Articles Posted in Deficiency Waivers and Lawsuits

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underwater mortgage.jpgHave you been considering walking away from your house payments and mortgage? According to a recent CNN article, many homeowners are getting ruthless and voluntarily choosing to walk away. We are seeing this more and more among our foreclosure defense and short sale clients. Sometimes it is better to take the credit hit and save money on huge mortgage payments on an underwater asset. Home values have continued to slide another 11% in Florida in February when compared to the same month in 2010. CBS MoneyWatch reports that 47% of Florida homeowners are underwater.

Fannie Mae reports in a recent survey that the number of homeowners who would even consider walking away has increased from 15% to 27% this year. This is despite Fannie Mae’s threat to withhold Fannie Mae backed financing for strategic defaulters that it made over a year ago.

So what should you consider before you make such a decision? Well, first of all, if you have a good job, assets and a strong credit report, you can be a target for a deficiency lawsuit later down the road as Florida is a “recourse” state. Banks and other owners of mortgage debt have up to five years to pursue you to collect the unpaid balance. The question is will they? If you look good to them on paper, it is more likely you will be sued for a deficiency. If this is the case, or you think your finances will pick up over the next few years, you may want to consider a short sale to at least try to open negotiations for a full or partial deficiency waiver. Alternatively, many clients elect to file bankruptcy now while they qualify to order to obtain closure and gain the certain knowledge that they cannot be sued later.
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extracashpic.jpgIn a new incentive program beginning in late 2010, Chase is purportly offering $10,000 to $20,000 to homeowners who take the effort to short sale their property. The offer includes a waiver of any deficiency balance. But it only applies to loans actually owned by Chase, not just serviced by Chase. An article in the St. Pete Times today discusses the program in more depth. Chase is apparently providing approvals in approximately 35 to 40 days after an offer is made, while most short sales take at least six months to conclude.

This is opposite of a growing trend of banks and servicers refusing to grant deficiency waivers.

Many loans are actually owned by Freddie Mac or Fannie Mae now though. To check if your loan is owned by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac, go to the Freddie look-up site and Fannie look-up site which provide an instant answer. No guarantees that the sites are accurate although in our experience they usually are accurate (even though the loan documentation may still be up for challenge do to failures and inconsistencies in the paperwork).

One other way to possibly see who purports to own and service your loan is the MERS look up site.

So if your servicer is Chase and you are unable to continue making your house payments and a modification seems out of reach or doesn’t make sense, use the look up sites above to try and identify if Chase is only the servicer, or if they are also the owner of your loan. You can also call Chase directly and ask if Chase owns your loan or if they are merely servicing it for an investor. Ask who the investor is if possible. The more knowledgeable you are, the more you will know what options are available to you.

There are other more exact methods of determing the owner of your loan as well.
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We have noticed here in the Tampa Bay, Florida legal community that written deficiency waivers of the unpaid loan balances for first mortgages are getting harder to come by. A recent St. Petersburg, Florida Times article focuses in on the potential landmine: “People have no idea of all the trouble that is coming” says Margery Golant, a lawyer in Broward County who sees deficiency defense cases on the rise. Florida is known as a recourse state and the lenders have a right to obtain a personal judgment for the remaining unpaid balance. They then can seek to collect that debt by garnishing wages or bank accounts or placing a lien on other property that the debtor owns.

This is true of short sales regardless of lender. It is also true of deed in lieu or other voluntary return of the property through a consent judgment in rem (which means against the property only). Even Freddie Mac has aggressively pursued new reduced promissory notes in short sales.

What does this mean? We think it means someone will come knocking to collect that debt eventually. It might be five years down the road (prior to the expiration of the statute of limitations), but if the lender obtains a deficiency judgment, like any judgment it can be collected for 10 years and renewed for a second 10 year period. In the State of Florida, a judgment creditor has 20 years to try and collect an unpaid judgment.

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Our neighbors are considering buying a condominium in Tampa that was foreclosed by Wells Fargo (owned by Freddie Mac) and noticed two strange things in the paperwork this weekend. First, Freddie Mac is only offering insurable title not marketable title and they wanted to use their own title agent.

Fortunately, our neighbors were smart enough to notice the distinction. First, the possibility of fraud in the foreclosure or anything else wrong with the foreclosure appear to have been excluded from the insurance coverage. So if the prior homeowner comes forth and says I didn’t have notice of the foreclosure because I wasn’t properly served (this happens all the time) or a faulty affidavit or assignment was submitted in the foreclosure litigation to support the plaintiff’s claim that it owned or held the note (also a common occurrence), the homeowner can have the foreclosure sale reversed. Where does this leave the new buyer? Well they would have a claim for the failure of Freddie to provide good and clear title — or would they? With an insurance exclusion, depending upon how it is written, this could be a major dilemma.

Second, Freddie specifically noted that the purchaser was responsible for any unpaid homeowners association expenses. In Florida, there is Florida Statute Section 718.116 that provides that upon foreclosure, the plaintiff is required to pay the past one year of unpaid condominium association dues or 1% of the original principal balance whichever is less. (This is not necessarily true for all homeowners associations). If the plaintiff lienholder fails to do so, are all the delinquent assessments plus attorney’s fees, costs and interest due and owing, perhaps going back years? I wonder, how often does the bank or mortgage servicer actually make this payment by the thirty day deadline? These are the same parties that cannot look at mortgage modification paperwork within the first 30-90 days of submission because they are so overwhelmed.

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