More Trouble In The Real Estate Market?

Housing Collapse. . .Again!?

For about the last 2 years now, most media and their housing experts have been reporting good news on the housing front. The number of distressed properties was decreasing, the number of foreclosures was decreasing, prices were (and are) increasing. This seems like good news all around, right? Well, it certainly would be IF IT WERE ACTUALLY TRUE!

I’m sure it comes as no surprise to most of my readers that things are NOT always what they are reported to be:

1.) “If you like your health plan, you can keep it!”

2.) “Al Qaeda is on the run!”

3.) “The Benghazi embassy attack was in response to a youtube video. . .”

4.) “The average family’s health plan will be reduced by approximately $2500 per year. . .”

5.) “There were a few rogue agents in our Cincinnati IRS office who were targeting their political enemies. . .”

Etc, etc, ad infinitum.

Well, now comes the news that “Housing Bubble Fears May Not Be Unfounded” and that “Low Inventories Conceal Hidden Vacancies, Threat Looms. . .”

These two news stories from DS News show what I have been telling my clients for the last few years. Yes, things LOOK like they’re turning around, when

Squatting Homeowners

you read the news. By when you actually work in the default industry, you know that things are NOT what they seem to be. Here’s the bottom line, and it makes all the difference in the world:

Many millions of mortgage holders who have not payed their mortgages for some time, are simply not being foreclosed on. You heard me correctly. There are millions of people living in homes that they haven’t payed for, in some cases up to 3 to 4 years!

Why is this happening? Because it is now politically incorrect to foreclose on people who haven’t payed their mortgages. Mortgage lenders were directed in no uncertain terms to simply “STOP FORECLOSING ON PEOPLE! You’re making things worse!”

I have been saying for years that politicians will continue to kick this housing can down the road as long as they can, and hide the data from the American people, to try to create more consumer confidence. Well, the plan hasn’t worked out too well. The news reports that consumers are more confident, but do you know anyone who has confidence in the housing market? the economy? our military prowess? our health care system? I certainly don’t.

Sooner or later, all these people who are not paying their mortgages are going to be removed from their homes. Those homes will hit the market. Then there are all the homes that homeowners have simply abandoned, but have not been placed on the market for sale, but are held “off the books” by lenders. Those will have to come to the market eventually as well. That’s a double whammy. It HAS to happen. It’s just a matter of WHEN.

So, now you know why your house price has increase by 20% over the last 24 months. There are very few homes for sale, and this contributed to creating a strong demand.

If only you could see below the surface, you’d see all those other thousands of homes just sitting vacant, WAITING to go up for sale.

Hello 2006!



Why Loan Modifications Fail

According to the latest report by the Dept of Treasury, loan modifications are failing at an alarming rate. Consider: of the 728,000+ attempted loan modifications done so far through the government’s HAMP program, only slightly over 31,000 have been successful.  Stated differently, if you attempt a loan modification, you have a 23% chance of success. Why can’t people get loan modifications completed?  Let’s take a look.

According to reports from banks, homeowners are to blame because they don’t turn in the paperwork required, nor do they make trial payments.  Homeowners, on the other hand, say mods are failing because lenders are losing paperwork, foreclosing on “accident,” changing terms mid-stream, simply ignoring them, or denying them loan mods based on some mysterious formula.

 There are in fact many homeowners who can qualify for a modification who have decided they don’t want one.  These people who “failed to complete the process,” probably came to the conclusion (after months of emotional hell) that it’s best to ditch the home and start over.  Once these families have been through 6 months of fighting with their lenders about a modification, they start to realize a few things:

 a.)    their credit is already ruined

b.)    the “fix” is somewhat iffy, and temporary

c.)    there is a real chance they’ll be going through this again in 5 years

 These facts add up fast, and signing on the dotted line to temporarily modify an already shaky loan is the last thing these people want. 

