Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Scarberry's Reply to Levitin on Bankruptcy Modification of Home Mortgages

Mark S. Scarberry (Pepperdine) has posted a Reply to Adam Levitin's Response to Scarberry's Symposium Article (which was itself a "Critique"Levitin's work)--ok, I think I have that straight.  At any rate, it's a very interesting and important debate.  Scarberry's Reply is Mortgage Wars Episode V - The Empiricist Strikes Back (or Out): A Reply to Professor Levitin’s Response, and is published at Pepperdine Law Review, Vol. 37, p. 1277, 2010.  The abstract:

Professor Adam Levitin has responded to my recent symposium article critiquing proposed congressional legislation that would allow modification (including strip down) of home mortgages in Chapter 13 bankruptcy. A portion of my Critique criticized his empirical studies concerning the likely effect of the proposed legislation on mortgage interest rates and availability, and also criticized the arguments he has made in support of the proposed legislation. The Critique did note, however, that the insight involved in conceiving of such empirical studies was impressive.

Surprisingly, Professor Levitin’s Response fails to deal with the substantial case authority discussed in my Critique. He treats the Critique’s case authority on a critical question as if it consisted only of one relatively recent Ninth Circuit case and supposed dicta from an “old” Second Circuit case. But the Critique in fact relies on about twenty cases that deal with the question; the only supposedly contrary case authority he discusses in his Response turns out to be one of the cases cited in my Critique and not to be contrary at all. The case authority shows that the main defense put forward in his Response - that the mortgage modifications that would be permitted under the proposed legislation are similar to those permitted before the Supreme Court’s 1993 Nobelman decision and similar to those currently permitted where the collateral is not the debtor’s principal residence - is simply untenable.

It is also surprising that the entire weight of his defense of the empirical studies rests (A) on a very likely mistaken view of the law - that the law permits Chapter 13 debtors to use a novel, flawed approach in modifying secured claims under current law - and (B) on two remarkably bold and implausible assertions regarding how the market data he collected supposedly should have reflected the risk that debtors might use that novel, flawed approach, even though his data was collected before anyone had suggested that debtors might even try to do so. In addition, one of Professor Levitin’s assertions, if accepted, would fatally undermine
the design of a key part of his empirical studies.

The article notes in conclusion that law professors and others who have taken divergent positions on the wisdom of the congressional proposals might yet be able to agree on a common-sense middle ground; there is no need to consider those who disagree with us as having been seduced by the Dark Side.

The citation for my Critique is Mark S. Scarberry, A Critique of Congressional Proposals to Permit Modification of Home Mortgages in Chapter 13 Bankruptcy, 37 Pepp. L. Rev. 635 (2010). The Critique is available at http://ssrn.com/abstract=1520794. The citation for Professor Levitin’s Response to the Critique is Adam J. Levitin, Back to the Future with Chapter 13: A Response to Professor Scarberry, 37 Pepp. L. Rev. 1261 (2010). His Response is available at http://ssrn.com/abstract=1534912. The citation for this Reply is Mark S. Scarberry, Mortgage Wars Episode V - The Empiricist Strikes Back (or Out): A Reply to Professor Levitin’s Response, 37 Pepp. L. Rev. 1277 (2010). 

I appreciate Prof. Scarberry including the citations to the other articles in the debate in his abstract--saves me a lot of work!  More importantly, this dialogue addresses one of the key issues in the mortgage crisis.  

Matt Festa
 

June 23, 2010 in Federal Government, Financial Crisis, Housing, Mortgage Crisis, Mortgages, Real Estate Transactions, Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, June 21, 2010

NYT on the Costs of Seizing Fannie & Freddie

Over the weekend this story by Binyamin Applebaum was featured on the front page of the New York Times: Cost of Seizing Fannie and Freddie Surges for Taxpayers

CASA GRANDE, Ariz. — Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac took over a foreclosed home roughly every 90 seconds during the first three months of the year. They owned 163,828 houses at the end of March, a virtual city with more houses than Seattle. The mortgage finance companies, created by Congress to help Americans buy homes, have become two of the nation’s largest landlords. . . .

