Back in January, financial data firm, Bloomberg detailed that roughly three million U.S. homes had been repossessed by lenders since the housing market peaked in 2006. That figure hasn't slowed much as 2010 saw the repossession of one million homes. Bloomberg's Businessweek publication also estimated that 800,000 homes are currently owned by the U.S. government through repossessions from the likes of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
The majority of these foreclosures stemmed from supposed investors that were out to speculate on housing prices rising further. The reversal of years of appreciation left them with homes they could not afford nor cared to live in as a primary residence. It's difficult to feel sorry for these individuals, but in other cases legitimate homeowners have been caught in the crosshairs of the historic housing bust.
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A Military Horror Story
In one of the more highly publicized cases, earlier this year JPMorgan Chase realized it had overcharged and improperly foreclosed on the homes of a number of active members of the military and veterans. The Service members Civil Relief Act limits the fees and interest rates that active-duty military individuals can be charged, and they cannot have their homes foreclosed on while overseas.
JPMorgan reportedly returned the foreclosed homes of 10 families that were protected by the act and had foreclosed on close to 20 families overall. In other instances, it contacted families repeatedly for payment of mortgages and fees that were not allowed under the act.
JPMorgan admitted to making these mistakes, such as charging members more than the 6% interest rate limit on mortgage interest rates. It apologized for the errors and paid an estimated $54 million settlement to make up for its mistakes. It also agreed not to foreclose on any active-duty military members, lowered interest rates and worked to modify mortgages that those members may be struggling to pay. (Exotic mortgages allow you to decide how much to pay. For more, see Choose Your Monthly Mortgage Payments.)
Loan Modification Eligibility Pulled
There are numerous other examples of homeowners receiving improper foreclosure notifications or delinquent payment notices due to administrative errors at banks.
A Wall Street Journal article cited an unemployed homeowner who originally qualified for the Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP) and was notified she owed nearly $4,100 after paying a similar amount over the previous six months. She was told to ignore the letter, but then told she should have never qualified for the program in the first place. She was then asked to pay $5,000 to return her original loan, which included late fees.
Other homeowners have qualified for loan modification programs, only to be deemed ineligible when a payment was missed or lost. Once eligibility is lost, the lender unfairly demanded additional funds, which unemployed individuals, or others struggling to make payments in the first place, are unable to afford. (For more, see Avoid Foreclosure: How To Handle An Underwater Mortgage.)
Overly Restrictive Practices
In more current cases, after years of easy credit and the ability to make minimal down payments toward a mortgage, obtaining a loan has become extremely difficult. Realtors have cited cases where homebuyers have high credit scores above 700 and are able to make a 20% down payment, but end up being turned down because of what used to be considered a minor restriction from a lender.
Others are concerned that down payment requirements have become too restrictive when it is clear a potential homeowner has more than enough income to pay monthly mortgage expenses.
The housing appraisal process has also grown too restrictive in the current real estate market. During the upturn, the appraisal process was criticized as too lax because excessive home appreciation levels were supported through higher subsequent appraisals.
The current environment is seeing a much higher percentage of appraisals subject to a downward bias. An appraisal too below an agreed upon purchase price between the buyer and seller can cause a deal to fall through. One example cited a house in New York where a $500,000 sale price was agreed upon. Surrounding foreclosures and falling prices resulted in an appraisal of only $415,000 and caused the deal to fall apart.
The Bottom Line
A certain number of errors is certainly understandable given the historic volumes of foreclosures and home repossessions that lenders are having to carry out since the housing bubble burst. These horror stories keep sentiment firmly negative, which only reinforces the fact that housing sales remain depressed. The problems will eventually be overcome, but could take more than a decade to occur. (For related reading on housing bubbles, see Why Housing Market Bubbles Pop.)
Disclosure: At the time of writing Ryan C. Fuhrmann did not own shares of any company mentioned in this article.