 Homeowner accusations of lost paperwork, accidental foreclosures, and unfair dealing are all absolutely true, when viewed in a certain light.  The reasons that banks appear to be unfair in their dealings is probably for a different reason than many think, though. What many fail to realize is that getting three huge bureaucracies to agree, in writing, to give away free money, and coordinate this free money give away on a specified date is no small feat. It can actually feel a lot like trying to trick a gang of bullies into poking each other in the eye while you make a quiet escape.  That’s not to say it can’t be done, just that it’s . . . tricky.  It really helps to understand the bureaucracy part of the equation to understand why you can’t get help from your bank.

 The servicing lender you send your bill to every month? They don’t actually own the mortgage to your house. They’re just “servicing” that mortgage for an investor. So already, you’ve got one road-block. Your servicer can’t actually make a decision regarding modifying or short selling your loan.  Oh, and that lovely and gracious representative on the other end of the line you call for help? She’s about 20 people down the chain of command in this organization that can’t make a decision anyway.  Not only that, she’s likely a low paid “temp” with little incentive to be helpful or friendly. And to make matters worse, she knows absolutely nothing about the process, your file, your problem, or the bank she works for! She’s just reading from a screen that contains very little information. She couldn’t help you even if she did have the best customer service skills in the world. I could actually write an entire book on the process, and the steps that have to be followed, and the executives who need to sign off, and this book would leave a lot of questions unanswered. Imagine, if you will, that you would like the federal government to send you a detailed report of every dollar you’ve paid them in taxes and what they spent it on.  Yeah. It’s kind of like that.

 The housing crisis is an absolute mess. The processes in place for helping troubled homeowners are very confusing, very time intensive, and anything but guaranteed.  Lenders will continue to blame homeowners, and homeowners will blame lenders for lack of progress on the issue.  There is one certain fact that everyone knows, but we’re hiding from and delaying at all costs: there will be millions of families moving out of their homes and renting in the coming years.  The millions of the homes sold between 2000 and 2008 are the crumbling, decaying, “foundation” of all of our household wealth. It is and has been crumbling. Those who abandon ship now will suffer for a time, then thrive and grow again. Those who continue to “re-arrange the deck chairs” on this sinking ship will be floating on a life-raft for quite some time.

Next time, I’ll detail for you the governments new program to “streamline” this process. . .

Free Loan Counsel Available Now!

By Phone: (602) 499-4798

or by Email:

*Disclaimer: We DO provide loan counseling services to our clients, but we NEVER charge the homeowner money. Please also remember: I am NOT an attorney, and neither do I play one on TV or the Internet. None of these pontifications should be construed as specific legal advice. If you need specific legal advice regarding your personal situation, give us a call. We can help you ourselves, or provide a list of housing counselors that are free! 

The Right Loan Modification Help

     Imagine for a moment that your wallet, purse, or handbag was stolen from your car. All of your personal and credit information was included in the “transfer” of ownership: your multiple IDs, social security card, home address, credit cards, spare house and car keys; everything. Now, you have some work to do. You need to cancel your credit and membership cards and get new ones, set up a credit monitoring or credit security service to lock credit activity, change the locks on your doors, go to the DMV and get a new license, dig through family photos for replacements, get a new cell phone and replace all your contacts, programs, music, etc. Getting your life back together is going to take awhile. You’ll be on hold for hours, talking with hapless bureaucrats, minimum-wage-earning call center human robots, jumping through hoops, providing documents to people who either don’t get them or lose them, and standing in line at the DMV.

     Processing a loan modification is a lot like this, only much worse. Whereas a dedicated and persistent person could recover from stolen personal effects in a few weeks at most, negotiating with a lender on a loan mod, short sale, or deed in lieu of foreclosure routinely takes months, and can take over a year. Real estate attorneys, agents, and short sale processors who have experience in dealing with lenders and negotiations on behalf of homeowners are not surprised by this; they expect it. They spend their days on hold, taking copious notes, demanding to speak to supervisors, “expediting” the process, verifying paperwork, and pushing through to the ubiquitous “next level” in the process. This is their job, and in most cases, they are paid well for it.

