Saturday, July 29, 2006

Types of Mortgage Fraud - Raising Awareness

There are many types of mortgage fraud, but to raise awareness about this extremely rampant crime - we all need to be aware of the different types of fraud that are used. As one of our readers pointed out, there are FBI agents that are currently pursuing individuals and groups who are not only committing crimes with full intention of defrauding their customers, but they are also actively investigating common documentation "errors" that can be construed as mortgage fraud.

While not all mortgage professionals are intentionally participating in criminal activity, the only way to stop the "mistakes" that can lead to criminal prosecution is to become truly educated in the mortgage process, and make sure that all the documentation is correct and complete. It is extremely important that the lender or broker provide copies of ALL documentation.

As a consumer, the best protection that you can give yourself is education. Read all documentation BEFORE you sign. Don't just trust that your mortgage broker or lender is going to be completely honest with you. Remember - their paycheck depends on the outcome of the transaction. If you feel uncomfortable, don't give in to pressure, you must feel comfortable with every aspect of the purchase, and may even be in your best interest to have an attorney go over the documents before you sign. If you are put into a position in which you do feel overly pressured, there may be a problem - there may be a hidden agenda that is in the works, and you have every right to take some extra time to read through the disclosures and the documents that you are signing. The key is education - so if you don't understand something, ask questions until you do.

Monday, July 24, 2006

When you make the decision to purchase a home, there are generally three types of financing you can opt to use to pay for the home: Cash, owner-carry, or obtaining a loan from a mortgage broker, lender, or loan officer. Chances are that you are least likely to pay cash, finding an owner to finance the purchase limits your choices in which home you would like to buy, which leaves the most popular choice: a mortgage loan. There is one very important thing to remember when looking for a lender or mortgage company - they are in the "sales" business. This is not to say that there aren't honest mortgage professionals in the industry - because there are many truly honest mortgage professionals. But because your purchase means part of your purchase price will include the paychecks of several individuals.

There are many loan officers and brokers that would like you to believe that they are not in a sales related industry, but that would be far from the truth. The reality is that all mortgage brokers, lenders, and loan officers have products that they offer, and if they are a successful sales person, their customers will "buy" their products. I have been involved in the mortgage industry for a long time, however, I believe that consumers have the right to make an informed decision about their purchases. I found a very commonly worded advertisement on this evening, and thought that I would share something that I found interesting (and common) in the ad."Credit score is a big factor as a qualifying tool, but it's not the only one. There is a lot more to it than that and I would be happy to go over with and show you your options. You may qualify for more than you think. So give me a call for a complete NO cost evaluation even if you simply have questions." The first thought when I read the ad is that there are people out there that have bad credit, which could indicate that a buyer is not financially stable, and they are offering to find the most money available for a buyer's purchase. Okay, so in other words, more debt on an already financially strapped individual.first time buyer who does not know what they can or cannot afford, it may mean they are more likely to end up with a low introductory rate that leads to a future rate hike - and a mortgage payment that they can't afford to maintain.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

The Problem With Option ARMs

The option ARM became very popular, and with the real estate rush that we experienced over the past years, it's no wonder how so many people became wrapped up in the many types of creative loans for buyers to choose from. However, the option ARM wasn't intended to be used by buyers who "wanted more house for their money" - it was created as a good choice for investers and homeowners who were not going to own the home for very long. But the majority of buyers who are now stuck with this type of loan were exactly the buyers who should have been wary of the option ARM.

But in reality, rates have begun to rise and home values are dropping in many areas, and the option ARM has become more of a danger than it looked to be in the past. With an option ARM, there are several choices for the monthly payment, but the choice that poses the most risk is to pay the minimum due. This would be a similar risk to paying your credit card off by simply making the minimum payments. If you pay the minimum paymnet on your credit card, you would end up with a balance that is greater than the original charges. This would be exactly the result on an option ARM in which the homeowner paid just the minimum payment option.

Most borrowers with the opton ARM are opting to pay just the minimum payment, and are putting their homes at risk. The minimum payment is usually calculated using the first month's interest rate, generally a low "teaser rate" as low as 1-2%. When the monthly payments are not even covering the total amount of interest that is accumulating, the balance of the loan continues to grow, while the value of the home may not be rising as quickly as the balance due. Any unpaid interest is added to the principal, and the total of both are then used to calculate future payments. This is called negative amortization, which can present only problems for both the borrower and the lender.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

The Dangers of 125% Financing

There are two main factors that determine how much equity you have in a home: The value of the home, and the amount owed on the home. In other words, if you have a property that is valued at $250,000 and a mortgage loan on which you owe $175,000 then you have $75,000 equity in your home. Since the amount of the loan in a 125% leaves the buyer with no equity, and in most loans, owing more than the home is worth, these loans generally pose the greatest risk and are not usually offered by most lenders. If the homeowner defaults on the mortgage, and the lender forecloses on the property, the lender will require the homeowner to repay the difference - and lose the home.

