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Saturday, May 24, 2008

UPDATED: A Congressional Speculator?

by Tanta on 5/24/2008 06:37:00 AM

This is an update to post below on Rep. Laura Richardson's foreclosure woes.

Gene Maddaus of the Daily Breeze kindly forwarded today's additions to the saga. There are not two, but three homes owned by Richardson in foreclosure. And yes, she appears to have cashed out her primary residence back in 2006 to fund her campaign for State Assembly. So it looks like a pattern.

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I have been watching the story of Representative Linda Laura [Oops! --Ed.] Richardson and her foreclosure woes for a while now, while heretofore hesitating to post on it. For one thing, the original story--a member of Congress losing her expensive second home to foreclosure--had that kind of celebrity car-crash quality to it that I'm not especially interested in for the purposes of this blog. For another thing, posting about anything even tangentially related to politics invites the kind of comments that personally bore me to tears.

All that is still true, but the story has taken such an unfortunate turn that I feel obligated to weigh in on it. Specifically, Rep. Richardson is threatening us:

Rather than shy away from voting on mortgage-related bills, Richardson said her experiences could help her craft legislation to make sure others don't experience what she did. For example, she sees a need to add steps to inform property owners before their property can be sold.

"We have to ensure that lenders and lendees have the tools with proper timing to resolve this," she said.
If Rep. Richardson is going to base legislative proposals on her own experience, then it matters to the rest of us what that experience was. So click the link below if you can stand to hear about it.

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The story was originally reported in the Sacramento Capitol Weekly, and picked up by the Wall Street Journal, and thence covered by a number of blogs, with the storyline being that Rep. Richardson "walked away" from her home, a second home she purchased in Sacramento after being elected to the State Assembly. The "walk away" part came from a remark made by the real estate investor who purchased the home at the foreclosure auction, not Rep. Richardson or anyone who could be expected to understand her financial situation, but that didn't stop the phrase "walk away" from headlining blog posts.

Rep. Richardson has variously claimed at different times that the house was not in foreclosure, that she had worked out a modification with the lender, and that the lender improperly foreclosed after having agreed to accept her payments. Frankly, unless and until Rep. Richardson gives her lender, Washington Mutual, permission to tell its side of the story--I'm not holding my breath on that--we're unlikely to be able to sort out this mess of claims to my satisfaction, at least. It's possible that WaMu screwed this up--that it accepted payments on a workout plan with the understanding that foreclosure was "on hold" and then sold the property at auction the next week anyway. It's possible that Richardson's version of what went on is muddled, too. Without some more hard information I'm not inclined to assume the servicer did most of the screwing up, if for no other reason that we didn't find out until late yesterday, courtesy of the L.A. Land and Foreclosure Truth blogs, that Richardson's other home--her primary residence--was also in foreclosure proceedings as recently as March of this year, a detail that as far as I can tell Richardson never disclosed in all the previous discussion of the facts surrounding the foreclosure of her second home.

What part of this I am most interested in, right now, is the question of what in the hell exactly Richardson was thinking when she bought the Sacramento home in the first place. Since the story is quite complex, let's get straight on a few details. Richardson was a Long Beach City Council member who was elected to the state legislature in November of 2006. In January of 2007 she purchased a second home in Sacramento, presumably to live in during the Assembly session. In April 2007, the U.S. Congressional Representative from Richardson's district died, and Richardson entered an expensive race for that seat, winning in a special election in August of 2007. By December 2007 the Sacramento home was in default, and it was foreclosed in early May of 2008. The consensus in the published reports seems to be that Richardson spent what money she had on her campaign, not her bills. According to the AP:
Richardson, 46, makes nearly $170,000 as a member of Congress and was paid $113,000 during the eight months she served in the state Assembly in 2007 before her election to Congress. She also received a per diem total of $20,000 from California, according to a financial disclosure form she filed with the House of Representatives clerk.
It seems to me that all this focus on what happened after she bought the Sacramento home--running for the suddenly-available Congressional seat, changing jobs, etc.--is obscuring the issue of the original transaction.