     There are now hundreds of businesses and “servicers” clamoring for the distressed homeowner’s attention, offering “help” with their foreclosure troubles. I get many of them myself, and I’m not even “distressed,” at least not about real estate! Needless to say, there are many scams being perpetrated on homeowners, and care should be taken. Selecting the right company, attorney, or agent to help you can be daunting and anxiety producing. The following are some tips when shopping for loan mod help:

Be Wary of Paying Money Up Front

     If possible, look for an agreement that provides payment if, and only if, the loan modification is completed on a permanent basis. It should be understood however, that this is a very labor intensive process, and there is no real guarantee of success. The company that worked on your behalf for all those months will likely want compensation if, in spite of all their best efforts, your modification is denied. Remember, there is risk involved for both the homeowner and the processor, and that risk can and should be negotiated, or shared. Perhaps you could work out a deal where only half the fee is due up front? Be very cautious about paying in full up front, with a promise of “your money back,” if the loan mod fails. Some suggest that you insist on paying with a credit card, so that charges may later be disputed if something goes wrong.

Make Sure the Processing Charges Appear on the HUD-1

     When and if the lender agrees to a permanent modification, new loan documents will have to be generated and executed by the borrower, the lender, and the Trustee (in AZ). This will usually happen at a title company, where the documents will be notarized, filed with the county recorder, and distributed to all parties. A regular HUD-1 or “Closing Settlement Statement” will be issued for the transaction. The party who processed your loan modification should be listed on the HUD-1, along with their attendant processing fees. You would then bring that fee to the closing table to as your cost for “settlement charges”.

Make Sure the Processor Understands the Process, and Can Explain

     Make sure that whoever you choose has a plan or strategy in place for fully educating you on the process. Whether this means they meet with you in person or on the phone, or send you a flow chart, graph, or handbook, you should be aware of milestones, what is coming up next, and where you stand with the over-all process. Someone with a good “bedside manner” is what you’re looking for here, as you are in trouble, and you need to feel confident that the process is under control by a competent professional.

Make Sure Communication Lines Are Clear

     You will need to have open lines of communication with your processor. They will have questions for you, and will need you to deliver documents to them periodically. The best practice is email communication, as it is an excellent way to keep records of who said what when, and what documents were sent and when. If you have the ability to scan and email documents through email, you should also do this. The documents will be attached to their original emails, and saved in the system. This is record that you have complied with all pertinent information and data requests. If you have to, use a fax machine for documents, and keep the “Transmission Record” of your having sent it. Only hand-deliver or mail documents as a last resort, and only if they are certified (i.e., someone has to sign for them on the other end). Bottom line: keep neat records of communication and documentation sent.

     Your communication lines will also keep you up to date on the progress on your file. You should receive weekly updates, in writing. This should be a log of all activity on your file. Good processors keep notes on a “transaction” or “processing” form of some kind. Any time they have a conversation with your lender, send some document, or make a call to any third party, the conversation is recorded in this log. You want an updated copy of this log each week. The log should show that the processor is contacting your lender at least once per week, what your lender said, what your lender wants, what the hold up is, etc. Depending upon your level of comfort, you may ask for this document, along with a call to discuss it, on a designated day and time each week.

Make Sure You Check for Experience and References

     You should ask any potential processor what type, and how much, experience they have with loan modifications, how many of their loan mods have been successful versus unsuccessful, and whether they can provide a list of potential references for you to call. You might also visit your local BBB web site to look up the company’s history. Sometimes, a simple Google search with “[Company Name] Scam” is sufficient to root out trouble makers. If there are several Web sites, Blogs, or news stories connecting the word “scam” with the company or person you have selected, well. . . I’ll leave you to your own judgment.