For all the focus on the historic federal rescue of the banking industry, it is the government’s decision to seize Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in September 2008 that is likely to cost taxpayers the most money. So far the tab stands at $145.9 billion, and it grows with every foreclosure of a three-bedroom home with a two-car garage one hour from Phoenix. The Congressional Budget Office predicts that the final bill could reach $389 billion.

The article has some good vignettes of how the Fannie-Freddie "rescue" process is playing out in communities like the featured one in Arizona, where private contractors are paid to maintain, renovate, and try to resell the foreclosed homes.  The article also gives a short but interesting background on Fannie and Freddie.

Fannie and Freddie increased American home ownership over the last half-century by persuading investors to provide money for mortgage loans. The sales pitch amounted to a money-back guarantee: If borrowers defaulted, the companies promised to repay the investors. . . .

“Our business is the American dream of home ownership,” Fannie Mae declared in its mission statement, and in 2001 the company set a target of helping to create six million new homeowners by 2014. Here in Arizona, during a housing boom fueled by cheap land, cheap money and population growth, Fannie Mae executives trumpeted that the company would invest $15 billion to help families buy homes.

As it turns out, Fannie and Freddie increasingly were channeling money into loans that borrowers could not afford. As defaults mounted, the companies quickly ran low on money to honor their guarantees. The federal government, fearing that investors would stop providing money for new loans, placed the companies in conservatorship and took a 79.9 percent ownership stake, adding its own guarantee that investors would be repaid.

The huge and continually rising cost of that decision has spurred national debate about federal subsidies for mortgage lending. . . .

I think the interesting question for the future is whether we are willing or able to reassess the idea of homeownership as the American Dream, and the extent to which we (over)promote homeownership as a public policy. 

Matt Festa

June 21, 2010 in Federal Government, Financial Crisis, Housing, Mortgage Crisis, Mortgages, Politics, Real Estate Transactions, Suburbs, Sun Belt | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Two by White on Strategic Default

Brent T. White (Arizona) has posted two papers on the topic of strategic default by homeowners.  First is The Morality of Strategic Default.  The abstract:

Responding to those who argue that homeowners who strategically default on their mortgages are immoral and socially irresponsible, this article argues that breaching a mortgage contract is not only morally acceptable, it may be the most responsible course of action when necessary to fulfill more important obligations to one’s family.

An increasingly influential view is that strategic defaulters make a rational choice to default because they have substantial negative equity. This article, which is based upon the personal accounts of over 350 individuals, argues that this depiction of strategic defaulters as rational actors is woefully incomplete. Negative equity alone does not drive many strategic defaulters’ decisions to intentionally stop paying their mortgages. Rather, their decisions to default are driven primarily by emotion – typically anxiety and hopelessness about their financial futures and anger at their lenders’ and the government’s unwillingness to help. If the government and the mortgage industry wish to stem the tide of strategic default, they must address these emotions. 

Because emotions are primary, however, principal reductions may not be necessary. Rather, many underwater homeowners simply need some reason to feel less apprehensive about the financial consequences of continuing to pay their underwater mortgages. One possible way to provide this comfort would be a “rent-based loan program,” allowing underwater homeowners to refinance their entire balances to an interest rate that would bring their mortgage payment in line with the rental cost of a comparable home. Indeed, a rent-based approach would relieve many underwater homeowners’ financial anxiety and likely be enough alone to stem the tide of strategic default.

