Are Foreclosure Reviews A Hoax?

Roughly 17 million foreclosure filings were sent out between 2007 and 2011 according to RealtyTrac, the foreclosure listings and data resource.

While a lot of default notices, scheduled auctions and bank repossessions were sent out, some were wrong and as a result the government has instituted a foreclosure review process that gives abused borrowers a chance to make claims against lenders.

By the end of May the government had sent out nearly 4.4 million letters and forms to would-be claimants and scheduled more than 330,000 reviews. If a reviewed claim turns out to be correct borrowers can receive lump sum payments from $500 to as much as $125,000 plus lost equity.

This is the first large-scale review of lender foreclosure practices but at the General Accountability Office points out the system is terribly flawed and slanted.

You might think in any review of lender practices that there would be input from borrowers. However, the GAO flatly says that the Federal Reserve and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency sought no advice from consumer groups. One result was that the “readability tests found the initial outreach letter, request-for-review form, and website to be written above the average reading level of the U.S. population, indicating that they may be too complex to be widely understood.”

Hurdle For Foreclosed Owners

So even if you were lucky enough to get a review letter the odds are pretty good that it looked like an official communication from the Babylonian Empire. The GAO says that “borrowers may have ignored communication materials because they did not understand who provided the information and believed the materials were fraudulent.”

But if there is to be a review process it would be good to know who is doing the review process and what the rules are.

The GAO report is interesting but misses the point. The much bigger issue is that the review process is a complete mystery, there’s no explanation telling borrowers exactly what happens once a claim is submitted.

The Independent Foreclosure Review site explains that “if your request meets the eligibility requirements, it will be reviewed by an independent consultant.”

Independent Consultants?

That’s great — but who is the independent consultant? Who selected this person? What are their qualifications? Does the borrower have any right to object? If the review process is “independent” then from whom is it independent? It certainly seems independent from public input.

These questions are enormously important for the same reason that the selection of the judge at any trial a significant. If the independent consultant rules against the borrower there is no recourse.

“The decision of the review is considered final and there is no further recourse within the Independent Foreclosure Review process,” says the review site. “The Independent Foreclosure Review will not have an impact on any other options you may pursue related to the foreclosure process of your mortgage loan.”

The review process has been hurt not just by incomprehensible letters but by a process which is entirely murky. Why should the public have confidence in a foreclosure review system which is unclear and unexplained?

The failure to get satisfaction from the review process may not impact other options available to the borrower but it is not without importance. For example, what information is being collected about the borrower and how is that information being used? Who, if anyone, is doing the collecting?

The review process has been hurt not just by incomprehensible letters and explanations but by a process which is entirely murky. Why should the public have confidence in a foreclosure review system which is unclear and unexplained? Or should the public just accept it — like the LIBOR rate?

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1 Comment on "Are Foreclosure Reviews A Hoax?"

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  1. James says:

    Thank you Peter for asking some questions about this program instead of uncritically reciting the press announcement, which is almost all I have seen about it.

    The question I have never been able to find the answer to, is why it cuts off at 2010, as if that was when the foreclosure crisis ended. My extremely abusive foreclosure was filed early in 2011 while I was “under review” for a modification. I fought in court and got the foreclosure thrown out, but not without considerable stress, anxiety and legal costs. I don’t even have the right to participate in this program, because my foreclosure was filed a couple of months too late. I don’t think they want to deal with people who are still fighting to save their homes, because then they might have to do something serious to help them, and I don’t think they want to acknowledge that the abuse is still going on to this day. That’s my best guess as to why they cut it off at 2010.

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