Moving Forward

     If you decide to hire someone to help modify your mortgage, follow the above guidelines to minimize your exposure to scams and ensure the best professional selection. Also remember, there are no guarantees that your loan modification will be successful. If you would rather complete the process yourself, in our next installment we’ll provide guidance and best practices for going it alone.

Free Loan Counsel Available Now!
By Phone: (602) 499-4798
or by Email:

*Disclaimer: We DO provide loan counseling services to our clients, but we NEVER charge the homeowner money. Please also remember: I am NOT an attorney, and neither do I play one on TV or the Internet. None of these pontifications should be construed as specific legal advice. If you need specific legal advice regarding your personal situation, give us a call. We can help you ourselves, or provide a list of housing counselors that are free! 

Arizona Short Sale Process

PART II: Pre-foreclosure Options (SS Overview)

Hello Again, and welcome to The Butler Blog. As always, I am your intrepid host, Allen Butler, managing director of TRBLLC and agent of West USA Premier Properties.

Today we’ll continue with our series on pre-foreclosure help for Arizona families. Last time, we talked about loan modifications and the problem with negative equity. Let’s review that for just a moment:

Remember, if you want to stay in your home, you can either bring your account current, or you can modify your loan to make it more affordable. Loan modifications are a personal choice that should be taken cautiously, and with an eye to the future. Also remember, the payments will go up again, and you may be in the home for quite awhile.

Now, for those who can’t keep their homes there are other options to minimize foreclosure damage. Today, we’ll deal with one option, and that’s a short sale.

A short sale is nothing more than selling your home for less than you owe the lender. You are asking the lender to allow you to do a “short payoff” or short sale on the home.  Here is an example.

If you owe $250,000 to your lender on your home, and you can no longer pay, you can get permission from your lender to place your home on the market at the current fair market value and find a buyer.

In Arizona, negative equity is tremendous, and it’s not uncommon for a home like this home to be listed on the open market for $120,000. Once an offer is secured, this offer is submitted to the borrower’s lender, and the lender agrees. They’ll allow you to sell it for $120,000.

However, there is still $130,000 left on the loan balance. What will happen to this “extra debt” you owe the lender? Many times, the debt is simply forgiven and written off by the lender. Of course, there is more to this, as there are lots of legal, credit, and tax pitfalls to look out for. We’ll deal with those in future episodes, but remember, these are serious topics for qualified professionals.

The question begs itself at this point: why would a lender do that? Why wouldn’t they just foreclose on the home and sell it themselves? It’s a good question, and one that we’ll answer in a moment, but first: why would a HOMEOWNER do a short sale? What are the benefits to THEM?

First, for homeowners facing foreclosure, a short sale can

1.) Minimize credit damage resulting from foreclosure

2.) Avoid a foreclosure on credit and/or public records.

3.) Make the foreclosure process less disruptive to personal life.

4.) May allow the borrower to make a new home purchase much quicker.

Now, as to why a lender would do a short sale, it helps to understand the inner workings of the foreclosure process from the lender’s perspective, and it’s ALL about money and finance.

1.) First a lender has to spend LOTS of money to remove a homeowner from their home.

2.) Second, lenders will have to spend thousands on maintenance and holding costs.

3.) Third, lenders can SEE what a home is worth TODAY, but cannot know what the home will be worth later. If prices continue to fall, lenders will lose even more money.

4.) Finally, every time a lender forecloses on a family, it causes further depreciation of the market and THEIR OWN loan portfolios.

A short sale actually benefits both homeowners AND lenders, and is probably the best idea if you simply can’t stay in your home. Let’s take a look at eligibility requirements.

1.) First, any homeowner who has a verifiable hardship can pursue a short sale.

2.) Second, the home has to have negative equity to pursue a short sale.

These really are the ONLY two requirements to pursue a short sale. However, how a short sale is processed and how it works is considerably more complex. One of the most serious complexities is the tax, legal, and credit considerations. Let’s look at those briefly.