Matt Festa

May 30, 2010 in Finance, Housing, Mortgage Crisis, Mortgages, Real Estate Transactions, Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, May 24, 2010

Arrunada & Lehavi on Prime Property Institutions for a Subprime Era

Benito Arrunada (Universitat Pompeu Fabra) & Amnon Lehavi (Interdisciplinary Center Herzliyah--Radzyner School of Law) have posted Prime Property Institutions for a Subprime Era: Exploring Innovative Models of Residential Development and Finance.  The abstract:

This paper breaks new ground toward contractual and institutional innovation in models of homeownership, equity building, and mortgage enforcement. Inspired by recent developments in the affordable housing sector and in other types of public financing schemes, this paper suggests extending institutional and financial strategies such as time- and place-based division of property rights, conditional subsidies, and credit mediation to alleviate the systemic risks of mortgage foreclosure. Alongside a for-profit shared equity scheme that would be led by local governments, we also outline a private market shared equity model, one of bootstrapping home buying with purchase options.

Matt Festa

May 24, 2010 in Housing, Local Government, Mortgages, Real Estate Transactions, Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Rodriguez-Dod on Protecting Tenants from Foreclosure Evictions

Eloisa C. Rodriguez-Dod (Nova Southeastern) has posted Stop Shutting the Door on Renters: Protecting Tenants from Foreclosure Evictions, from Cornell Journal of Law and Public Policy, Vol. 20.  The abstract:

This article discusses existing and proposed federal and state law affecting tenants’ rights in foreclosure. As “Foreclosure” signs rapidly join “For Sale” signs across the country, the national foreclosure crisis has not only displaced homeowners, but a plethora of renters as well. The approach taken by states concerning tenants affected by foreclosure varies greatly. Furthermore, a recently enacted federal law, created specifically to help tenants in foreclosure, does not relieve the uncertainty in resolving this issue. In addition to being the first to critique the new federal law, this article offers recommendations for legislation that may better protect tenants from foreclosure-related evictions.

Matt Festa

May 24, 2010 in Landlord-Tenant, Mortgages, Property Theory, Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Way on Informal Homeownership

Heather K. Way (Texas) has posted Informal Homeownership in the United States and the Law, from St. Louis University Public Law Review, Vol. 29, No. 1 (2009).  The abstract:

This article examines how millions of lower-income families in the United States attempt to acquire title to their homes informally, outside the mortgage market and instead through mechanisms such as lease-to-own contracts and intestacy. Many of these families are left holding inferior and insecure title to their homes--if they hold title at all. The article explores the benefits and pitfalls of "informal homeownership" and the legal structures that perpetuate disparties between formal and informal homeownership. The article then proposes a series of legal reforms to help ensure that the American legal system provides lower-income families with better opportunities to obtain secure title to their homes.

Matt Festa

May 24, 2010 in Affordable Housing, Community Economic Development, Contracts, Housing, Landlord-Tenant, Mortgages, Real Estate Transactions, Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Belsky and Wachter on The Public Interest in Consumer and Mortgage Credit Markets

Eric S. Belsky (Harvard--Joint Center for Housing Studies & Graduate School of Urban Design) and Susan M. Wachter (Penn--Wharton, Real Estate) have posted The Public Interest in Consumer and Mortgage Credit Markets.  The abstract:

This paper examines mortgage credit markets and the need for government intervention to protect and advance the public interest. We identify as rationales for the public interest: positive and negative externalities, the promotion of equal access, and information asymmetry and principal agent problems. We point to the role of market conduct and structure, as well as information asymmetry and principal agent problems, as prominent sources for the US mortgage debacle. While it is beyond the scope of this paper to outline a reform program, this paper points, in the aftermath of the crisis, to a need for a framework to address information and principal agent issues in the conduct and structure of mortgage markets. As a new framework for mortgage markets is developed, attention needs to be placed on the role that information on loan quality and pricing plays for borrowers’ and investors’ appropriate pricing and allocation of capital.

