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Business Digest: Realtors hope $25B foreclosure settlement will spark housing revival

JOHN STODDER

With the residential real estate industry shell-shocked from years of a moribund market, its spokespeople can be forgiven for taking a cautious attitude toward this week’s announcement of a $25 billion settlement with five of the nation’s biggest mortgage lenders over flawed and fraudulent foreclosure practices.

The money in the settlement will mostly go to borrowers and homeowners who are underwater. According to the Washington Post, the settlement “will force lenders to revamp how they interact with troubled homeowners and bar them from trying to foreclose on borrowers while simultaneously negotiating mortgage modifications.”

But could the settlement help get the residential market moving again, even in the face of historic low interest rates and plummeting prices?

“We do hope that the resolution will help more lenders with the certainty they need to kick loose more loans,” said Walter Molony, a spokesman for the National Association of Realtors in Washington, D.C. He cautioned, however, that the impact will be limited because the settlement doesn’t help the millions of borrowers with loans owned by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac.

Eric Berman, communications director for the Massachusetts Association of Realtors, was pleased that the settlement was designed to help more homeowners stay in their homes because that kind of stability slows the ongoing descent of home values in many markets – though the market isn’t as bad, he hastened to add, in Massachusetts as it is in many other areas.

But even there, he said, “Distress sales impact values of homes of people who are not in a distress situation.”

Realtors also hope the settlement “can give lenders the confidence to start up with loan modifications, short sales and principal write-downs,” Berman said. “We’re going to have to wait and see. From our members’ point of view, short sales take forever. The only thing short about a short sale is the definition.”

While realtors continue to ruminate, the blogosphere reacted quickly:

>> Financial blogger Yves Smith at Naked Capitalism gives “The Top Twelve Reasons Why You Should Hate the Mortgage Settlement.” She is scathing. “We’ve now set a price for forgeries and fabricating documents: It’s $2,000 per loan,” which, as she points out, for an average loan is “less than the price of the title insurance that banks failed to get when they transferred the loans to the trust.”

>> Writing at the Huffington Post, financial reform activist Dennis Kelleher calls the deal a “criminal sell-out,” because the $20 billion in loan forgiveness, though impressive at first blush, only adds up to $20,000 per 1 million homes. According to a Zillow report in November, some 14.6 million home borrowers have fallen into a negative equity position.

>> Reuters’ financial blogger Felix Salmon likes the deal because the attorneys general didn’t give up too much and the banks didn’t get too much. Banks only got immunity from suits over the practice of robosigning, but can still be sued over a range of other alleged misdeeds that contributed to the mortgage default crisis.

– by John Stodder

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About Ross Reily

Ross Reily is editor of the Mississippi Business Journal. He is a husband to an amazing wife, dad to 3 crazy kids and 2 dogs. He is also a fan of the Delta State Fighting Okra and the Boston Red Sox.

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