1.) Sometimes, due to special circumstances with second lien-holders, insurance companies, or a HELOC, the homeowner may be asked to contribute to the loss, either up front, or with a promissory note.

2.) For some, the Mortgage Debt Forgiveness Act of 2007 may not protect them from having to pay taxes on the discharged debt from the lender.

3.) In rare cases, the lender may demand that the homeowner waive their rights under the Arizona Anti-Deficiency Statutes.

4.) The credit damage arising from mortgage default can also be substantial in cases where short sale processing is anything but “short,” and drags on for almost a year.

These are SERIOUS potential consequences, and you absolutely MUST protect yourself.
1.) First, always talk to trained, certified, professionals about your specific circumstances.

2.) Seek a real estate agent with short sale experience, and at least 3 short sale references from clients with completed short sales.

3.) Know and understand the tax and deficiency laws in your state.

4.) Never pay anyone for help. Almost ALL reputable loan counselors and short sale agents DO NOT charge ANY fees to the client, ever.
Now, this has been a brief overview of the short sale, and in our next installments, we’ll break down short sales even further. Next time, we’ll deal with verifiable hardship, and the immediate actions to take when hardship comes.
Please, if you have questions or concerns about loan modifications, I encourage you to call our offices, or simply send an email. We are always here to help. Also, remember, these broadcasts are just my own personal opinions. The things I say should NEVER be construed as specific legal, credit, or tax advice. If you have questions regarding your specific set of circumstances, I encouraged you to call my offices, and also to seek the appropriate professional counsel.
Until Next time, this is Allen Butler, Managing Director of The Realty Butler LLC, and agent of West USA Premier Properties, signing out.

Arizona Foreclosure Process


Hello and thank you for joining us today at the Butler Blog.  As always, I am your host, Allen Butler, Managing Director of The Realty Butler LLC and agent of West USA Premier Properties. Today I want to examine some of the issues and strategies involving loan delinquency, mortgage default, and foreclosure affecting Arizona’s families.  

   For nearly everyone being affected by this foreclosure crisis, the foundation is almost always negative equity and financial hardship: If financial hardship comes, and you can’t sell the house because it’s “upside down,” you are likely about to stop, or have already stopped, paying your mortgage. This is when the process of foreclosure begins.

     It is absolutely critical that you know the process and timelines of delinquency, default, and foreclosure, and what your options are in dealing with them. The entire foreclosure process starts with your first missed payment. Let’s take a look at the timeline.

When you miss your first payment, you will likely start getting all kinds of communication from your bank. They want to know where their money is, and if you can’t bring your payments current very quickly (usually within 30-90 days), a “notice of default” will be issued.

The Notice of Default is a legal notice filed by your bank, indicating they have notified the courts that you are seriously delinquent on the loan. This notice also indicates that if you do not clear the delinquency within 90 days, the property will be scheduled for public auction.

When the home is scheduled for public auction, a Notice of Trustees Sale will be posted on the home itself, and filed with the courts. This notice identifies the place and time of the trustees’ sale, the loan servicer and/or legal office pursuing the sale, and the homeowner against whom this action is being taken. The auction date for the trustees’ sale is usually 30 to 90 days after the posted notice date. When and if the property is sold at auction, it now belongs to someone else, usually the lender who filed the action. 

The next step in the process is eviction. Once the home has transferred ownership at the trustees’ sale, the new owner is going to take possession. Sometimes, the lender will contact the occupants of the home, and offer a “Cash for Keys” deal in exchange for leaving the home within 15-30 days. If the occupant is uncooperative or not able to be contacted, a forcible detainer action will be filed, and eviction proceedings will commence.

Now, it is absolutely vital that you understand your “Action Zone.” This is the time during which you can act to contain and mitigate the damage to YOURSELF, your family, your credit, and your future. The Action Zone starts before you even miss a payment, and ends just a few weeks after the Notice of Trustees Sale. It is during this time that you absolutely need to contact someone for help with your situation, as there are several programs in place by lenders, and federal and state governments to help.

