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Paul Kiesel
Paul Kiesel
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Two Foreclosure Relief Plans that Don't Require a Government Bailout?

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As noted last week, the FDIC and Congress both have foreclosure bailout plan proposals that would require the government to buy "under water" mortgages and place those borrowers into government backed mortgages at a fixed interest rate. The main problem with both the FDIC’s and Congress’ plans is they continue to bailout the lenders and place all of the risk on taxpayer money (the FDIC plan and Congressional plan are uniquely different, but for the sake of your time we’ll move on).

There are two alternative plans, amongst maybe a hundred more, to the two government-sponsored plans that take into consideration the next wave of foreclosures. At some point next year, hundreds of thousands of pay option arm loans will have interest rate resets causing mortgage payments to balloon to unaffordable levels for many borrowers. This unavoidable circumstance (unless the lenders are willing to modify the loans beforehand, which looks doubtful based on their current track record) is not addressed in either the FDIC or Congressional foreclosure relief plans.

Below are two alternate foreclosure relief plans. Each plan takes a different approach than the other; however, both plans apply practical solutions to 1. Curb foreclosures and keep people in their homes and 2. Neither requires a government bailout package in order to execute them. Plan 1 includes the dynamic of the investor/shareholder variable to solving the foreclosure crisis. Plan 2 is idealistically clever, but doesn’t take into account the fact that investors will have to agree to have their mortgage related investments frozen for almost five years in order to effectively implement this strategy, and it also assumes that the investor will recoup his or her original investment in five years.

Of course after reading the plans, any ideas, thoughts, questions or dissenting views are appreciated in the comments section.

Plan 1:

However, the declining foreclosure statistics do not necessarily prove that the end is near per the foreclosure crisis or credit crisis. It just means that all of the adjustable rate loans that were taken out in 2005 and 2006 have had interest rate resets, and caused this "first wave" of foreclosures. There are still hundreds of thousands if not millions of adjustable rate loans from 2007 that will reset in the coming 12-18 months.

Further action needs to be taken in order to mitigate the next wave of default notices and foreclosures. The FDIC’s plan has not worked to the extent it could, contrary to media reports, as they have only successfully modified 4,000 loans and all of those loan modifications were made to people who had not been served with a default notice or were not in the foreclosure process.

Shareholders and regulators need to understand where the value is at in this predicament, and squeeze what they can out of a situation that is not favorable. It’d be better to let a homeowner modify his or her loan at 89% of the original principal balance (not the current negative amortized balance) and wait till the market rebounds in three to five years (remember, these cycles of economic prosperity and recessions are "cycles"), subsequently, the home could then be sold at a price that’s equitable or more than the modified loan. The homeowner would not get to walk away with any profits unless the remaining original balance (the 11% that was pared off to help the borrower stay in the home) was recovered by the lender, thus, the investor/shareholder would be able to recoup most if not all of their original investment. (InjuryBoard.com, 10/24/06)

Plan 2:

[. . .] Recently a proposal came across my desk that I believe is so smart, and so sensible, that I hope our nation’s policy makers will give it a serious look. It comes from Daniel Alpert, a founding partner of Westwood Capital, a small investment bank. I have quoted Mr. Alpert frequently in recent columns, because he has been both thoughtful and prescient on the subject of the financial crisis.

Here’s his idea: Pass a law that encourages homeowners with impaired mortgages to forfeit the deed to their lenders but allows them to stay in the homes for five years, paying prevailing market rent. Under the law Mr. Alpert envisions, the lender would be forced to accept the deed, and the rent. After five years, the homeowner-turned-renter would have the right to buy the home back, at fair market value, from the lender.

There are so many things I like about this idea that I hardly know where to begin. Let’s start with the fact that it doesn’t require a large infusion of taxpayers’ money. Indeed, it doesn’t require any government money at all. It also doesn’t let either homeowners or lenders off the hook, as many other plans would. The homeowner loses the deed to his home, which will be painful. The lending institution, in accepting prevailing market rent, will get maybe 60 or 70 percent of what it would have gotten from a healthy mortgage-payer. (Rents are considerably lower than mortgage payments right now.) That will be painful too. Moral hazard will not be an issue.

As Mr. Alpert told me the other day, his proposal “admits the truth: the homeowner doesn’t have equity, and the lender has taken a loss. They should exchange interest, but not in a way that throws the homeowner out in the street.”

Which is the other key part of his plan. It has the best chance of preventing, as he puts it, “the massive disruption of the economy and the social dislocation” that will come from large numbers of foreclosures. And it is the continuing foreclosures that are likely to cause housing prices to fall so hard that they will drop below the real value of the shelter.

That, of course, is exactly what happened during the bubble, albeit in reverse — prices wildly overshot the true value of the home — and it has to be prevented on the way down. Otherwise we face further economic calamity.

Why did Mr. Alpert choose five years? Two reasons. First, he feels confident that housing prices will have stabilized by then. “We continue to have a growing population,” he said. “And there is zero chance there will be a material increase in housing stock over the next five years that will exceed demand. Those two factors alone will cause housing to stabilize.”

Second, he says five years will give the renters enough time to get their financial affairs in order — to pay down their various debts and save enough to make the 10 percent down payment an F.H.A. loan requires. (Many of the homeowners affected by this plan would be eligible for F.H.A. loans, Mr. Alpert believes.)

If they don’t have enough for a down payment, they would have to leave, of course, but it would be far less disruptive to the economy than it would be right now, in the middle of the crisis.

Does the plan have stumbling blocks? Sure it does. One obvious one is that ideologues will view its being mandatory as an improper “taking” of homeowners’ property rights and a violation of the mortgage contract. But, as Mr. Alpert puts it, “the homes involved are economically without value to the existing homeowners.” He adds, “What the plan buys is time to heal for both sides in a fairly equitable and controlled manner.”

(New York Times, 10/18/06)