Matt Festa

May 9, 2010 in Finance, Financial Crisis, Mortgage Crisis, Mortgages, Real Estate Transactions, Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

HUD's Report to Congress on the Root Causes of the Foreclosure Crisis

Christopher E. Herbert (Abt Associates, Inc.) & William C. Apgar (Abt Associates, Inc.) have posted Report to Congress on the Root Causes of the Foreclosure Crisis.  The report appears to be the official report to Congress by HUD's Office of Policy Development & Research, based on a draft by the two authors as contractors.  The abstract:

This study of the root causes of the current extremely high levels of defaults and foreclosures among residential mortgages represents the final report to Congress by the Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) pursuant to Section 1517 of the Housing and Economic Recovery Act (HERA) of 2008 (P.L. 110-289). The problems in the mortgage market are routinely referred to as a “foreclosure crisis” because the level of defaults and foreclosures greatly exceed previous peak levels in the post-war era and, as a result, have drawn comparisons to the levels of distress experienced in the Great Depression. This report contains a review of the academic literature and industry press on the root causes of the current foreclosure crisis, data and analysis of trends in the market, and policy responses and recommended actions to mitigate the current crisis and help prevent similar crises from occurring in the future.

Matt Festa

May 5, 2010 in Federal Government, Financial Crisis, HUD, Mortgage Crisis, Mortgages, Real Estate Transactions, Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, April 19, 2010

Van Erp on the European Union DCFR and Property Law

Sjef J.H.M. Van Erp (Maastricht) has posted DCFR and Property Law: The Need for Consistency and Coherence, in COMMON FRAME OF REFERENCE AND EXISTING EC CONTRACT LAW, 2nd. Rev. Ed., pp. 257-269, R. Schulze, ed., Munich: Sellier. European Law Publishers, 2009.  The abstract:


The EU Draft Common Frame of Reference (DCFR) contains three books on property law. In this article it is examined whether the final version of the DCFR (the so-called "political CFR") should inlcude these books on property law. It is submitted that harmonisation of contract and tort law without also harmonising parts of property law will not be feasible.Furthermore, it is proposed that mortgage law should be added.


Matt Festa

April 19, 2010 in Comparative Land Use, Mortgages, Property, Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Malloy on Mortgage Market Reform and the Fallacy of Self-Correcting Markets

Robin Paul Malloy (Syracuse) has posted Mortgage Market Reform and the Fallacy of Self-Correcting Markets, Pace Law Review, Vol. 30, p. 79 (2009).  The abstract:

The article discusses the mortgage market collapse in connection to the broader financial crisis. In developing the argument I proceed in several steps. First, I discuss the fallacy of self-correcting markets as a way of explaining the need for volitional and purposeful regulation in the housing and mortgage markets. This involves explaining that markets are not self-correcting; while Alan Greenspan and company waited for the invisible hand to appear and correct the mortgage markets, the system collapsed. Second, I provide an overview of the basic exchange relationships among the parties involved in the underlying real estate transaction, those in the primary and secondary mortgage market, and potential investors in mortgage related securities. Third, I explain the inapplicability of Hernado DeSoto's idea of parallel lives between underlying real estate transactions and the market for securities based on the mortgages in these underlying transactions. And, fourth, I suggest a series of regulatory and transactional reforms to consider for improving the soundness of the underlying real estate transaction and the operation of the primary mortgage markets. These reforms include: taking steps to reduce speculation in housing prices; eliminating incentives for over borrowing and over lending; and, adjusting the structure of the underlying real estate transaction to undermine an inverse prisoner’s dilemma problem. I also suggest that lawyers reassert themselves into doing basic real estate transactions and that real estate sales people and others be restricted to simply doing the sales work that they are trained to do.