In our next installment, I’ll discuss these foreclosure prevention programs, how they work, who can do them, and who should do them. Until then, if you have questions or concerns regarding your personal pre-foreclosure situation, I encourage you to contact me. Both myself and my staff of highly trained and certified mortgage default specialists are always ready to take your calls or emails.

Until Next time, this is Allen Butler, Managing Director of The Realty Butler LLC, and agent of West USA Premier Properties, signing out.

Arizona Loan Modifications: Right for Arizona Families?

In our previous discussion of Arizona Loan Modifications, we discovered what a “loan mod” is, who can do one, and the process of doing one. This time, we’ll look at the pros and cons of actually doing one. Most of the clients who call our offices asking about loan modifications end up not seeking to do one. Why is that? If you can get an affordable new mortgage, and you can stay in your home, why wouldn’t you? Let’s take a look.

 The Case for Loan Modification

     A loan modification will be just right for many Americans, and can indeed save their homes from foreclosure, if “the price is right.”  The key consideration for these people is the level of price declines in their area or city. You see, only about 7 states have foreclosure “crises,” and of those 7, only 4 are causing most of the trouble (AZ, NV, CA, FL). If you live in any of the rest of the 96% of the country, the chances that a loan mod will work for you are pretty good. Let me explain.

    If you live in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, your home has definitely decreased in value over the last 3-5 years, but the price declines were fairly mild, and in fact, home prices INCREASED 1.8% from 2007 to now. Therefore, if you have negative equity in your home, it is likely to be not quite as severe. For example, let us assume that you bought a home Cedar Rapids for $200,000 in 2005. Chances are good that your home is still worth about $175,000 to $185,000. Result: you’re not upside down by a “prohibitive” amount. The loan modification in this case will make your payments more affordable for 5 years. Because of the relatively shallow negative equity, you will likely not have a problem selling your home in 5 years when the loan begins adjusting upward again.

     So, what if you DO live in one of the 7 states where prices have declined up to 54%. Does this mean that you can’t do a loan modification because have too much “negative equity?” Absolutely not, as there are no negative equity restrictions to participation in the program. The question is not whether you CAN, but whether you SHOULD.

The Case Against Loan Modification?

     According to the Congressional Oversight Panel that regulates loan modification programs, loan modifications are probably NOT going to help families with tremendous amounts of negative equity, or families who default because of job loss. For obvious reasons, you can’t modify a loan if you lack sufficient income. But, what about negative equity? Why would this cause a problem for loan modification?

     Let’s use another example, and this time, we’ll apply greater negative equity. If you live in one of the handful of states with the most severe foreclosures, it is likely that your situation looks something like this:

a.)    Bought house for $400,000 (First mortgage balance of $387,000, possible second?)

b.)    Homes just like yours are now worth $197,000.

c.)    You now have approximately $182,600 in “negative equity”.

You now do a loan modification of your interest rate (as occurs in 97% of cases), and as a result:

                                       1.) Old Payment: $2575 p/month

                                      2.) New Payment: $1750 p/month

                                       2.) This modification is in force for five (5) years.

Sounds fabulous, right? Maybe, but this is where practical reality sets in as people contemplate the future:

The Facts:

I have a new, affordable mortgage payment.”

“I still owe my lender $387,000, plus some late charges, etc.”

“My house is still only worth about $200,000.”

“My loan is going to readjust in five years.”

 The Burning Question:

“Will my home double in value  in 5 years, so I can actually sell it if I have to?”

     This last is what causes many to decide NOT to do a loan modification. They are reasoning, and quite soundly unfortunately, that there is no way their home is going to almost double in value within 5 years. Not only are prices projected to fall for most of 2010, even if they stopped falling and began to rise again (using an optimistic rate of increase of 10% per year), it will still take almost 10 years before the negative equity is wiped out.

