Monday, August 24, 2009

Foreclosure & Bankruptcy: a new Beginning, not the End

It’s not how many times you get knocked down, it’s how many times you get back up. Along the way don’t forget what’s really important – Family, Friends & Life.


TROY, MI – With pretty much everything I do revolving around real estate & lending, I get exposed to a lot of other people’s financial challenges related to the housing crisis. It’s a rare day that I don’t talk to someone in danger of losing their home.

Too many of these people equate losing their home to foreclosure or having to file bankruptcy with failure. For many, this feeling of being a failure can have a devastating affect on their mental well-being, health and relationships.

We all need to get a grip, swallow some pride and lose our egos. Failing at something is not the end of the world.

Remember when you were a kid learning to ride a bike? For most of us, learning meant a lot of falls and crashes, some of them nasty enough for stitches or casts. But most of us got back up, dusted ourselves off and kept at it until we succeeded.

I’ve got a T-shirt I picked up on a ski trip that says, “If you’re not falling, you’re not skiing hard enough!” There’s a lot of truth to that statement. In fact to make it more accurate about life in general we could alter it a bit to, “If you’re not failing, you’re not trying hard enough.”

I went to an entrepreneurial seminar several years ago, where the speaker was from California. He urged the audience to follow their dreams, take chances and not be afraid of failing. He pointed out that few entrepreneurs succeed with their first ventures and jokingly said, “if you haven’t filed bankruptcy, then you’re not trying hard enough.”

Now none of this should be taken out of context and used to justify irresponsible behavior. If you try your hardest to succeed and still fail, you have nothing to be ashamed of. Especially since our current economic situation has foreclosures, personal bankruptcies and unemployment at their highest since the Great Depression.

Keep in mind also, that many successful business people failed in their first endeavors, but later went on to great success. Here’s a list of some rather successful people who have filed bankruptcy:

Roland Hussey Macy
He failed at selling ribbons, provisions to miners and at a general store before going bankrupt in 1855. His next effort, Macy's became the world’s largest store.

J. C. Penny
First store went bankrupt when he refused to give whiskey as a kickback for orders from a large customer. Penny went belly up and got a job in a drapery shop that he later purchased and expanded into 1100 department stores nationwide.

Henry John Heinz
Started his first company in 1869 selling horseradish, pickles, sauerkraut and vinegar. In 1875 the company filed for bankruptcy due to an unexpected bumper harvest which the company could not keep up with and could not meet its payroll obligations. He immediately started a new company and introduced a new condiment, tomato ketchup to the market. This company was, and continues to be, very prosperous.

Milton Snavely Hershey
Started four candy companies that failed and filed bankruptcy before starting what is now Hershey's Foods Corporation. Mr. Hershey had only a 4th grade education, but was certain he could make a good product that the public would want to purchase. His fifth attempt was clearly successful.

Conrad Hilton
Lost all his hotels when he could not pay his bank during the Great Depression. Later, he bought them all back and built a few more. Things worked out pretty good in the end. Just ask Paris.

Frank Lloyd Wright
Famous architect lost his home, Taliesin in Wisconsin and was thrown on the street when business dried up in 1922. During the following decade, he designed some of his most famous projects.

Henry Ford

First two automobile manufacturing companies failed. The first company filed for bankruptcy and the second ended because of a disagreement with his business partner. In June 1903, at the age of 40, he created a third company, the Ford Motor Company with a cash investment of $28,000.00. By July of 1903 the bank balance had dwindled to $223.65, but then Ford sold its first car, and as they say the rest is history

Harry Truman
Opened a shop in Missouri after the First World War only to have it fail miserably. He was further humbled by having to move in with his mother-in-law. Truman later settled his debt for pennies on the dollar when the bank at which the underlying not was written actually went bankrupt itself. He is said to have learned a lot from the misadventure. And it all turned out OK in the in end. You may have heard, he eventually got a good job, in Washington, DC.

Walt Disney

His name is synonymous with Mickey Mouse and the “happiest place on earth,” Disneyland. However, Disney’s career wasn’t always a moneymaking venture. In 1921, he began a company called the Laugh-O-Gram Corporation in Kansas City, Missouri but was forced to file for bankruptcy two years later because his financial backers pulled out. It must have been fate because Disney then headed to Hollywood and became one of the highest paid animators in history.

Sam Walton
His first store was a Ben Franklin discount shop that he made among the most profitable and successful in the chain. Walton's problem was a short lease. When it expired, the building’s owner canceled his lease and took over the store himself. Walton was broke had to start over from scratch. You may have heard, however, that things turned out pretty good in the end. After these early financial difficulties were behind him, he later created the largest company in the world and became a billionaire.

