Thursday, January 21, 2010

On CNBC, Robert Weissman Proposes that "Under Water" Mortgages Stop Paying!

Stemming originally from loose lending standards that sent property values soaring from 2000-2007, a strategic default strategy for people with "under water" mortgages - the mortgage is for more than the fair market value of the home - is beginning to go mainstream.

Exacerbated by the $700 billion TARP bailout of the major banks which caused most of the problems in the first place, and now, executive bonuses to the same banks' top people, more and more Americans are seeking relief by just "walking away" or simply not paying their mortgages.

Here, in this video clip aired around 10:00 am EST on CNBC, Robert Weissman, President of the consumer advocacy group, Public Citizen, advocates that people who are "upside down" or "under water" should stop paying their mortgages. The comment comes at about the 4 minute mark in this discussion of executive bonuses, but despite the shock and awe - especially by Wall Street shill Mark Haines - Weissman doesn't retract or relent.

Pretty amazing.

As unbelievable as not paying your mortgage may sound, it gets even more interesting. Having researched this topic extensively, it appears that the banks which made all of the sub-prime, 20/80, interest-only, balloon payment, ARM, and prime loans - especially between 2003 and 2007 - were the same ones which, a. sliced and diced and "securitized" the notes, and, b. received TARP bailout funds.

While those two magnificent events are separate, they are conjoined. Because the banks went about the unthinkable business of separating the mortgage from the note (the common practice for hundreds of years had been for the bank to hold both the mortgage and the promissory note (promise to repay)), and then packaging these notes for sale to private investors, when the first big wave of defaults hit in 2007 and accelerated in 2008, the banks were caught with significant egg on their collective faces, as the SDOs (Securitzed Debt Obligations) began to default, eventually prompting the bailout, now better known as TARP, the $700 billion swindle which kept the banks solvent - for now.

However, because the mortgage and note on many mortgages (some sources say as many as 60 million of them) were separated, when homeowners stop paying, the normal route for the bank is to foreclose, except that the mortgage holder, or loan servicer, has no standing in a foreclosure, only the note-holder does. Those notes have been sold, traded, lost or are otherwise missing in action, the actual holder of the note unknown or is some obscure trust set up to sell interest in the note to investors in exchange for regular payments.

The financial and legal boondoggle this situation has created generally leaves homeowners with some good options: if the servicer brings a foreclosure action, they are in violation of federal and in most locales, state law, and, widely interpreted, also have no standing to foreclose. The mortgagor (homeowner) can then choose between filing a motion for dismissal on grounds that the servicing bank has no standing, or demand that the bank produce the note. In either instance, the foreclosure process is delayed and/or halted, sometimes permanently.

Recent decisions have ruled in favor of homeowners and against the banks. The media generally doesn't want this idea to gain traction, and the general public doesn't understand the issues, especially the key one that if the note and note-holder cannot be determined, or if the note-holder doesn't initiate foreclosure, the homeowner may be sitting on property, free and clear, even though title to the property will be clouded, at best.

It's difficult to believe that the banks who devised the entire scheme of mortgage fraud and securitzation didn't know exactly what they were doing. Once property values fall so dramatically that mortgagors stop paying en masse, the game is over. Bank income will fall so dramatically they'll be forced to close their doors. The government will have to step in again, though this time, not with money, but with guns and tanks to protect the banks' remaining assets (buildings and property), employees, and especially, executives.

The calamitous situation that would occur - clogging the judicial system (which is largely broken anyway) with far too many cases than it can handle - with homeowner, landowner, title and lien disputes rampant, no reliable banking system, and virtually no laws governing property ownership, conditions would deteriorate quickly. Municipalities, whose entire existence depends on property tax revenues, would be in line to fail, as would, naturally, the usurious issuers of credit cards, which debt is unsecured.

In such a scenario, the financial system would completely break down, along with the judiciary. Law enforcement would be overwhelmed, the likely outcome being the imposition of martial law in the hardest-hit areas, probably most of California, Florida, Nevada, Arizona and most major cities. Naturally, the stock market would implode, as bloated as it already is.

If you think the financial meltdown of 2008 was close to the edge, imagine just 10 million mortgages going unpaid and the resultant calamity. The bright side may be that you get to own your home free and clear, the downside being that you may have to arm yourself to defend it, and, in the end, you probably couldn't transfer clean title, so you couldn't sell it or take out a home equity mortgage against it.

The choice is there. Personally, I have no respect for anyone who knowingly purchased a home at inflated prices over the past 5 or 6 years and now wants to screw the bank because property values have fallen. Stop paying, and they'll fall some more. At least most people will have a place to live.

America is now sailing in uncharted waters. The chance of the system breaking down to a point of widespread civil unrest is probably greater now than it has ever been, even moreso than during the financial breakdown. Middle and lower class Americans have watched banks being bailed out (with taxpayer money), bankers hauling down huge bonuses and Wall Street partying like it's New Year's Eve, while most of their neighbors are losing their jobs, their homes, their families and their self-respect. The unfairness of the nation's financial condition (to say nothing of the welfare state) has reached a boiling point at which more than just a few people are considering the option of strategic default, hoarding cash and letting the chips fall where they may.

We certainly do live in interesting times.

(I'll be editing this later to include some links)

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