     You can see the problem: five years from now, there is a likelihood that you’ll be in exactly the same position you are in now. Your mortgage payments will start to increase again, while the situation at large hasn’t changed much, if at all. To make matters worse, your credit score has likely already taken a hit due to your current troubles. So, just when you’ve got your credit built back up, you’re faced with the negative equity problem again.

     Now, please understand, I am NOT advocating that you dismiss a loan modification as a possible solution to your mortgage troubles. You just need to be fully aware of what your true situation is, and what it needs to be in the future for a loan modification to actually solve your mortgage/housing problem. Many families, when they discover the real situation, decide that a loan modification is simply delaying the inevitable, and it is preferable to just “cut the losses now”. Cutting your losses now is becoming a strong mindset for many borrowers.  These homeowners reason that it is better to get rid of the ridiculously over-valued home (either through foreclosure, a deed in lieu of foreclosure, or a short sale), take a credit hit, and start life over. It’s like pressing the “reset” button.

     These “strategic foreclosures” are absolutely on the rise among many homeowners. Of course there is an ethical and moral consideration to this, but practical economic reality often overtakes the struggling homeowner. Provided that they do not actually go to foreclosure, and instead work with their lender to do a deed in lieu of foreclosure or a short sale, they WILL be better off. Consider: our latest research shows that the average borrower who conducts a short sale or deed in lieu of foreclosure within 5 months of default will suffer a 175 – 225 pt drop in their credit score. These same people are reporting that they are qualified to purchase a home again within 2-3 years.

     The practical reality is that, if you move quickly to expedite the transfer of the home to someone else (the lender or another buyer), your credit damage is fairly manageable. Furthermore, this leads to the positive conclusion that homeowners are much better off dumping their over-priced homes and just buying another home later. Not only will they probably save lots of money on a rental each month, but their credit scores will rebound fairly quickly, enabling them to purchase a newer, cheaper home, WELL BEFORE their old home would have appreciated to the level of the old mortgage. This is hard to argue with, as it makes both economic and common sense. 

     When the Congressional Oversight Panel reviewed the efficacy of the government’s programs to save families from foreclosure, they were extremely concerned. Their skepticism is valid indeed. The foreclosure programs in place now DO NOT address the issue of job loss, or of homeowners who simply decide that staying in the home makes no economic sense. To the extent that these problems continue and increase, well. . .use your imagination. But only for a few minutes; it will lead to anxiety and depression ;>)

Free Loan Counselors Available Now!

By Phone: (602) 499-4798  or by Email:

*Disclaimer: Please always remember: I am NOT an attorney, and neither do I play one on TV or the Internet. None of these pontifications should be construed as specific legal advice. If you need specific legal advice regarding your personal situation, give us a call. We can help you ourselves, or provide a list of housing counselors that are free!

Arizona Loan Modifications: What Are They, and Who Can Do One?

*In this first part in the series, we’ll cover what a loan modification is, and who is eligible. Please keep in mind that if you have lost your job, or have extremely limited income, you probably will not qualify for a loan modification. You must have income in order to pay any loan, even a modified one. If you are in this category, help may be on the horizon. For now, please start with our Help with Arizona Short Sales and Foreclosure series. Next time, we’ll look at the pros and cons of doing a loan modification. 

Part II in this Series: Is a loan mod “right” for Arizona Families?

The Rise of “The Loan Mod”     

 Until just this last March, if you couldn’t afford your home, you had little choice but to allow the lender to foreclose, or try to do a short sale. In other words, you were moving; there were no options to stay in your home. Now, in an effort stop foreclosures and stabilize the economy, the federal government has created some programs to enable you to stay in your home and avoid foreclosure by modifying the terms of your current mortgage. 

     There are currently four federal programs to make mortgage modifications available to the public: HARP (Home Affordable Refinance Program), HAMP (Home Affordable Modification Program) HOPE for Homeowners, and the FDIC’s Mortgage Modification Program for IndyMac.  Of these four programs, only HAMP has made any real progress in modifying mortgages. The other programs do not have broad lender participation, and the guidelines are too strict for many borrowers.

