Category Archives: Real estate

New York’s Benjamin Lawsky Forces Resignation of CEO of Mortgage Servicer Ocwen Over Wrongful Foreclosures, Shoddy Records and Systems

New York State Superintendent of Financial Services Benjamin Lawsky has forced the resignation of the chairman and CEO of a mortgage servicer, Ocwen over a range of borrower abuses in violation of a previous settlement agreement, including wrongful foreclosures, excessive fees, robosigning, sending out back-dated letters, and maintaining inaccurate records. Lawsky slapped the servicer with other penalties, including $150 million of payments to homeowners and homeowner-assistance program, being subject to extensive oversight by a monitor, changes to the board, and being required to give past and present borrowers access to loan files for free. The latter will prove to be fertile ground for private lawsuits. In addition, the ex-chairman William Erbey, was ordered to quit his chairman post at four related companies over conflicts of interest.

The Ocwen consent order shows Lawksy yet again making good use of his office while other financial services industry regulators are too captured or craven to enforce the law. Unlike other bank settlements, investors saw the Ocwen consent order as serious punishment. Ocwen’s stock price had already fallen by over 60% this year as a result of this probe and unfavorable findings by the national mortgage settlement monitor, Joseph Smith. Ocwen’s shares closed down another 27% on Monday. And that hurts Erbey. From the Wall Street Journal:

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Bill Black: Mortgage Appraisal Fraud is Baaack…Because Bank Execs Profit From It

Yves here. Financiers and their media amplifiers keep trying to blame their bad conduct, like mortgage appraisal fraud, on powerless customers, so people like Bill Black have to keep swatting down their misrepresentations. Sadly, this crisis topic is back all too soon due to lack of regulatory vigilance.

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Elizabeth Warren Blasts FHFA’s Mel Watt: “You Haven’t Helped a Single Family”

Elizabeth Warren tore into FHFA director Mel Watt over his failure to develop a program for Fannie and Freddie to provide principal modifications to underwater borrowers at risk of foreclosure. She also got in a dig for his failure to stop the agencies from pursuing deficiency judgments. That means going after former homeowners when the sale of the house they lost didn’t recoup enough to cover the mortgage balance. In the stone ages, when banks kept the mortgage loans they made, they never pursued deficiency judgements. They knew there was no point in trying to get blood from a turnip. Not surprisingly, the sadistic Fannie/Freddie policy has also proven to be spectacularly unproductive in financial terms. An FHFA inspector general study found that recoveries were less than 1/4 of 1% of the amount sought. Moreover, since those mortgage balances were often inflated by junk fees and other dubious costs, and mortgage servicers have done a poor job of maintain properties (they are too often stripped of copper and appliances, or get mold), any deficiency might be significantly or entirely the servicer’s fault.

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Don Quijones: It’s Official – Spain is Unraveling

straining the economic foundations of the Eurozone, are increasingly spilling over into the political realm. While it isn’t at all clear how this plays out, it is important to remember that the citizens of most European countries are far more willing to engage in collective action, particularly protests, than Americans are. And this propensity has the potential to be more effective than here since political and economic activity is concentrated in comparatively few major cities, while both the population as a whole and power centers are more dispersed in America. Don Quijones gives an update on how centrifugal forces are playing out in Spain.

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Wolf Richter: After Messing up the Housing Market, the “Smart Money” Bails Out

In real estate, particularly in housing, national averages elegantly paper over the gritty details on the ground in specific metro areas and neighborhoods. When a new trend starts in some locations, it’s neutered by data from other locations. Blips and squiggles are averaged out of the picture. But by the time changes consistently show up in national averages, they’ve taken on serious weight on the ground. And now the “smart money” – smart because it has access to the Fed’s free moolah – is abandoning the housing market.

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Taibbi: Ex-JP Morgan Lawyer With Smoking Gun on Mortgage Fraud Stymied by Holder Cover-Up

Matt Taibbi has pulled the curtain back on an offensive and obvious bit of Obama administration bank cronyism that disappeared too quickly from public attention. Earlier this year, JP Morgan settlement negotiations over mortgage misconduct had broken down over price. When word got out that the Department of Justice had a criminal suit that it was ready to file, Jamie Dimon called the DoJ and went to Washington to negotiate a deal. Let us turn the mike over to Georgetown law professor Adam Levitin who wrote at the time:

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Adair Turner: The Consequences of Money-Manager Capitalism

Yves here. This is a terrific interview with Lord Adair Turner, former head of the FSA. Most of it focuses on the things missed in contemporary economics, particularly macroeconomics, and how some disciplinary “back to the future” would be desirable. A major topic of discussion is how wealth is becoming as concentrated as it was in the 18th century, and the driver then and now was the disproportionately large role real estate has come to play. Then, it was income-producing agricultural land. Now it is urban property, bid up by domestic and international elites who want to live in particularly prized cities. Turner points out the irony that access to cheap finance for housing, meant to help middle and lower income buyers, has instead contributed to rising wealth inequality. He also describes how the ability of banks and financial markets to supply virtually unlimited amounts of credit, against a limited stock of particularly sought-after locations, has the potential to create tulip-mania type results.

