Greed and deceit.
It’s a recurring theme in the real estate industry; mostly visible in the financial sector, although one would have to be a fool to believe it didn’t take place in every aspect of the real estate transaction. And let’s not forget all the news stories out there about mortgage and foreclosure scams these days.
After President Reagan deregulated the banking industry back in the 1980s, it was Charles Keating, Jr. of Lincoln Savings fame (and his ilk) who was profiteering at the expense of homeowners and investors. His was the public face of the savings and loan debacle as the nation suffered from excessive job losses, a historically high level of foreclosures and exorbitant interest rates.
By comparison, in the present situation there is plenty of blame to go around — lenders probably not disclosing everything they should have, and borrowers not reading everything they should have before signing on the dotted line — in the end it’s still the lenders that people are cursing at in a rather loud voice nowadays.
Although these two events took place during different real estate cycles and economies, comeuppance was similarly swift for both.
For Keating, it was iron bars, an identification number and a pinstriped suit tailored for him by the U.S. government. For all of today’s lenders who threw caution to the wind looking to cash in from the real estate frenzy of the past six years, the price they’re paying is bankruptcy, corporate dissolution or sale, or at least eliminating their subprime divisions.
Meanwhile, for the workers at these institutions it means layoffs, unfortunately, while for homeowners who were convinced to take out these risky loans — either in a purchase money transaction or a refinance situation — it potentially means foreclosure.
Every industry analyst and observer worth his or her weight saw it coming — New Century Financial’s filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection last week, that is. In all, an estimated 3,200 employees lost their jobs when it was announced.
New Century is just the latest of many lenders in the subprime market that are now either filing for reorganization under Chapter 11 or trying to sell their subprime operations and laying off employees — like at Option One Mortgage.
The extent of the problem has reached such dramatic proportions that a coalition of consumer groups has called on federal lawmakers to place a six-month moratorium on foreclosures resulting from subprime mortgages. The argument for their proposed moratorium: that the resulting foreclosures are unfairly and disproportionately affecting Latino and African American homeowners.
Also, a well-known online news source for the mortgage industry has published a new online journal called “The Mortgage Graveyard” detailing the struggles and failures of mortgage companies dating back to 1999.
What does all this mean for members of RealtyTrac as far as the continuing pipeline of foreclosures is concerned? Even if the federal government were to give in and turn off the spigot for subprime foreclosures for the next six months, the impact felt would most likely not be significant enough to make a real difference.
Even though an estimated 19 percent of all loans originated in 2005 and 2006 were subprime ARMs (according to a December 2006 report published by the Center for Responsible Lending), there are still plenty of homeowners in the marketplace who are undergoing other distressing financial circumstances leading to foreclosure such as divorce, job loss or other situations.
Nonetheless, members of RealtyTrac — legitimate investors and potential homebuyers with the best of intentions — still remain in a prime position to help save these people from what otherwise could be one of the most catastrophic times of their lives.