     The Congressional Oversight Panel (who oversees these programs) in their review released in October 2009,  reported that 85% of all servicing lenders are either participating in the HAMP program, or have programs of their own that are comparable. For this reason we will focus exclusively on HAMP, as this is how most people will modify mortgages. HAMP modifications are made on a 3 month trial basis first, and if you make the new payments and provide all documentation that your lender requests, your loan modification will become locked in for five years. After the five years, your loan will gradually revert to either your original loan interest rate, or the Freddie Mac 30-year fixed rate at the time of your modification, whichever is less. (The Freddie Mac rate is currently around 5%.)

How Does A Loan Mod Work? 

     How is a mortgage modified to make it more affordable? First, we have to define “affordable.” For the purposes of this plan, the government has determined that a monthly mortgage payment that is 31% or less of your monthly income is affordable. If your monthly mortgage is more than 31% of your monthly income, it is not. In order to reach this 31% affordability level, lenders can make several changes to your mortgage. Before we get to the actual modifications that can be done, we must first advise of a few key points of the program.:

-Lower your interest rate to as low as 2% for a period of up to 5 years.

           *After 5 years, your loan rate goes up again. This is the method used in almost all modifications. The average modified loan rate goes from 7.58% to 2.92%.

-Extend the term of your loan, or re-amortize, for up to 40 years

          *Most lenders are not doing this for two reasons, 1.) an interest rate reduction will usually work to reach the desired 31%, and 2.)  most lender’s Pooling and Servicing Agreements (PSAs) will usually not allow them to modify  loan lengths.

-Principal Forbearance

     *A portion of your loan is “lopped off” and placed into a “bubble” that you don’t pay any interest or payments on. This portion of your loan is due “later”. This is very rare.

-Principle Forgiveness

     *A portion of your loan is again “lopped off,” but this time, it’s forgiven. It’s gone. This is not only rare, it’s an anomaly: of the 362,348 borrowers placed into HAMP loan mods, only 5 had principal forgiven.

   Who Can Participate in The Loan Mod Program?

   So, does anyone who can prove that their mortgage is more than 31% of their monthly income get a loan modification? How do the government and lenders determine who is eligible? The eligibility requirements for HAMP are fairly simple, but also prohibitive for some:

#1.) You must be in default or be in imminent danger of default.

     *Default is defined as “behind on payments,” and in order to be eligible, you must have either already stopped making payments, or demonstrate that your ability to make payments is about to end.

#2.) You must have a certifiable hardship

     * You must be able to explain why you now CAN’T pay your mortgage, whereas you COULD before. Did you lose a job? Get divorced? Get ill? These reasons and others like them are certifiable hardships.

#3.) Your loan has to have been issued prior to January 1st, 2009

#4.) Only 1st Mortgages are eligible under the program’s guidelines

     *2nd loans or home equity lines are not eligible (Treasury is working to include these.)

#5.) Mortgage balance cannot exceed $729,750

* If a review of your finances indicates that 55% or more of your income is servicing consumer debt (credit card, mortgage, etc), enrollment in a credit counseling program is mandatory for program participation.

 What’s To Come:

While mortgage modifications will be a ray of hope for some homeowners in distress, many more will either not qualify for a modification, or will choose not to do one. Why would an Arizona Homeowner NOT do a loan mod?

Part II in this Series: Is a loan mod “right” for Arizona Families?

Free Loan Counselors Available Now!

By Phone: (602) 499-4798, or 

By Email:

*I am not an attorney, and neither do I play one on TV or the Internet. This article  should NOT be construed to impart specific legal recommendations or advice to ANYONE. If you have questions regarding your specific set of circumstances, please call our office, or contact an attorney. (Our Office: 602-499-4798)