Mortgage Loan Modification

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It is nice to have a tool that I can use to keep people in their homes, rather than going through foreclosure or short sales, and killing your credit and ability to qualify for a home loan for a minimum of two years. That is the Loan Modification Program. It's very little comfort when turning someone away because there is nothing I can do to tell myself, "I didn't do it to them. I was trying to talk people out of it before it became a problem." Loan Modification gives me a tool with a pretty decent success rate (sixty to ninety percent, depending upon the lender). It's not a panacea, it doesn't work miracles, and it doesn't work for everyone. It also costs money. With that said, it's a much lower cost than a short sale or foreclosure, and it will work for more people than probably any other measure to prevent those results in people on a course for them.

A Loan Modification program is a modification to an existing loan. Because the lender is already on the hook for major losses, it's a lot easier to get pushed through than a new loan. If you are upside-down on your mortgage, it is a way to get your loan changed into something you can make the payments on without the lenders agreeing to write down the value of the principal, which just isn't happening for the most part. Loan to Value Ratio just isn't an issue. The idea is to reach a Debt to Income Ratio that enables you to make and stay current on your payments in the future. Most lenders are modifying loans for a debt to income ("front end") ratio in the low thirties - while some are modifying for a "back end" ratio in the high thirties. The idea is that this enables you to be current on the loan and stay in the property, while it turns the loan into a performing asset for the lender, preventing them from losing more money than they have to.

Lots of folks want the principal of the loan written down. The problems with this are two-fold. First, it becomes an immediate loss for that lender - a hard loss. They were owed $400,000, and now they are only owed $300,000. That's $100,000 in company equity gone. Second, it provides an opportunity for current owners to make a profit on money that was previously owed to that lender. If the person is able to sell for $350,000 (whether immediately or years later), they still make $50,000 less the expense of selling the property, while the lender is just out in the cold for that extra money. You get them to give you money so you make a profit? Lenders don't like that math. The chances of them agreeing to do a principal reduction are very slim. The figure quoted was 1.6% of mortgage modifications that actually happen include some sort of principal reduction - one in sixty - and those typically include issues like death or disability of the main breadwinner. Do you want to spend the $3000 to $7000 modification costs for a one in sixty chance, or do you want to do it correctly with an approach that is about 60% or higher (depending upon your lender) likely to work?

What lenders are often willing to do is modify the loan in such a way as to reduce the interest rate, or payments owed, in some fashion. This doesn't magically give you money, but it does make the dire consequences of owing too much money bearable. It is far better in most cases for your long term financial health than walking away or going through foreclosure. If you owe $400,000 at 8%, reducing that interest rate to 6% will make as much difference to affordability as reducing your principal by $75,000 and starting the loan over combined. Not to mention that every successful loan modification is a relief from delinquency. You start over on the newly modified loan completely up to date on your payments.

Here is the lender's situation: They are on the hook for the value of the loan. If you go through a short sale, they lose money - about a fifth of the value of the loan on average. This is an immediate charge against the company's book value. For properties that go through foreclosure, the percentage loss is about doubled, in aggregate. Nationally, foreclosures cost lenders $47,000 to $61,000 per property, in addition to the lowered value from being a foreclosure. If they agree to modify your loan, it's a hit against future income, but it is not a direct hit on the book value of the company, and it turns a non-performing asset into a performing asset as soon as you've made a payment or two - much quicker than foreclosure. Finally, it gives them at least a glimmer of hope down the road of recovering all of their money - a very good hope, in my opinion, as the market will recover in time - and keeps them from losing more money than they have to now. It also, not coincidentally, locks you into keeping the loan with them for the forseeable future, because nobody else is going to refinance an upside-down loan.

This is nothing short of a financial lifesaver: Let us compare the situation now with the situation in the early nineties. I bought my first property for $90,000 in 1990. It peaked in value at about $110,000, then slid straight down to $63,000 in 1994. I was upside down for a little while. But I didn't sell, and I didn't walk away. Had I done so, I would have lost $27,000 plus the costs of selling - turned a theoretical loss on paper into a concrete loss with major real world consequences. Instead, having a sustainable loan with payments I could make, I kept making those payments. By 1996, I was in the black again. Had I short sold, I would have locked in that loss, and my name would have been mud with lenders and I would not have gotten another loan after the short sale. Basically, by just keeping on making the payments, I kept from locking in a 30% or more loss, and turned it into over a 100% gain when the market recovered. Which situation would you rather be in: Ruin your financial future when you don't have to, or keep making the payments even though you may temporarily be upside down so you can eventually make a big profit? The property I had was the one I was tied to. I could have walked away, locked in that 30% plus loss, and been unable to get another loan for a minimum of two years, and have my credit cause me to be stuck with horrible loans for ten years (which would have cost me more than $27,000, if I could have gotten loans), or I could stick with the obligations I agreed to when I signed on the dotted line for that loan, have patience, and be rewarded when the market turned back up to the tune of better than 100% profit.

Now add being unable to make the payments to the situation I was in back then. That is the situation that lots of folks are in today. They not only cannot refinance, they can't make their current payments, either. Without something like loan modification, their situation is like Comet Schumaker-Levy 9, locked into a collision course with Jupiter, and nothing short of a miracle will break them off that course for disaster. You can use search engines to pull up some pretty spectacular images of what happened there.

Which of those situations would you rather be in? This market we are in now is a market in which the people who do the right thing (keep the property until the market recovers, instead of throwing it away because they happen to be upside-down on paper) will be rewarded when the market has worked through the immediate problems.

Funny how karma works sometimes.

Caveat Emptor

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About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Dan Melson published on October 7, 2019 7:00 AM.

Buyers Should Never Pay to Repair A Property They Don't Own was the previous entry in this blog.

Why You Should Not Refinance Just to Lower Your Payment is the next entry in this blog.

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