Remodelers See Business Improving

Like their home-building counterparts, remodelers
who are members of the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) are
displaying more confidence in their industry than they have in years.  The NAHB’s Remodeling Market Index (RMI) for
the fourth quarter of 2011 which measures remodelers’ sentiments about their
business climate rose to 46.6 its highest level in five year.  In the third quarter the Index was 41.7.

Like the Home Builders Index (HMI) the measures
responses from home builders, the RMI surveys NAHB members who are involved in
remodeling about current market conditions and about indicators of future
conditions.  Scores above 50 for the HMI,
the RMI or their component indices indicate that more respondents view the
market as good than view it as fair.  In
January the HMI hit a 54 month high of 25.

The RMI component measuring current market conditions rose to 48.4 from 43.0
and two of the categories within that index rose significantly.  Market activity related to major additions
rose from 45.2 to 52.3 and minor additions from 45.7 to 50.1

The component measuring future market indicators of
remodeling business rose to 44.8 from 40.4 in the previous quarter and two of
its categories rose over the 50 mark; calls for bids increased from 45.4 to 50.7
and appointments for proposals to 50.1 from 43.3.   The third category, work committed for the
next three months rose only slightly to 31.5 from 29.9.

 “As more consumers remain in their
homes rather than move in this economy, remodelers benefited from a gradual
increase in home improvement activity, taking us to a five-year high,” said
NAHB Remodelers Chairman Bob Peterson, CGR, CAPS, CGP.  “2011 ended on a strong note for the
remodeling industry.”

Scores improved for both future market indicators and current market
conditions in all four regions of the country.  

…(read more)

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Currents | Closing: Moss, the SoHo Design Emporium, Is Closing

After 18 years in business, the SoHo design emporium is shutting down its retail space on Greene Street.



District Court Upholds MERS Rights to Assign and Foreclose

Mortgage Electronic Registration
Systems, Inc. better known as MERS won a significant victory in court on
Tuesday as the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Judicial Circuit validated
its rights to assign a security deed and/or foreclose on secured property.  The decision upheld the decision of the U.S.
District Court for the Northern District of Georgia in Smith V. Saxon Mortgage.

The plaintiff in the original case had
contested the foreclosure of her home on the grounds that:

1).   The assignment of the security deed was
invalid because MERS, as nominee of a defunct lender could not assign the documents
of its own volition.

2.
    The “splitting” of the mortgage and
the note rendered the mortgage null and void and therefore notices of
foreclosure were invalid as not coming from a secured creditor.

In the original District Court opinion in March 2011, U.S. Magistrate Judge
Janet F. King pointed to the standard language in the Georgia security deed
signed by all borrowers at closing which grants MERS the power to act on behalf
of the current and future owners of the loan. 
.   “Unless the instrument
creating the power specifically provides to the contrary . . . an assignee
thereof . . . may exercise any power therein contained,” Judge King wrote.
“[T]he Security Deed . . . transfers rights to MERS, and MERS’ assigns may
exercise any power contained therein.”

The 11th District Court which has jurisdiction over federal cases
originating in the states of Alabama, Florida and Georgia, agreed with Judge
King’s recommendation.  “It is not
disputed that plaintiff executed the Security Deed which granted MERS the power
to sell the Property, if plaintiff was not able to comply with the terms of the
Note,” Senior U.S. District Judge William O’Kelley wrote. “Furthermore, the
Security Deed expressly states that it applies to MERS ‘[and] to the . . .
assigns of MERS.’ Pursuant to the terms of the Security Deed, MERS had
authority to assign the Security Deed.”

MERS issued the following statement in response to the District Court
decision. 

“A significant body of clear and specific federal case law is coming
together with this decision from the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, along with
favorable rulings from the First, Fourth, Fifth, Eighth, Ninth, and Tenth circuit
appellate courts and U.S. District Courts in a number of states,” said Janis L.
Smith, MERSCORP’s vice president of corporate communications. “The 11th
Circuit’s ruling underscores the soundness of MERS’ business model by
solidifying the legality of MERS’ role in the security deed, explaining how
that role came about, and clarifying MERS’ power to act on behalf of the
lender.”