The present danger with the 125% loan is that many homes values are not rising at the pace they once were. This not only poses a problem for the homeowner, but for the lender as well. At this juncture, if there are lenders out there that are still offering home loans that are above the value of the home, this should be considered a red flag - unless you are taking out the loan to make major improvements on the home that will definitely raise the value of the home.

Some states actually have laws that prevent lenders from loaning out more than the value of the home. Tax deductions are not available on any part of a home equity loan that exceeds the fair market value of the home. The IRS has been monitoring the 125% loans with a watchful eye, making sure than homeowners aren't incorrectly trying to write off too much interest.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Foreclosures Rates Jumped in June

In May of 2006 the national foreclosure numbers came in with a grand total of 62,432. This number quickly jumped up by 7.4% with one in 1,726 households in foreclosure by June. While the total number for June topped out at 67,024 - six states have made up for more than half of the nations total.

Texas, Florida, Georgia, Ohio, and Illinois hold rates higher than the national average. California also made it into the top six states, with an increase of 19%. These six states together account for over 37,000 of the national foreclosure totals. In June alone, Texas had the highest foreclosure rate, totalling 12,693 - a 69% increase from May, raising the state's foreclosure rate to 2.7 times the national average.

This data was compiled using RealtyTrac, and many have speculated that these numbers are a small indication of what we may be seeing in the years 2007 and 2008 due to the large numbers of mortgage resets scheduled to begin in January. So far, there is very little to indicate that these numbers are not a forecast of what is to come. With the great number of exotic loans and interest only mortgages in the hands of homeowners that are already financially strapped, there is a great chance that these numbers will continue to rise, and many will find foreclosure unavoidable.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

You've Got Mail - Mortgage Mail

So over the next few years, many mortgage holders will find that their mailboxes may be filling up with offers to help you refinance your mortgage. This is a serious time to consider your options. If you have a mortgage that has a low introductory rate, and you are nervous that your interest rate may rise out of control - you may actually be a prime candidate for the opportunity to break out of the adjustable rate mortgage. Although there are many people that are actually benefiting from the ARM - if your payments are already as much as you can handle - consider your options before the mortgage resets. When this happens, (for many borrowers, this could as much as double the payments) the payment shock can be overwhelming, and many borrowers could be in danger of default.

There are options that can prevent the drastic rate hike, and talking to a lender or broker that you trust can be the best option available. If you don't already have someone you trust, ask your friends and family. If you still don't have anyone you can talk to, the best thing you could do would be to talk to several mortgage and loan companies. Don't take the first answer you get as written in stone, you should definitely shop around. Also, don't be afraid to tell them that you are shopping around, you may actually get a better response, and a fair quote. Some loan officers will quote you the low introductory rates, and then you are subject to the same problems you may already have been experiencing. Not all mortgages are the same, and not all of them work in the same way. Use a mortgage calculator to come up with some figures that you are comfortable with, and then bring those figures to your lender. Discuss the possibilities with your loan officer, there are definitely things you can do to prevent disaster before your mortgage resets.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Homeowners "Needed" Creative Lending

In recent years, it borrowers were finding it more and more difficult to find a home loan that they could afford. But now it is catching up with all of us. Renters were crying out for solutions to high interest rates, bad credit loans, and in general - a way to jump on homeowner's bandwagon. It led the way for the interest only loans, the exotic loan, or as someone once put it - the "toxic loan". The question is, can lenders be creative enough to save millions of homeowners from sure financial disaster? The 40 and 50-year loans aren't gaining momentum the way it was once thought, and refinancing might become an impossibility since lenders are correctly hesitant to hand out 130% loans. Many people were unwittingly victim to the "scare tactics" used to create an urgency to buy before prices skyrocketed beyond affordability. Others bought their homes convinced that they would double their profits over the next few years. Creative lending may not be able to pull troubled homeowners out of the pending crisis at hand - and yet lenders don't seem overly concerned.

In my last post, I reflected on a comment made by a hopeful in the industry, who believes that the troubles that overburdened borrowers could experience may be an "opportunity" for lenders to cash in on the need to refinance. However, what he did not mention was the probability that many homeowners are using their equity as a cash giving ATM machine, and actually facilitating financial doom. A huge portion of buyers who were approved for either interest only or exotic loans would not have qualified under traditional standards. I have probably hit a nerve with some homeowners who feel entitled to own a home even though they can't afford one, but I speak from experience. I am a renter not only due to circumstance, but choice. I could have easily for a creative loan, but under the advice of my father, an attorney, I read the fine print. By doing so, I realized what my payments had the potential to become, and "disqualified" myself as a buyer at that time. I couldn't be happier that I made that decision. Signing the documents that were set before me would have nearly tripled the sticker price of the home. While I stood back and watched the housing market over the past 10 years, I can honestly say - right now the grass is greener in my rented yard, while my landlord stuggles with the rising interest rates and increasing mortgage payments.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Possible Dangers in Home Equity Loans

