Just when some homeowners facing foreclosure thought they had a chance to save their homes, new reports indicate that some financial firms are creating new worries. It’s a situation that demands further investigation at the federal level.
As reported in the New York Times, some of the same mistakes – shoddy paperwork, erroneous fees and wrongful evictions – committed by the nation’s largest banks that led to a $26 billion federal settlement in 2012 are now showing up among the specialty firms that collect mortgage payments.
The companies, known as servicers, not only transfer payments from borrowers to lenders but also have sway in deciding whether homeowners can win a mortgage modification or must proceed directly to foreclosure. The companies’ thirst for more business and speedy payments have left homeowners confused, frustrated and at their wits’ end as their mortgages get bounced from servicer to servicer.
Nationstar and Ocwen Financial have 17 percent of the mortgage servicing market, an increase from 3 percent in 2010. Concern is high enough that New York State’s top banking regulator, Benjamin M. Lawsky, indefinitely halted the transfer of about $39 billion in servicing rights from Wells Fargo to Ocwen.
While the servicing companies insist that they are doing their due diligence to ensure homeowners are protected and have a chance to remain in their homes, Katherine Porter, who was appointed by the California attorney general to oversee the national mortgage settlement, said the companies have “overpromised and underdelivered.” The federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which oversees the specialty servicers, is equally concerned.
Servicers found a profitable niche in the market and have taken advantage of it as banks are willing to discard some of their more challenging loans. Problem is, servicing companies are not held to the same standards as banks, such as the requirement that banks hold more of a cash cushion against the servicing rights. Meanwhile, servicing companies have taken on more and more mortgages.
Housing advocates are concerned that servicing companies are not doing enough to help homeowners remain in their homes. There are more red flags in that servicers also have relationships with companies that can benefit from foreclosures and that specialty servicers may be profiting at the expense of the investors who own the mortgages.
Regulators must do everything possible to better monitor these mortgage servicing companies.