October 18, 2008

LOAN MODIFICATION SERVICES & ADVANCE FEES -- Foreclosure Consultants Revisited

Millions of homeowners nationwide want to modify the terms of their loans but do not know how to go about it. This has created growing business opportunity for people who want to provide loan modification services for a fee. Many of these people are new to this business and may not be aware of the law in this area. In California, for example, there are rigorous legal requirements for real estate licensees who want to earn fees by helping homeowners modify their loans.

In an earlier post, I discussed the California statutes (California Civil Code sections 2945, et seq.) that regulate foreclosure consultants; these statutes apply when a real estate license attempts to negotiate a loan modification for a homeowner after he or she has received a Notice of Default recorded under Civil Code section 2945. A foreclosure consultant is prohibited from accepting payment in advance, even if the foreclosure consultant is a licensed California real estate broker. (In contrast, licensed California lawyers are exempt from these statutes.)

But what if a real estate licensee agrees to negotiate a loan modification for a homeowner who has not yet received a Notice of Default and the licensee wants to be paid in advance? The California Department of Real Estate has created a procedure for a real estate licensee to accept advance fees for loan modification services when a notice of default has not yet been recorded. First, the licensee must apply to the DRE for its approval of an advance fee agreement. Once this approval is obtained, the broker must enter into the agreement with a borrower/homeowner who retains the broker and pays a fee in advance for loan modification services. It appears that very few California real estate licensees have obtained approval of an advance fee agreement yet.

In summary, a homeowner who has not received a Notice of Default commencing a foreclosure should only pay fees in advance to a broker who presents an agreement that has been approved by the DRE (the homeowner should call the DRE to confirm the agreement has been approved).

If the homeowner has received a Notice of Default, he or she should not pay any fees in advance. The homeowner should confirm that the foreclosure consultant has the bond required under Civil Code section 2945.11. If these requirements are not met, the homeowner has extensive civil remedies under Civil Code section 2945.6, and the foreclosure consultant may be subject to criminal penalties under Civil Code section 2945.7.

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October 5, 2008

HOME SWEET HOME --The Price of a Great Love Affair

On June 13, 2005, TIME magazine reminded us that Americans were at the height of a great love affair with residential real estate. On October 3, 2008, we learned that every American taxpayer, now and in the future, would share in the cost of mortgage defaults and the rescue plan through the Troubled Assets Relief Program (TARP). The recent federal "rescue" legislation and the government's takeover of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac make the United States the largest mortgage company in the world.

Two maxims of California jurisprudence provide food for thought in assessing the fallout from the messy aftermath of the latest residential real estate binge: "He [or she] who takes the benefit must bear the burden"; and, "He [or she] who consents to an act is not wronged by it." California Civil Code sections 3521 & 3515.

With that said, let us acknowledge the participants who benefited from and consented to the questionable transactions in the United States that have resulted in extraordinary actions by governments around the developed world:

Buyers who used "creative financing" while they were in denial about the consequences of a variable interest rate loan readjusting and the inevitable decline in housing prices;

Mortgage brokers and real estate brokers who did not adequately warn buyers about the credit risk of buying a home without a down payment or a fixed rate loan;

Appraisers who, in some cases, participated in the validation of inflated prices or worse; i.e., mortgage fraud;

Mortgage companies and banks who defied reality by making loans without following reasonable underwriting standards;

Investment bankers who "securitized" pools of loans ("mortgage backed securities") that were not properly underwritten or backed by capital in the event of widespread defaults;

Rating companies that bestowed their pedigrees on the mortgaged backed securities at they same time they were compensated by the investment bankers;

Hedge funds, insurance companies and investment bankers who wrote contracts ("credit default swaps") to pick up the losses on the mortgage backed securities without the financial ability to do so in the event of widespread defaults;

And the United States government which failed to warn, regulate and control the participants before it became the world's biggest mortgage company.

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