I can understand if you’ve forgotten, for a moment, about last April’s federal consent orders mandating independent foreclosure reviews at 12 big mortgage servicers.
There are so many mortgage-related lawsuits coming at the banks from every direction and a contentious potential settlement still being negotiated by state attorneys general. It’s hard to keep it all straight.
Millions of potential borrowers are waiting for a mortgage, waiting to sell their homes so they can buy a new one, or hoping to see housing prices and new construction numbers improve for good. Removing the uncertainty over prior foreclosures and improving the business practices of mortgage servicers for future borrowers may, possibly, get the housing market moving again. I would argue that the foreclosure reviews mandated by the Federal Reserve and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency have a better chance of helping current and future borrowers than the AG settlement.
You, personally, may not be counting on a speedy and fair claims process or systemwide improvements that will help prevent such a mess from ever happening again, but there are many who are. According to the OCC, approximately 4.6 million homeowners may be eligible for monetary damages for servicer errors, misrepresentations, and other deficiencies, based on the results of the foreclosure reviews. Thousands of military service members had their homes seized, according to regulators, by at least one of the 10 leading mortgage lenders, allegedly in violation of the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, which restricts foreclosures on the homes of active duty members of the U.S. armed forces. Those soldiers who have not already sued their bank and received compensation for their loss will have a chance to get some justice via the foreclosure reviews.
I must admit that what’s not assured are timely, independent, and productive foreclosure reviews. On Dec. 13, a Senate committee held a hearing to address legislators’ concerns about the lack of accountability and transparency of the OCC and Fed foreclosure review process. The hearing was held after the OCC issued a status report on Nov. 22 on the dozen bank- and thrift-owned mortgage servicers trying to comply with the regulator’s April consent orders. The OCC also posted online all 12 engagement letters between mortgage servicers and the independent consultants, chosen by the servicers, who would review the servicers.
I was not satisfied with what I heard and Congressional leaders weren’t either. Legislators remain concerned about the independence of the consultants conducting the reviews and the limited outreach to borrowers. Scott G. Alvarez, the Fed’s general counsel, testified that the Fed planned “to disclose significant portions of the final engagement letters” for the two remaining consent order recipients under its jurisdiction, Ally Financial (the former GMAC) and SunTrust, but those engagement letters are still not yet available. A Fed spokeswoman had no update of Jan. 25.
On Jan. 13, Senator Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and three members of Congress - Reps. Luis Gutierrez (D-Il.), Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) and Brad Miller (D-N.C.) indicated their doubts by asking the General Accounting Office to examine the foreclosure review process. Menendez later told me the GAO has agreed to begin the study immediately and it should be completed in six to nine months. Some of it might come sooner than that, according to the Senator, in time for the April 30 deadline for borrowers to request their individual foreclosure reviews.