…(read more)

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The Latest on On-line Lending; Principal Forgiveness Cost; How HUD’s Changes Will Impact Gov’t Lenders

As red-blooded American males prepare for the advertising onslaught
of Valentine’s Day (2/14), we are reminded that the media is indeed
powerful – just ask Sarah Palin. (Hey, whatever happened to her?) All
this month the public has seen the OCC foreclosure ads.
Supports Independent Foreclosure Review Program with Public Service
Ads. On January 4, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC)
announced that it placed print and radio public service advertisements
to inform mortgage borrowers of the Independent Foreclosure Review (IFR)
program launched by the OCC in November 2011. The print feature
explains that borrowers foreclosed upon between January 1, 2009 and
December 31, 2010 are eligible to have their foreclosures independently
reviewed to determine if the borrowers suffered financial injury as a
result of any errors by certain large, federally regulated mortgage
servicers. The ads will run in Spanish and English in 7,000 small
newspapers and on 6,500 small radio stations. Here is a copy of the OCC announcement with links to the ads.

Hiring across the country continues for some companies. SecurityNational Mortgage’s Crown Group is hiring retail
loan consultants, retail producing managers, and branch managers for
its Retail origination team, and wholesale AE’s who can build their
territory through wholesale, correspondent and retail branch
originations. The company is staffing up in the following territories –
Texas (DFW), Florida (Dade, Broward, Palm Beach and Duval counties),
Missouri, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Arkansas and Colorado.  (SNMC is also
hiring underwriters and processors in the Dallas area.)
“SecurityNational Mortgage is a nationwide lender offering Conventional,
FHA, VA and USDA loans thru its Retail, Wholesale and Correspondent
business channels.”  If you know anyone interested, please send
inquiries/resumes to CrownGroup@Securitynational.com.”

The other day someone told me that there were actually things on the
internet other than dirty pictures. I was stunned. Seriously, although
the article is a little slanted, here is some chatter on on-line lending.

The
average LO probably doesn’t care too much about the proposed settlement
between the states and the servicers. But the large servicers, which
are pretty much the large banks, care, and probably really want to “move
on” from this, which in turn would help return the flow of business. At
this point, supposedly state AG negotiators have reached the final terms on a settlement deal w/the country’s biggest banks,
and the preliminary pact is now being circulated among the 50 AGs. The
price tag for the servicers is around $25 billion, depending on how many
states sign on (California and NY remain on the fence). The tentative
agreement still must be approved by all 50 state attorneys-general, and
the states will be asked either to agree to proposals or decline to
participate with Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Citigroup
and Ally Financial. Other banks, such as US Bancorp and PNC Financial
Services, have set aside reserves for such an outcome. Stay tuned…and
remember that the money has to come from somewhere…

Speaking of which, the FHFA noted that forgiving mortgage debt on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac loans would cost F&F almost $100 billion.
Freddie & Fannie guarantee nearly 3 million mortgages on single-
family homes that are underwater, but almost 80% of these borrowers are
still current. Principal forgiveness would increase the size of the
government’s bailout of the companies, which have cost taxpayers more
than $153 billion since they were taken under government control in
2008. One can almost hear Mr. DeMarco thinking, “First you made us raise
our g-fees, and now this…don’t complain when we lose more money…”  –
the letter.

And for more on government mortgage agencies, late last week HUD
released its final rule to improve and expand the risk management
activities of the FHA. It was pretty much as expected but a few things
should be noted. First, HUD will seek to force indemnification for “serious and material” violations of FHA origination requirements.
For those cases not involving fraud or misrepresentation, HUD will
require indemnification within five years from the date of the mortgage
insurance endorsement. Second, the proposed rule will also require
delegated FHA lenders to continually maintain an acceptable claim and
default rate, both to gain special lender status as well as to preserve
it
. HUD will require that the claim and default rate for a lender be
at or below 150% of the average rate of all of the states in which it
does business. Specifically for indemnifications, HUD says that lenders
may need to buyback loans if they failed to verify and analyze the
creditworthiness, income, and/or employment of the borrower, verify the
source of assets brought by the borrower for payment of the required
down payment and/or closing costs, address property deficiencies
identified in the appraisal affecting the health and safety of the
occupants or the structural integrity of the property, or ensure that
the property appraisal satisfies FHA appraisal requirements. HUD may
seek indemnification irrespective of whether the violation caused the
mortgage default. Clearly, the rule change should result in more
putbacks to lenders going forward.

What does this mean? Since HUD will be requiring a buyback only if
the loan has seasoned less than 5-years (unless there is fraud), similar
to GSE loans, this may lead to a reluctance from lenders to
refinance existing FHA loans due to the fear of resetting the seasoning
on the loan
. Further, this impact is not restricted to loans that
are seasoned more than 5-years as the seasoning is reset on all loans.
Although this change points towards a general tightening in underwriting
and a potential slowdown in prepays, experts are uncertain how putbacks will be implemented for loans that go through FHA streamline refinancings.
For these loans, FHA does not require an appraisal or income/asset
verification and hence it is not clear what criteria will be used for
the putback. That said, most believe that lenders will be more careful
in refinancing borrowers once this rule goes into effect. Since lenders
will be assessed on the credit performance of their overall FHA book,
this should also lead to lower delinquencies and defaults on newly
originated FHA loans going forward.

