The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) and the Federal Reserve Board recently extended the deadline for free foreclosure reviews until September 30, 2012. Home owners who think they would benefit from a free, independent review are encouraged to submit their requests now.
The former deadline was July 31, but the agencies extended it to allow more home owners to take advantage of this offer. The review is intended for home owners who believe they suffered financial harm as a result of the foreclosure process. Their case will be reviewed for free, and so far, nearly 200,000 have taken advantage of this opportunity. Currently, there are over 150,000 files under review.
The OCC has reached out to over 4 million borrowers thus far, and they are also requiring servicers to pay for advertising that brings attention to the review option. On April 13, 2011, the OCC first issued consent orders against 12 mortgage servicers. This particular review differs from the $25 billion servicing settlement brought against five of the largest servicers by federal and state officials.
This review is for borrowers who believe they were the victims of foreclosure servicing errors between 2009 and 2010. If during the review it is discovered that financial harm did occur, borrowers may be entitled to a modification, lump-sum payments, rescission of foreclosure, and corrections on credit reports. The review will determine if borrowers were not approved for modifications but should have been, or if borrowers received lack of proper notification during the foreclosure process.
To qualify for the free foreclosure review, the property in question must be the borrower’s primary residence. Additionally, the loan must be serviced by a participating servicer.
Facebook acquired Instagram earlier this year, and the cutting-edge photo-sharing service has continued to soar in popularity. For real estate agents, the merger offers a new growth opportunity in marketing. With Facebook’s backing, Instagram will only get bigger.
And they already are. They recently launched an Android app, which means that nearly half of all smartphone owners now have access to the service. Instagram allows users to take a photo, apply a digital filter to it ,and then share it on a variety of social networking services, including Facebook. Real estate agents can use the app to easily snap photos of their available properties, and quickly push them to social channels where prospective buyers might see them. Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s CEO, said that they will “try to help Instagram continue to grow by using Facebook’s strong engineering team and infrastructure.” Whereas Instagram was once a tiny company, they now have the backing of one of the world’s biggest companies backing them, including talented designers and an impressive amount of cash.
For marketers, the opportunity exists to reach an even bigger client base. Agents will be poised to take advantage of massive exposure for their properties. The powerful software gives agents a handheld marketing advantage where they can easily snap a photo and disseminate it with the touch of a few buttons.
Visual media will continue to punctuate the marketing landscape, and with the number of mobile users continuing to rise, Instagram and Facebook are a marriage made in heaven for those using a mobile device as part of their home buying search. According to a study, 68% of those surveyed said they contacted a real estate professional to view a home based on their mobile search. The study also found that 78% of respondents used their mobile device to view photos and videos of homes.
The real estate market is starting to show signs of a recovery, and many people are purchasing vacation homes because of favorable pricing. But many of the vacation homes that people are purchasing are close to their primary residences thanks to the rising costs of travel. This is a new twist on the staycation.
Before, many people opted to purchase homes out-of-state near tourist attractions and points of interest, like Disney World and the Las Vegas Strip. Now, vacation home buyers are looking in their own backyards for vacation communities that are closer to home and only require a short drive versus a flight.
The National Association of Realtors conducted a survey and found that the median distance between a buyer’s primary residence and his vacation home declined 19% to 305 miles in 2011 from 2010. This was the first such decline since 2006 when they began collecting data. Some attribute the decline in distance to a shift in the buyer profile. Whereas the vacation home buyer used to have a family, now, they are comprised of retirees looking to bridge the gap between homeownership and retirement.
Adds Jon Gray, vice president of HomeAway.com, “People want to stay within driving distance because they’re more able to maintain the homes, they have better networks in place and friends and family nearby to use and sustain the homes.” Vacation communities in Northeast beach towns, lakefront neighborhoods in the Midwest, and desert communities like those in the Coachella Valley are seeing a rise in buyers from nearby.
As gas prices continue to rise, so too does the cost of travel no matter if you’re driving or flying. Incidentally, it’s no wonder that so many people are choosing vacation homes that are a short commute away.
There’s good news for military home owners who have been permanently moved because of a job. Effective June 1, the rules concerning who is considered owner-occupants changed, and some military families could qualify for the Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP). The HAMP program helps lower monthly mortgage payments and modifies home loans.
For military members who have been displaced because of an out-of-area job transfer like a “Change of Station” order, they might qualify under the new rules. The update was made by Treasury Assistant Secretary, Tim Massad, and Assistant Director for Servicemember Affairs, Holly Petraeus. Borrowers who intend to return to their home when possible, or who do not own another single-family residence, could qualify.
The HAMP program is just another way the government is hoping to ease the housing crisis.
In addition to military home owners, the Obama Administration expanded the population that may be eligible for the Home Affordable Modification Program to include:
- Homeowners who are applying for a modification on a home that is not their primary residence, but the property is currently rented or the homeowner intends to rent it.
- Homeowners who previously did not qualify for HAMP because their debt-to-income ratio was 31% or lower.
- Homeowners who previously received a HAMP trial period plan, but defaulted in their trial payments.
- Homeowners who previously received a HAMP permanent modification, but defaulted in their payments, therefore losing good standing.
Military and civilian home owners who fall into these categories should check with their mortgage servicers to see if they are eligible to begin the HAMP evaluation process. There are a variety of forms you will need to fill-out as part of the verification process, including a verification of income.
If fewer foreclosures create a brighter future for the housing market, Bank of America is doing its part to help out. This spring, a test segment of “underwater” BofA borrowers were invited to participate in the lender’s “Mortgage to Lease” initiative. Instead of enduring the foreclosure process and being evicted, borrowers could stay on in their homes as renters. The title is returned to BofA, and their mortgage debt is forgiven. The homes may then be later sold to investors.
The program began back in March when BofA sent letters to select borrowers in Arizona, New York, Nevada. As a sign it may be taking off, the program expanded to include California in May.
During the test phase, the lender hand-picks homeowners who are at “considerable risk” of foreclosure from the small pool of mortgages the bank actually owns (85% of home loans for which BofA collects payments are owned by investors in mortgage securities). They must be delinquent on payments by at least 60 days, have exhausted all loan modification programs, and owe more than the home is worth.
Continuation of the program depends upon its success. Ron Sturzenegger, a Bank of America executive, said in a statement back in March, “If this evolves from a pilot into a more broadly based program, we also see potential benefits from helping to stabilize housing prices in the surrounding community and curtail neighborhood blight by keeping a portion of distressed properties off the market.”
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