In November of 2006, Richardson already owned a home in Long Beach. As a newly-elected state representative, she would have been required to maintain her principal residence in her district, but she would also have had to make some arrangements for staying in Sacramento during Assembly sessions, given the length of the commute from L.A. County to the state capitol. She seems to have told the AP reporter that "Lawmakers are required to maintain two residences while other people don't have to," which is not exactly the way I'd have put it. Lawmakers are required to maintain one primary residence (which need not be owned) in their district. They are not required to buy a home at the capitol (of California or the U.S.); many legislators do rent. Richardson is a single woman with no children, yet she felt "required" to purchase a 3-bedroom, 1 1/2 bathroom home in what sounds like one of Sacramento's pricier neighborhoods for $535,500, with no downpayment and with $15,000 in closing cost contributions from the property seller. (The NAR median price in Sacramento in the first quarter of 2007 was $365,300.)

I have no idea what loan terms Richardson got for a 100% LTV second home purchase in January 2007, but I'm going to guess that if she got something like a 7.00% interest only loan (without additional mortgage insurance), she got a pretty darn good deal. If she got that good a deal, her monthly interest payment would have been $3123.75. Assuming taxes and insurance of 1.50% of the property value, her total payment would have been $3793.13.

The AP reports that Richardson's salary as a state representative was $113,000 in 2007, and she received $20,000 in per diem payments (which are, of course, intended to offset the additional expense of traveling to and staying in the Capitol during sessions). I assume the per diem is non-taxable, so I'll gross it up to $25,000. That gives me an annual income of $138,000 or a gross monthly income of $11,500.

The total payment on the second home, then, with my sunny assumptions about loan terms, comes to 33% of Richardson's gross income. I have no idea what the payment is for her principal residence in Long Beach. I have no idea what other debt she might have. I am ignoring her congressional race and job changes and all that because at the point she took out this mortgage, that was all in the future and Richardson didn't know that the incumbent would die suddenly and all that. I'm just trying to figure out what went through this woman's mind when she decided it was a wise financial move to spend one-third of her pre-tax income on a second home. (There's no point trying to figure out what went through the lender's mind at the time. There just isn't.)

Now, Richardson has this to say about herself:
"I'm Laura Richardson. I'm an American, I'm a single woman who had four employment changes in less than four months," Richardson told the AP. "I had to figure out just like every other American how I could restructure the obligations that I had with the income I had."
Yeah, well, I'm Tanta, I'm an American, I'm a single woman, and I say you're full of it. You need to show us what your plan for affording this home was before the job changes, girlfriend. You might also tell me why you felt you needed such an expensive second home when you had no money to put down on it or even to pay your own closing costs. As it happens, the Mercury News/AP reported that by June of 2007--five months after purchase--you had a lien filed for unpaid utility bills. You didn't budget for the lights?

But what are we going to get? We're going to get Richardson all fired up in Congress about tinkering with foreclosure notice timing, which is last I knew a question of state, not federal, law, and which has as far as I can see squat to do with why this loan failed.

Quite honestly, if WaMu did give Richardson some loan modification deal, I'd really like to know what went through the Loss Mit Department's collective and individual minds when they signed off on that. Sure, Richardson's salary went up to $170,000 when she became a member of the U.S. Congress, but what does she need a home in Sacramento for after that? Where's she going to live in Washington, DC? And, well, her principal residence was also in the process of foreclosure at the same time. I suppose I might have offered a short sale or deed-in-lieu here, but a modification? Why would anybody do that? Because she's a Congresswoman?

I'm quite sure Richardson wants to be treated like just a plain old American and not get special treatment. Well, I was kind of hard on a plain old American the other day who wrote a "hardship letter" that didn't pass muster with me. I feel obligated to tell Richardson that she sounds like a real estate speculator who bought a home she obviously couldn't afford, defaulted on it, and now wants WaMu to basically subsidize her Congressional campaign by lowering her mortgage payment or forgiving debt. And that's . . . disgusting. At the risk of sounding like Angelo.

I know some of you are thinking that maybe poor Ms. Richardson got taken advantage of by some fast-talking REALTOR who encouraged her to buy more house than she could afford. According to Pete Viles at L.A. Land,
She likes the Realtors, and they like her. She filed financial disclosure forms with the House Ethics Committee reporting the National Assn. of Realtors flew her to Las Vegas in November to help swear in the new president of the association, Realtor Dick Gaylord of Long Beach.

In suggested remarks* at the NAR gathering, also filed with the House, Richardson's script read: "I might be one of the newest members of Congress but I am not a new member of the REALTOR Party. When I needed help to win a tough primary, REALTORS stood up and backed me even though I was the underdog."

--Real estate industry professionals have given her $39,500 in campaign contributions in the current election cycle, according to Open Secrets.
No wonder she's blaming the lender.

Yes, I Can Stand to Hear About This.