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Wednesday, January 16, 2008

The Economics of Second Liens

by Tanta on 1/16/2008 11:25:00 AM

From the Wall Street Journal:

In some cases, servicers are telling borrowers they will take 10 cents on the dollar to settle their claim, says Micheal Thompson, director of the Iowa Mediation Service, which runs a hotline for homeowners in financial distress. In other cases, they are selling these loans at large discounts to third parties, says Kathleen Tillwitz, a senior vice president at DBRS, a ratings agency.

Coming up with a plan that will get borrowers back on track is easiest if both the mortgage and home-equity loan are held by the same party. Countrywide will sometimes "whittle down" the payment on the second mortgage to come up with an amount that the borrower can afford to pay for both mortgages, or even eliminate that payment, Mr. Bailey says. The company doesn't publicize such efforts, he adds, because that might encourage "people not to make their payment and see what happens." In either case, "the borrower still owes the principal," Mr. Bailey says.

Solutions can be harder to come by when the two loans were made by different lenders and are held by different parties. "The people in the first position will say, 'Until you get a deal with the second, why should I make a deal with you?'" says Iowa's Mr. Thompson. Second-mortgage holders are often reluctant to approve a short sale or deed in lieu of foreclosure that could wipe out their claims, he adds.

FirstFed says it encourages borrowers in financial distress to contact the owner of their home-equity loan and sometimes offers to buy out a home-equity loan with no current value for a small sum -- $2,000, for example -- so that the entire mortgage can be restructured.

But the company says such offers are often rejected. "It's not worth their while to take the $2,000" because of the costs associated with evaluating the offer and releasing the borrower from the lien, says Ms. Heimbuch, the company's CEO. "The second forces you into foreclosure."
Scenario A: Expenses $0, Recoveries $0. Scenario B: Expenses $2,000, Recoveries $2,000. Amazingly enough, they're going for A.

Of course, eventually they'll be able to make it up on volume . . .