And put another way, the FHA’s rule makes it tougher to qualify for
loans insured by the agency. To qualify for mortgage insurance, lenders
must offer up evidence that their seriously delinquent and claim rates
remain at or below 150 percent of aggregate rates in home states. And
the rule authorizes more extensive examination for lenders in order to
ensure that they are able to meet the FHA’s new qualifications. It
requires that certain lenders indemnify HUD in claims over loans. And
let’s not forget that many believe the FHA fund is insolvent – perhaps
this will help.

The government has trouble not interfering with home lending in the
U.S., and in fact HUD has come out saying it would like to see FHA
lenders relax their credit score minimums allowing more borrowers to
qualify for FHA loans.  But lenders are telling HUD officials the agency
must first change FHA’s lender/monitoring system (“Neighborhood Watch”)
so they aren’t stigmatized for making loans to borrowers with lower
credit scores. Neighborhood Watch ratios are used by everyone to measure
performance in relation to other lenders in a certain geography, and a
high default and claim rate can trigger audits by FHA or the HUD
Inspector Generals, and these audits often lead to indemnification
demands for actual and future losses. Because of the Neighborhood Watch
“triggers”, many lenders are only comfortable originating high credit
score FHA loans. Other lenders are interested in venturing a little down
the credit quality curve, and will often bring in outside help in
making sure their originations, operations and quality control
procedures can withstand the scrutiny of the HUD’s Quality Assurance
Division, Mortgagee Review Board and the Office of the Inspector
General. The Collingwood Group LLC has been partnering with
lenders in navigating these issues to unlock this valuable product
development opportunity in ways that are responsible and defensible. 
Inquiries should be directed to Brideen Gallagher at bgallagher@collingwoodllc.com. (And nope, this is not a paid ad.)

For news moving rates,
the two-day FOMC meeting begins today and concludes with a news
conference Wednesday.  It is expected that the Fed will maintain its
rock-bottom policy rate, so the anticipation lies in the new decision to
publish rate forecasts of each district bank out to 2015 to show
greater transparency. Any hint of QE3 from the FOMC tomorrow “will send
mortgages off to the races.” And tonight’s State of the Union Address
has been known to move markets.

Yesterday MBS prices were nearly unchanged whereas the 10-yr T-note
lost nearly .375 in price and closed at a yield of 2.07%. Today for
excitement we have a $35 billion 2-yr note auction at 11AM MST. In the early going the 10-yr is down to 2.04% and MBS prices are a shade better.

(Parental discretion advised.)
A woman asks her husband, “Would you like some bacon and eggs? A slice of toast and maybe some grapefruit and coffee?” she asks.
He
declines. “Thanks for asking, but I’m not hungry right now. It’s this
Viagra,” he says. “It’s really taken the edge off my appetite.”
At lunchtime she asked if he would like something. “A bowl of soup, homemade muffins, or a cheese sandwich?”

He declines. “The Viagra,” he says, “really trashes my desire for food.”
Come
dinnertime, she asks if he wants anything to eat. “Would you like a
juicy porterhouse steak and scrumptious apple pie? Or maybe a rotisserie
chicken or tasty stir fry?”
He declines again. “Naw, still not hungry.”

“Well,” she says, “would you mind letting me up? I’m starving.”

…(read more)

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Momentum Seen for Home Improvement Spending

Spending
on home improvements and remodeling have shown signs of a rebound and the
Remodeling Futures Program at the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies is
projecting that sector of the economy will end 2012 on a positive note.

The
Joint Center produces the Leading Indicator of Remodeling Activity (LIRA) each
quarter.  It is designed to estimate
national homeowner spending on improvements for the current quarter and the
following three quarters.  The indicator, measured as an annual rate-of-change
of its components, provides a short-term outlook of homeowner remodeling
activity and is intended to help identify future turning points in the business
cycle of the home improvement industry.

The
figures from the most recent quarter, the fourth quarter of 2011, showed an
estimated four-quarter moving total of $112.4 billion in home improvement
spending compared to $113.8 billion in the third quarter.  This number is expected to dip further in the
first quarter of 2012, to $108.1 billion before starting to build at mid-year.

 “Sales of existing homes have been increasing
in recent months, offering more opportunities for home improvement projects,”
says Kermit Baker, director of the Remodeling Futures Program at the Joint
Center.  “As lending institutions become less fearful of the real estate
sector, financing will become more readily available to owners looking to
undertake remodeling.”

…(read more)

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