Now, more than ever, home equity loans have become the "thing to do". With credit cards holding interest rates higher than the rate on most mortgages, homeowners have been looking towards home equity lines of credit (HELOCs) to buy the toys that they have always dreamed of. Now this may not sound like much of an issue to the untrained ear, but to those in "the know", there is a huge problem brewing in the real estate and mortgage industries. Home prices are beginning to drop in previously booming areas, interest rates slowly climbing, and a burst the number of exotic loans have increased the risk for homeowners, borrowers, and industry professionals. So why are so many mortgage professionals remaining calm? This type of build-up of financial burdens on homeowners brings about a perfect opportunity to cash in on the increasing need to refinance to keep their mortgage payments under control. According to Brad Brunts, with Citi Mortgage, these changes will bring him more business, "It offers an opportunity."

Freddie Mac estimates that Americans took $556 billion in home equity loans or cash-out refinancing programs. With little or no equity left in their homes, many homeowners will find that when their mortgage adjusts, that their payments could nearly double. This may even leave the borrowing homeowner with very few choices, and none of them good. The homeowners could choose to sell their home, but would most likely be in a position in which they owe more on the house than it's worth, and many similar homes on the market.

So is there hope? There is, take action before it's too late. In fact, it would be better to act on it before millions of other interest-only or exotic mortgage holders join the rush to dump their homes on the market.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Mortgage Training Should Not Be An Option

When I first started in this business, I signed a contract that stated that I would be "fully trained" by the company that I signed on with. What a surprise it was to find out that I was supposed to "fake it until I make it." Many times when I would ask for help I was told that the answers would come to me over time, and to speak with confidence - that way the customer would have confidence in me.

Prior to getting into the mortgage business, I studied real estate in two states, Oregon and California. I was required to take many hours of courses and to have a certificate of completion prior to taking any tests for my licensure. But years later, as I sat with a blank expression on my face in my mortgage broker's office, I found myself wondering something I'm sure I wasn't alone in: Why don't mortgage brokers and loan officers face such a rigorous learning program?? I still to this day have not come up with an answer.

Today, more than ever, I am pushing for loan officers and consumers alike to educate themselves. I would highly recommend that ALL borrowers take a class or two, do internet research, and talk to many loan officers before locking yourself in with the first LO you find. It's not enough anymore to "trust" that brokers and LO's know what they are doing, many of them do know what they are doing - and many times - it's not good. My father had the best advice growing up: "If you want something done right, do it yourself." I've rambled and vented, and I believe that my point is this: education, education, education. Whether you are an industry professional, or a consumer, if you are educated - even self educated - you stand a better chance at obtaining the desired results.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

National Mortgage Regulation System As Soon As 2008

The National Association of Securities Dealers, Inc. and the Conference of State Bank Supervisors have entered into an agreement to develop a nationwide licensing system for state residential mortgage regulators. This 18-month effort, which involves CSBS, the American Association of Residential Mortgage Regulators and the industry to develop uniform mortgage licensing applications that would be used by each state mortgage regulator. Industry leaders are hoping that the system will lead to benefits from access to a national licensing and enforcement repository, and will likely be the result of the uniform application process and produce more closely related regulations throughout the states.

There are quite a few industry skeptics with growing concerns about how such a system will be implemented, but there are a few states that are currently testing the forms for new license applications. We could be seeing this new system available as early as January 2008, and so far a total of 30 state agencies have agreed to participate in the system. An online mortgage banking compliance service, iComply, suggests that careful consideration should be taken when deciding what information will go into the new system. A pilot program was tested in Illinois, in which implementation issues were much more dificult than anyone anticipated.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Colorado Enacts Mortgage Licensing Regulations

Colorado becomes the 49th state in the U.S. to enact licensing or registrations of mortgage brokers, leaving Alaska as the last state lacking regulation on the mortgage industry. Governor Bill Owens signed the house bill enacting the Mortgage Broker Registration Act, which will require a mortgage broker (as defined below) to register with the state by January 1, 2007, although the act went into effect July 1, 2006.

The act defines a mortgage broker as anyone negotiating, originating, or offers to attempt to negotiate or originate. Originate (under the act) means to submit an applications or documentation to a lender or underwriter in an attempt to obtain a loan. After January 1, 2007 a person may not broker a mortgage, offer to broker a mortgage, act as a mortgage broker, or offer to act as a mortgage broker without first obtaining registration through the state of Colorado.

The act will also require registrants to pass a criminal background check, submit a disclosure of specified administrative discipline, and application fee, fingerprints, and a $25,000 bond or equivalent alternative. It also establishes criminal penalties for those who engage in any of these regulated activities without first obtaining the proper registration.