Loan Modifications – Salvation For Former Mortgage Brokers?

From my industry contacts and investigation of the loan modification “business” there are several conclusions easily reached:

The Internet is extremely crowded with unknowledgeable, coarse idiots who are all attempting to haphazardly create businesses doing loan modifications. Very few of them have thought through whether or not they can be profitable, or the long term destination of the new industry.Many of the new loan mod businesses are being started by unemployed members of the mortgage brokerage industry who helped to create the very problem that they are now offering to cure. In fact, the very same people who were “helped” by the mortgage industry by getting them approved for subprime and Alt A mortgages are now on the top of the calling list as potential “loan mod” customers.

The press is highly critical of anyone who tries to assist homeowners with loan modifications. Beyond news driven stories, the only loan mod stories are about bad providers who charge huge upfront fees and deliver little or no results, or others who are simply defrauding customers outright.

The press and the government, for lack of a real solution, see the idea of loan modifications as THE solution to the housing crisis. If payments are lowered for 2 million of the country’s biggest financial losers, the economy will snap back immediately, job losses will cease and all will be well.  The consensus seems to be that the government should pay for this, and make rules about which people are “distressed” enough to receive a lower rate and mortgage payment through a loan mod. The cost of all of this, as you may guess, will be borne by those who handled their finances responsibly and did not borrow themselves into oblivion speculating on the certainty of eternal home appreciation.

Here is where I think things are going:

In response to concerns about fraudulent or unknowledgeable companies assisting with loan modifications, most states will implement licensing requirements, as is already happening. Among other things, to maintain the license, you will be subject to strict guidelines on how much you can charge for loan modifications. The fees will be low enough to make any business which exclusively performs loan modifications unprofitable; the theory being that people behind on their mortgages should not have to pay since they are in financial difficulty.  Several states have recently created licensing requirements. Colorado was the latest: http://www.rockymountainnews.com/news/2008/nov/20/loan-modifications-require-mortgage-broker/ .

As more of our nationalized banking system is pressured/required to do loan modifications, certain universal standards and calculations will develop. These will eventually evolve into a simple calculation that will require only a few inputs to determine exactly how a loan will be modified. This may even reach a point where banks routinely modify loans without even taking an application. This technology provider for the mortgage industry just released an early version of such software: http://www.marketwatch.com/news/story/Lender-Processing-Services-Announces-New/story.aspx?guid={58FCD216-F636-4EF9-8B93-5C1C1A41AD2F}

The government will eventually fully endorse the idea of loan modifications for troubled homeowners and subsidize the losses. Of all the problems the country faces, for some reason the politicians will decide that keeping 2 million “homeowners” (who should be renters) out of foreclosure is the most pressing issue, instead of letting the free markets, via time and price solve the problem. With the government involved, the criteria will become even more formalized and systematic. Loan servicers or banks will be encouraged or required to deal with borrowers directly. The entire process will become formulaic and there will be little need for an outside party to assist with the loan modification.

As modified loans default again and further borrowers fall into distress, whatever small scale plan the government implemented will be expanded dramatically. The government will increase pressure and incentives for banks and loan servicers to perform loan modifications en mass. Getting a loan modification will become as easy as it used to be to get a loan. Of course, one may wonder when it last occurred, that a government solution to a problem actually worked. Nonetheless, as home prices continue their inexorably decline for years and given the inability to find a better solution, this program will continue and expand, attempting to artificially arrest the decline in home prices that will occur anyways. Someone should clue in the powers to be that unless we want to totally socialize our economy, the free market, if left to do its work, would quickly solve the housing crisis by bringing prices to the point where they are worth investing in again and at a ratio of family income to cost that is sustainable for qualified borrowers.

Conclusion

Loan modification as a stand alone business is transitory since circumstances will change to make the current business models obsolete. At the same time, the fees that will be legally allowed will be too small to allow most businesses to be profitable. To turn this into a business, one would need to align his strategy to be way ahead of the curve and I have only seen one business model for loan modifications that would work if applied by an industrious and ethical entrepreneur.

In the meantime, potential customers who are solicited to have their loans “modified” would be well advised to do a complete background check on the firm that they may chose to deal with. In addition, under no circumstances should anyone pay a nonrefundable fee upfront (other than a modest processing fee). Guidelines vary with each loan depending on the investor, but if you are dealing with a knowledgeable firm, they should be able to determine from an initial prequalification if someone qualifies for a loan modification and accordingly, should only charge a fee if the loan is successfully modified.

As to the financial cost and moral hazards of the loan modification scheme, one should consider the words of Representative Ron Paul, when speaking out against the original $700 billion bank/homeowner bailout bill:

“It is neither morally right nor fiscally wise to socialize private losses in this way. The solution is for government to stop micromanaging the economy and let the market adjust, as painful as that will be for some. We should not force taxpayers, including renters and more frugal homeowners, to switch places with the speculators and take on those same risks that bankrupted them. It is a terrible idea to spread the financial crisis any wider or deeper than it already is, and to prolong the agony years into the future. Socializing the losses now will only create more unintended consequences that will give new excuses for further government interventions in the future. This is how government grows – by claiming to correct the mistakes it earlier created, all the while constantly shaking down the taxpayer. The market needs a chance to correct itself, and Congress needs to avoid making the situation worse by pretending to ride to the rescue.”


One Response to “Loan Modifications – Salvation For Former Mortgage Brokers?”

  1. Loan modification maybe the only way out from this f***d up economy. If the right corrections are made, maybe people will get to keep their homes.

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