Larry King
Filed for bankruptcy in 1978. He later went on to have a pretty decent career as a talk show host and best selling author.

If you think these people are too far in the past or too big for a relative comparison to the everyday person , look at these people:

David Anderson -
Started first company in 1971 at age of 18 which failed. Promptly starts another, wholesaling plants to Chicago area florists and within two years has Sears account and all major florists in the area. Goes bankrupt 5 years later in 1979. Becomes sales manger for Fortune 500 company. Original investor in Rainforest CafĂ© in 1994. He also opens first Famous Dave’s BBQ that year and the rest is history.

Eva Sun -
In 1997 she was forced to take the reins of her 10+ year-old company after poor management by her husband, while she was raising their kids. In 2004, she was forced into bankruptcy despite her best efforts. The company though survived and today is more profitable than ever.

Jeffrey Yarbrough
Told his story to Fortune Small Business of filing bankruptcy after his three Dallas-based restaurants failed. Started PR firm Big Ink that now has $400k in sales and 4 employees with zero debt.

All these people failed initially and had to file bankruptcy, but they didn’t give up and eventually succeeded. Was it easy? I’m sure it wasn’t as they probably had to deal with their own feelings of failure and embarrassment. They got back up though and focused on their long-term goals of success and eventually achieved them.

There are also thousands more stories of every day people who lost their homes to foreclosure or were forced to file bankruptcy due to medical bills, lawsuits or job loss that persevered by getting back up after being knocked down. They put their lives back together by reaching out to family and friends for support

Monday, August 17, 2009

GNMA President to Step Down - A Sign of coming Trouble?


Troy, MI - Bloomberg reported late last week that Joseph Murin was stepping down after only 13 months on the job.

GNMA (Government National Mortgage Association) mainly securitizes FHA and VA mortgages and has seen its business almost double in the last 2 years.

Why would an executive walk away from a business seeing such explosive growth?

FHA loans have only become popular because so many other mortgage options have dried up. The low credit score & down payment requirements for FHA loans have many mortgage experts predicting significant future defaults.

David Moffet resigned as FHLMC CEO this past March and Herb Allison recently left FNMA.

Makes on wonder why all these executives are leaving these mortgage related organizations.

It does not bode well for the future of these organizations. More trouble is coming, which means more governmment bailouts.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

HUD finally allows Loan Modifications on FHA Mortgages

Better late than never - four months after Obama announces FNMA/FHLMC loan modification plan, HUD makes FHA loans eligible.


TROY, MI – On July 30, HUD published Mortgagee Letter 2009-23, that detailed their long awaited loan modification program for homeowners with FHA mortgages. What took so long? President Obama announced the “Making Home Affordable Program” (MHA) for FNMA & FHLMC mortgages back on March 4th of this year.

We should all be glad HUD’s modification program is finally available, but HUD is supposed to be a homeowner advocate and watchdog. Some watchdog! HUD’s response time on this means if they were guarding your house, the crooks would have already been back several times and stolen everything but the kitchen sink before they sounded an alarm.

This latest piece of legislation does show the Obama administration fully believes the best way to solve the housing crisis and stem the tide of foreclosures is to make home payments affordable. This was sorely lacking with FHA’s other modification options. Most homeowners with FHA mortgages were forced into forbearance programs that usually increased their monthly payments.

HUD’s forbearance program was actually designed for different economic times when a job loss or other economic hardship was typically temporary. Worse-case in those days, a homeowner could usually sell their home to pay off the mortgage they were having difficulty paying. The current Great Recession and percentage of upside homes no longer makes forbearance a very realistic and viable option.

The new guideline kicks in August 15, 2009 for homeowners with FHA mortgages.

Who’s Eligible
The FHA mortgage to be modified must be at least 12 months old and the homeowner must have made at least 4 full monthly payments.

The FHA mortgage must be less than 12 months behind on payments, but surprisingly, it s required that the mortgage be at least 30 days behind. This is a major difference from the MHA program where no delinquency is required.

The homeowner must still live in the property with the FHA mortgage being modified, so rental properties with FHA mortgages are not eligible.

The homeowner cannot have deliberately defaulted on their FHA mortgage payments. I’d like to know how HUD and the mortgage servicers intend to determine this. My guess is that they won’t - except in obvious cases where a homeowner has a lot of liquid reserve funds in non-retirement accounts.