Matt Festa

April 10, 2010 in Finance, Financial Crisis, Mortgage Crisis, Mortgages, Property Theory, Real Estate Transactions, Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, March 22, 2010

Nelson on Federalization of State Mortgage Foreclosure Law

Grant Nelson (Pepperdine) has posted Confronting the Mortgage Meltdown: A Brief for the Federalization of State Mortgage Foreclosure Law, forthcoming in Pepperdine Law Review, 2010.  The abstract:

This Article argues for federal preemption of state procedures governing the foreclosure of mortgages and security interests in rents. While it also suggests that federal action limiting or prohibiting state anti-deficiency legislation may be appropriate, it leaves this issue to future consideration. Thus, its major focus is to advocate the congressional adoption of both Uniform Nonjudicial Foreclosure Act (UNFA) and Uniform Assignment of Rents Act (UARA) to make them available to all lenders nationwide. However, the federal government has a special stake in greater uniformity for its own account. This is especially the case as to mortgages on real estate. The fallout of the economic crisis of the past year and a half has made it the owner or guarantor of millions of mortgages. It will be confronted with an overwhelming number of foreclosures that will survive all attempts at modification. Given the fact that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are now wards of the federal government, the federal stake in efficient and fair foreclosure procedures has become compelling. Forcing the federal government to foreclose possibly hundreds of thousands of mortgages judicially in many states seems almost surreal. Given the enormous cost of this crisis to the federal taxpayers, the government should not be held hostage to arcane and outmoded foreclosure procedures. Even in nonjudicial foreclosure states, the federalization of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac probably necessitates changes in some statutes to comply with constitutional due process mandates. At the very minimum, the federal Single Family and Multifamily Acts with minor modifications should be made available to all federal agencies.

Matt Festa

March 22, 2010 in Federal Government, Mortgage Crisis, Mortgages, Real Estate Transactions, Scholarship, State Government | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, March 12, 2010

Home Affordable Foreclosure Alternatives Program

Earlier this week the New York Times had a front-page story on the new Home Affordable Foreclosure Alternatives Program set to begin on April 5. 

In an effort to end the foreclosure crisis, the Obama administration has been trying to keep defaulting owners in their homes. Now it will take a new approach: paying some of them to leave.

This latest program, which will allow owners to sell for less than they owe and will give them a little cash to speed them on their way, is one of the administration’s most aggressive attempts to grapple with a problem that has defied solutions.

Other news outlets around the country have picked up the NYT story this week, although it's not entirely clear to me what the "news" is, since it seems the program was announced on Nov. 30, 2009.  The Bankruptcy Prof Blog has an analysis here.

Anyway, according to the Times, the meat of the program seems to be this:

To bring the various parties to the table — the homeowner, the lender that services the loan, the investor that owns the loan, the bank that owns the second mortgage on the property — the government intends to spread its cash around.

Under the new program, the servicing bank, as with all modifications, will get $1,000. Another $1,000 can go toward a second loan, if there is one. And for the first time the government would give money to the distressed homeowners themselves. They will get $1,500 in “relocation assistance.”  

One one hand, I'm glad to see some recognition that policies like HAMP focused primarily on keeping owners in their homes will not solve the crisis.  But unless I'm missing something, count me skeptical that "spreading around" $3,500 will persuade a lot of lenders (and particulary second (or third) mortgagees) to come to the table, unless they're already inclined to.  Does the plan have any mandatory provisions?  This NAR page has a little more info with regards to some procedural items, but the Times story contains no mention of the actual program or who administers it, and I'm having trouble finding any sort of official government press release or website about HAFA.  Let me know if you have better information.

Matt Festa

March 12, 2010 in Federal Government, Housing, Mortgage Crisis, Mortgages, Real Estate Transactions | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Home ownership: Mom, Apple Pie and Mortgages

Robert Shiller (Yale--Economics) has an article in Sunday's New York Times Business section called Mom, Apple Pie and Mortgages.  Shiller discusses the overpromotion of home ownership in the U.S. and its cultural foundations (something I'm working on as well).  From the article:

FOR decades, the federal government has subsidized housing — particularly owner-occupied housing. This has been especially true during the continuing financial crisis, with Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and the Federal Housing Administration propping up the housing market by issuing guarantees for investors on most new mortgages.