Perhaps due to time constraints, Turner didn’t venture into the views of classical economists, that profiting from land, which they derided as rentier capitalism, was economically unproductive. As Michael Hudson has stressed, they urged heavy taxation of land as the remedy.

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Matt Stoller: Why Is Alan Greenspan’s Lawyer, Scott Alvarez, Still Controlling the Federal Reserve? (AIG Bailout Trial)

Yves here. This important post explains why Scott Alvarez, the general counsel of the Federal Reserve Board of Governors, needs to be fired. His responses to the plaintiffs’ questions at the AIG bailout trial weren’t simply evasive; they reveal a deep, almost visceral, dedication to defending the very policies that nearly destroyed the world economy as well as a salvage operation that favored financial firms over the real economy. We have embedded the transcripts from the first three days of the AIG bailout trial, which cover Alvarez’s performance on the stand, at the end of this post.

Alvarez was brought to the Fed by Alan Greenspan. As a staff lawyer, he helped implement bank deregulation policies such as ending supervision of primary dealers in 1992, refusing to regulate derivatives in 1996 (I recall gasping out loud when I first read about the Fed’s hands off policy), and implementing the rules that shot holes through Glass Stegall before it was formally repealed in 1999. Among those measures was giving a commercial bank, Credit Suisse, waivers to take a 44% stake one of the biggest investment banks, First Boston, in 1988 and assume control in 1990.

Alvarez also has a poor record as far as representing broad public interest in his tenure as General Counsel, which started in 2004. The Fed did an even worse job than the bank-cronyistic Office of the Comptroller of the Currency in enforcing Home Ownership and Equity Protection Act, a law that put restrictions on high-cost mortgage lenders. The Fed was also one of the two major moving forces behind the disastrous Independent Foreclosure Review, an exercise that promised borrowers who were foreclosed on in 2009 and 2010. The result instead was a fee orgy by the supposedly independent consultants, capricious and inadequate payments to former homeowners, and virtually no disclosure of what was unearthed during the reviews.

Yellen has said she wants to make financial stability as important a priority of the Fed as monetary policy. That means, among other things, being willing to regulate banks. Scott Alvarez is too deeply invested in an out-of-date world view to carry that vision forward. If Yellen intends to live up to her word, Alvarez has to go.

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How Oil and Gas Leases for Fracking Rip Off Homeowners

Yves here. This post by Steven Horn about that shows the typical terms of an oil and gas rights lease for American Energy Partners buries the lead, in that Steve needs to give the context of how the lease came to be public before he turns to explaining how the lease rips off the party who signs it. Among other things, it requires the homeowner to have any mortgage made subordinate to the royalty agreement, something no lender will agree to. If the homeowner can’t get the subordination (a given), no royalties will be paid! As you’ll see, there are other “heads I win, tails you lose” terms in these agreement.

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Invitation Homes Tenant Abuse Shows Incompetence as Well as Malfeasance

Readers may recall that we’ve been writing regularly about the single family home land grab by private equity firms. Blackstone has been far and away the biggest, though its Invitation Homes business. Readers and many institutional investors have been skeptical of PE landlords’ claims that they can manage single family homes cost effectively; it’s hard enough for mom and pop landlords, who often have some relevant maintenance skills, like plumbing or construction, to make a go of it.

But as reports come in from abused tenants, Blackstone looks not only venal in its efforts to shift costs on to tenants, but positively incompetent.

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Bill Black Discusses “Too Big to Jail” on Bill Moyers

Bill Black gives one of his best recaps ever of the “too big to jail” syndrome on Bill Moyers. For readers who missed the story, Black gave critical testimony in a Federal prosecution of small fry mortgage fraudsters. He helped persuaded the jury that in fact no fraud took place because the banks were willing to underwrite any predatory, poorly underwritten loan in the runup to the crisis. Black savages the posture of the Department of Justice in this case and in general.

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