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CONGRESSIONAL OVERSIGHT REPORT [MERS DISCUSSION]

CONGRESSIONAL OVERSIGHT REPORT [MERS DISCUSSION]


NOVEMBER OVERSIGHT REPORT*

November 16, 2010
Examining the Consequences of Mortgage
Irregularities for Financial Stability and Foreclosure
Mitigation

*Submitted under Section 125(b)(1) of Title 1 of the Emergency Economic
Stabilization Act of 2008, Pub. L. No. 110-343

Excerpts beginning pg 19:

Various commentators have begun to ask whether the poor recordkeeping and error-filled
work exhibited in foreclosure proceedings, described above, is likely to have marked earlier
stages of the process as well. If so, the effect could be that rights were not properly transferred
during the securitization process such that title to the mortgage and the note might rest with
another party in the process other than the trust.44

iv. MERS

In addition to the concerns with the securitization process described above, a method
adopted by the mortgage securitization industry to track transfers of mortgage servicing rights
has come under question. A mortgage does not need to be recorded to be enforceable as between
the mortgagor and the mortgagee or subsequent transferee, but unless a mortgage is recorded, it
does not provide the mortgagee or its subsequent transferee with priority over subsequent
mortgagees or lien holders.4

During the housing boom, multiple rapid transfers of mortgages to facilitate securitization
made recordation of mortgages a more time-consuming, and expensive process than in the past.46
To alleviate the burden of recording every mortgage assignment, the mortgage securitization
industry created the Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems, Inc. (MERS), a company that
serves as the mortgagee of record in the county land records and runs a database that tracks
ownership and servicing rights of mortgage loans.47 MERS created a proxy or online registry
that would serve as the mortgagee of record, eliminating the need to prepare and record
subsequent transfers of servicing interests when they were transferred from one MERS member
to another.48 In essence, it attempted to create a paperless mortgage recording process overlying
the traditional, paper-intense mortgage tracking system, in which MERS would have standing to
initiate foreclosures.49

MERS experienced rapid growth during the housing boom. Since its inception in 1995,
66 million mortgages have been registered in the MERS system and 33 million MERS-registered
loans remain outstanding.50 During the summer of 2010, one expert estimated that MERS was
involved in 60 percent of mortgage loans originated in the United States.51

Widespread questions about the efficacy of the MERS model did not arise during the
boom, when home prices were escalating and the incidence of foreclosures was minimal.52 But
as foreclosures began to increase, and documentation irregularities surfaced in some cases and
raised questions about a wide range of legal issues, including the legality of foreclosure
proceedings in general,53 some litigants raised questions about the validity of MERS.54 There islimited case law to provide direction, but some state courts have rendered verdicts on the issue.
In Florida, for example, appellate courts have determined that MERS had standing to bring a
foreclosure proceeding.55 On the other hand, in Vermont, a court determined that MERS did not
have standing.56

In the absence of more guidance from state courts, it is difficult to ascertain the impact of
the use of MERS on the foreclosure process. The uncertainty is compounded by the fact that the
issue is rooted in state law and lies in the hands of 50 states. judges and legislatures. If states
adopt the Florida model, then the issue is likely to have a limited effect. However, if more states
adopt the Vermont model, then the issue may complicate the ability of various players in the
securitization process to enforce foreclosure liens.57 If sufficiently widespread, these
complications could have a substantial effect on the mortgage market, inasmuch as it would
destabilize or delegitimize a system that has been embedded in the mortgage market and used by
multiple participants, both government and private. Although it is impossible to say at present
what the ultimate result of litigation on MERS will be, holdings adverse to MERS could have
significant consequences to the market.

If courts do adopt the Vermont view, it is possible that the impact may be mitigated if
market participants devise a viable workaround. For example, according to a report released by
Standard & Poor.s, ¡°most¡± market participants believe that it may be possible to solve any
MERS-related problems by taking the mortgage out of MERS and putting it in the mortgage owner’s name prior to initiating a foreclosure proceeding.58 According to one expert, the odds
that the status of MERS will be settled quickly are low.59

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