can count on needing a heavy down payment.”

The lenders may ask for 30% down or more. That would provide enough collateral cushion that the bank could get all or most of its money back in a foreclosure.

Strategic defaulters might also be charged higher interest rates, even above the levels other borrowers with similar credit scores would receive.

Posted in fico, foreclosure fraud, mortgage bankers association0 Comments

Poor Risk Management, Unrealistic Optimism Collapsed Housing: MBA

Poor Risk Management, Unrealistic Optimism Collapsed Housing: MBA

The originators/warehouse lenders knew *exactly* what they were doing.  That’s why they were immediately assigned!

And look at the bonuses the instigators received as *rewards* for their actions.

And then they lied about AAA ratings to sucker in US and foreign investors, including municipalities and state governments that are now in critical economic positions, as well.

BY: CARRIE BAY DsNEWS.com

It’s hard to pinpoint just what brought the nation’s thriving residential real estate market to its knees. Everyone’s got an opinion, but trying to nail down the exact trigger in order to prevent a sequel is a difficult task. The Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA) is attempting to do just that.

According to a study released Wednesday by the trade group, poor risk management habits, including insufficient data and incomplete performance metrics, coupled with a short-term focus and unrealistic optimism among senior business managers were all factors that contributed to the collapse of the U.S. housing and mortgage markets.

The study entitled, Anatomy of Risk Management Practices in the Mortgage Industry was conducted by Professor Cliff Rossi of the University of Maryland and sponsored by MBA’s Research Institute for Housing America (RIHA). It analyzes the risk management processes employed by mortgage lenders leading up to the housing crisis and discusses lessons learned for future risk managers.

Professor Rossi, who has more than 20 years’ experience within the mortgage industry and at regulatory agencies, says that as home prices increased, lenders were pressured to offer innovative products that could help borrowers afford a home. He found that the increase and expansion of risk layering that resulted, along with changes in borrower behaviors, left risk managers unable to offer reliable risk estimates.

“According to some empirical analysis, when market conditions changed, mortgage performance models proved unstable, with loans originated in 2006 defaulting at four times the rate of what a model prior to 2004 would have predicted,” Rossi explained. “Moving forward, it will be essential for the industry to develop early warning measures of the level of risk in new originations and less reliance on imprecise historical performance of new loan products.”

Rossi says that in addition to limited information available for proper risk assessment, corporate culture and cognitive biases also strongly influenced decision-making during the boom. He argues that one of the biggest black eyes to come out of the prosperous years leading up to the bust was the decline in senior management’s loss aversion, thanks to a lengthy period of strong home prices and low defaults, which in turn led to relaxed underwriting and again, higher levels of risk layering.

“The combination of informational limitations on risk managers and a governance structure and culture that may have tipped decisions in favor of business-driven strategies is central to explaining the increase in risk-taking that took place throughout the industry,” Rossi said. “As the industry is now compensating for the resulting losses through tighter underwriting standards and a lower appetite for risk, it will be vital for executive management to instill a culture where all employees are on guard for risks that exceed the risk appetite of the company.”

Key findings from the study include:

  • Subprime loan underwriting criteria along several risk attributes expanded between 1999 and 2006. In particular, combined loan-to-value ratios (LTVs) increased over time as the percentage of loans with silent second liens attached to the property also increased. At the same time, the percentage of loans with full documentation declined.
  • The relative lack of geographic and product diversification by a number of the largest mortgage lenders was rationalized by investment opportunity costs and relative value.
  • A false sense of security with new products originated prior to 2007 occurred as a result of better than average economic conditions coupled with a lack of information regarding subtle but real changes in borrower and counterparty behavior.
  • Cognitive bias toward risk management may have combined with management views on loss-taking to view risk managers as overly conservative and inefficient, which would explain senior management’s actions that ultimately placed their firms at risk.

Michael Fratantoni, MBA’s VP of research and economics, commented, “Today’s mortgage industry is operating under vastly different guidelines than just a few years ago and the survivors in the industry today are clearly the companies that did things right. There is room for debate on how best to proceed, but certainly building a stronger risk management framework around the mortgage industry will be critical.”

Posted in concealment, foreclosure fraud, mortgage bankers association0 Comments

BOGUS ASSIGNMENTS 3…Forgery, Counterfeit, Fraud …Oh MY!

BOGUS ASSIGNMENTS 3…Forgery, Counterfeit, Fraud …Oh MY!

For $29.95 YOU TOO CAN STEAL…OOOPS I MEAN BUY ANY HOME or ASSIGN ANY MORTGAGE!!
Now we have Topako Love, Christina Allen & Laura Hescott MASTER PIECES!!! These belong up there with the works of Salvador Dali, Pablo Picasso, Vincent Van Gogh, Claude Monet, Erica Johnson-Seck, Roger Stotts & Dennis Kirkpatrick!
I can’t wait for DMV to allow anyone FOR A FEE to assign auto Titles too!! Or has this occurred all ready…I am too tired to check!

Bank Mortgage Foreclosure FRAUD….BOGUS ASSIGNMENTS 3…Forgery, Counterfeit, Fraud …Oh MY!


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Posted in Lender Processing Services Inc., LPS, MERS, MERSCORP, mortgage bankers association, mortgage electronic registration system, MORTGAGE ELECTRONIC REGISTRATION SYSTEMS INC., Mortgage Foreclosure Fraud, Uncategorized0 Comments


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