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Obama’s Housing Shell Game; Short Sales and Relocation Assistance

Obama’s Housing Shell Game; Short Sales and Relocation Assistance

Courtesy of Mish 

Toy house and car on pile of invoices

We’ve now come full circle. Instead of trying to get people to stay in their homes, Obama is willing to pay them to leave. Please consider Program Will Pay Homeowners to Sell at a Loss.

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.

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.”

Short sales are “tailor-made for fraud,” said Mr. Lawler, a former executive at the mortgage finance company Fannie Mae.

Under the new federal program, a lender will use real estate agents to determine the value of a home and thus the minimum to accept. This figure will not be shared with the owner, but if an offer comes in that is equal to or higher than this amount, the lender must take it.

Big Shell Game

Hand lifting up small pot to reveal red ball

Diana Olick describes the situation perfectly in Mortgage Principal Writedown Won’t Save Housing.

 

And so it begins. Big gun lawmakers are making the move toward principal writedowns as the last resort to save the housing market.

The problem is prices. Home prices have fallen so far in the hardest hit areas, the areas where the bulk of the troubled loans are, that banks would have to write down principal 30 to 50 percent to put borrowers back in the green. Accounting rules require that banks write down the value of those loans on their books, and experts tell me that if banks really accounted for all the losses in the home loan market, they’d all be insolvent.

That’s why the Obama Administration has created this kind of shell game in the first place.

I stole that shell game idea from housing consultant Howard Glaser: "We’re spending tens of billions of dollars on a tax credit to get people to purchase homes, we’re spending federal money to keep them in their homes through the modification program, and now we’re going to pay them to move out of their homes. This is not a sustainable system for the housing market. It’s a shell game. Bernie Madoff could have created this system," Glaser told me today.

F.R.A.U.D.

Let’s take real estate agents who might not have had any sales for 6 months or even a year, and agents who have a vested interest (a commission) in selling a home, and let’s put them in charge of figuring out what a home is worth. Good idea.

Oh…there’s no chance real estate agents will sell homes to their friends for cheap or to total strangers for that matter, just to get a commission. Indeed, real estate agents have been the paragon of virtue throughout the crisis so this is the culmination of a perfect idea.

Even appraisers working directly for the bank might be tempted to make special arrangements with favored real estate agents. A final approval process at the bank would make fraud harder, but that is contrary the idea the lender must take an offer if it hits the established minimum bid. A secondary review would also slow things down.

That aside, even with the chance for fraud, lenders are losing money by doing nothing, and in many cases by letting people live in homes rent free for 18 months or longer. Perhaps dealing with fraud issues is the lesser of two evils, assuming of course the banks can afford the loan losses. Then again, what alternative is there besides pretending loans on the books are worth full value?

This is what our affordable housing program has become: Giving tax credits to new home buyers, spending taxpayer money to keep people in their homes, paying people to move out of their homes, and bankrolling Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac with tax dollars for unlimited losses.

Mike "Mish" Shedlock


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  1. Yes, I completely agree. This is another nightmare. It reminds me of Ronald Reagan’s quote; "Government’s view of the economy could be summed up in a few short phrases: If it moves, tax it.  If it keeps moving, regulate it.  And if it stops moving, subsidize it." It seems, they caused the problem, made it worse, tried to fix it and made a collassal lake of sludge behind the dam, (the law of unintended consequences) as more people decided not to pay since they could not be foreclosed upon, now that the dam is ready to break, they are going to fix the problem they caused with this new scheme, meanwhile the dam may still break, they cannot turn off the sludge, and they will pay anyone they can to go down to the lake with a bucket and take some, while the government is looking for more folks to stand in front of the dam with their fingers in the leaky holes. It ain’t going to work.