But what is the long-term justification for putting taxpayers on the line to subsidize homeownership? Is this nothing more than a sacred cow in American society — a political necessity because so many voters own homes and are mindful of their resale value?

Shiller continues on to discuss the nature of home ownership in American culture, and offers some suggestions:

If we choose to keep subsidizing individual homeownership, we must also commit to adding safeguards so that homeowners are less financially vulnerable. Of course, that will require some creative finance.

But first, we should rethink the idea of renting, which could be a viable option for many more Americans and needn’t endanger the traditional values of individual liberty and good citizenship.

It's a good read and a timely argument.

UPDATE: Ilya Somin has some thoughts on the article at the Volokh Conspiracy.  

Matt Festa

March 7, 2010 in History, Housing, Mortgages, Real Estate Transactions | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Reiss on Fannie and Freddie

David J. Reiss (Brooklyn) has posted Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac: Creatures of Regulatory Privilege, published in FINANCIAL INSTITUTIONS AND MARKETS: CURRENT ISSUES IN FINANCIAL MARKETS, Robert R. Bliss, George G. Kaufman, eds., 2010.  The abstract:

This book chapter addresses the appropriate role of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the government-chartered, privately owned mortgage finance companies, in the United States housing finance sector. The federal government recently placed Fannie and Freddie in conservatorship. These two massive companies are profit-driven, but as government-sponsored enterprises they also have a government-mandated mission to provide liquidity and stability to the United States mortgage market and to achieve certain affordable housing goals. How the two companies should exit their conservatorship has implications that reach throughout the global financial markets and are of key importance to the future of American housing finance policy.

While the American taxpayer will be required to fund a bailout of the two companies that will be measured in the hundreds of billions of dollars, the current state of affairs presents an opportunity to reform the two companies and the manner in which the residential mortgage market is structured. Few scholars, however, have provided a framework in which to conceptualize the possibilities for reform.

This book chapter employs regulatory theory to construct such a framework. A critical insight of this body of literature is that regulatory privilege should be presumed to be inconsistent with a competitive market, unless proven otherwise. The federal government’s special treatment of Fannie and Freddie is an extraordinary regulatory privilege in terms of its absolute value, its impact on its competitors and its cost to the federal government. Regulatory theory thereby clarifies how Fannie and Freddie have relied upon their hybrid public/private structure to obtain and protect economic rents at the expense of taxpayers as well as Fannie and Freddie’s competitors.

Once analyzed in the context of regulatory theory, Fannie and Freddie’s future seems clear. They should be privatized so that they can compete on an even playing field with other financial institutions and their public functions should be assumed by pure government actors. While this is a radical solution and one that would have been considered politically naïve until the recent credit crisis, it is now a serious option that should garner additional attention once its rationale is set forth. 

Matt Festa
 

March 4, 2010 in Federal Government, Finance, Mortgages, Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Yet More Immergluck: The Accumulation of Lender-Owned Homes During the Mortgage Crisis

Dan Immergluck (Georgia Tech--Planning) strikes again, this time with The Accumulation of Lender-Owned Homes During the U.S. Mortgage Crisis: Examining Metropolitan REO Inventories, forthcoming in Housing Policy Debate.  The abstract:

A key concern among policymakers and community developers in recent years has been the extent to which lender-owned homes, often called real estate owned or “REO” properties accumulate in different local housing markets during the mortgage crisis. This paper describes the accumulation of REO properties in 356 metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs) from August 2006 to August 2008. It examines differences in both changes and static levels of REO activity across MSAs and compares changes in REO levels to changes in home values over the same period. Special attention is paid to twelve large MSAs with substantial levels of REO as of August 2008. A model of REO volume at the metropolitan level is estimated which includes differences in state foreclosure legal processes and timing among the independent variables. Finally, cluster analysis is used to identify a simple typology of MSAs based on REO levels and home price changes.  

Matt Festa

February 11, 2010 in Finance, Local Government, Mortgage Crisis, Mortgages, Real Estate Transactions, Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)