The homeowner must first try to qualify for other loss mitigation home retention options – FHA Special Forbearance, Loan Modification and Partial Claim. This is a silly requirement that could lead to confusion, unnecessary delays and ultimately foreclosures instead of the intended modifications. FNMA & FHLMC modifications have no such requirement.

The Modification Process
A homeowner will have to submit detailed financial information to whoever is servicing their FHA mortgage and sign a hardship affidavit attesting to their financial difficulties. This information may be provided either in writing or verbally over the phone.

Similar to the FNMA/FHLMC modification process, the goal of the FHA modification is to lower the Principal, Interest, Taxes & Insurance (PITI) payment to 31% of the homeowner’s gross monthly income. HUD calls this a Front End Ratio.

Unlike the FNMA/FHLMC modification program though, the FHA version also has a Back End Ratio requirement where total debt payments including PITI, cannot exceed 55% of gross monthly income. Any second mortgages must also be included in the Back End Ratio.

The last calculation is the toughest to understand – up to 30% of the current mortgage balance, less payments in arrears (up to 12 months) and allowable foreclosure costs, may be deferred along with the corresponding payment amount. The amount deferred is also limited to that which will bring the PITI payment down to 31% of the homeowner’s gross monthly income.

Confused yet? I’d like to know why HUD made this so complicated. It’s bound to cause major confusion in the customer service ranks. HUD did provide an example to illustrate the process:

Homeowner had a reduction of income and is delinquent 3 full mortgage payments. The unpaid principal balance on the mortgage on the date of default is $150,000 and the monthly payment is $1,220 (consisting of P&I of $920 and escrows, including MIP, of $300). The financial analysis reveals that the homeowner’s gross monthly income is $3,500 and the total monthly other recurring debt payments are $800.

In order to fulfill the 31% Front End Ratio requirement, the homeowner’s total monthly mortgage payment would have to be reduced to $1,085 ($3,500 x 31%). Therefore, P&I would have to be reduced to $785 ($1,085 total monthly mortgage payment less $300 escrow and MIP). Assuming that the loan modification will have an interest rate of 6% and a P&I of $785, the new mortgage amount would have to be $130,931, resulting in a principal reduction of $19,069 ($150,000 unpaid principal balance less $130,931). In this example, the homeowner’s Back End ratio is 53.9% ($1,885/$3,500), which satisfies the 55% Back End Ratio limitation.

In this example, the maximum principal deferment is $41,340 (30% of $150,000, less the $3,660 delinquency, or $45,000 - $3,660). However, based on their gross income, the homeowner is eligible only for a principal deferment of $19,069 plus $3,660 arrearages (which would include any foreclosure costs incurred to that point, in accord with Mortgagee Letter 2008-21) for the total deferment of $22,729.

Once a modified payment is calculated, a homeowner must undergo a trial modification period and make three consecutive trial monthly mortgage payments on time. Failure to do so will result in foreclosure.

The good news is that no payments will be due and no interest charged on the amount deferred until the rest of the mortgage is paid off. HUD is NOT forgiving part of the mortgage balance. Effectively, HUD is lowering the current payment by extending the term of the mortgage.

Other Issues
A lender may not charge a homeowner any fees for doing an FHA loan modification and all late fees must be waived.

No appraisal is required, but a lender may perform an inspection of the property to confirm it’s in livable condition.

The interest rate may be lowered to 2% above the monthly average yield on U.S. Treasury Securities, adjusted to a constant maturity of 10 years.

A modified mortgage must result in a lower payment for the homeowner.

By the way, lenders will be paid up to $1250 for each FHA mortgage they modify. Hopefully, lenders use that money to hire a few extra bodies to handle the increased workload and don’t just use the funds to pad their profits.

Click here to read more HUD issued guidelines on modifications.

Overall, it’s about time HUD caught up with FNMA & FHLMC in regards to more aggressive loan modification guidelines. It didn’t make sense to force FHA lenders to only offer an antiquated forbearance option to homeowners experiencing economic hardships.

It’s interesting that there’s still no official loan modification program to lower payments on VA mortgages.

I’d like to know how many homeowners with FHA mortgages lost their homes to foreclosure while waiting for these new modification guidelines from HUD. Many of them could probably have avoided foreclosure with this new modification plan. Congress should call the organization to task for this delay.

If anyone you know has any questions on modifying their FHA mortgage please forward them this article. Although we don’t handle loan modifications, if they need further assistance have them contact me, but please warn them there may be a consulting fee for my time.