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Thursday, October 23, 2008

IndyMac-FDIC Mortgage Modification Plan: Still in the Real World

by Tanta on 10/23/2008 01:30:00 PM

I wrote a snotty post at the end of August after Sheila Bair's plan for "affordability modifications" of the former IndyMac loans was announced, the burden of snot wisdom of which was my prediction that Bair was going to discover that it's a lot harder than she thinks to get successful mortgage modifications done on a wide scale in a very short period of time. However, I did express the hope that the Bair plan would prove remarkably successful and indicated my willingness to eat my words should it prove necessary.

Looks like I'll have to stick to my usual dry toast and bananas after all. As Housing Wire reports:

In testimony Thursday on Capitol Hill, Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. chairman Sheila Bair provided the first public update on the FDIC’s loan modification program put into place at IndyMac Federal Bank since it was introduced roughly two months ago. The agency took over IndyMac in July, and announced the loan modification program on Aug. 20; Bair has said that FDIC analysts estimated that 40,000 or so of the 60,000 mortgages more than 60 days in arrears at IndyMac would qualify for a loan modification under the program. . . .

“Through this week, IndyMac Federal has mailed more than 15,000 loan modification proposals to borrowers, and has called many thousands more in continuing efforts to help avoid unnecessary foreclosures,” she said. “While it is still early in our implementation of the program, over 3,500 borrowers have accepted the offers and many more are being processed.”

Accepting the FDIC’s offer involves signing a modification agreement and mailing in a check for the new payment amount, along with information needed to verify income. It’s unclear how many of the 3,500 that have accepted the offer will ultimately see their loans modified based on verification of their income. Bair did not comment further on the specifics of the modification program in her remarks to the Senate on Thursday.
So, in two months, just under 40% of borrowers estimated to be eligible have received written mod offers, and of those, just over 20% have responded. We still don't know how many actual modifications that will be, since income verification is still pending on the accepted offers. Nor do we know how many more borrowers have become "eligible" (i.e., 60 days delinquent) since the August estimate.

Certainly 3,500 modifications successfully completed in two months is better than nothing. Then again, I don't think IndyMac's modification rate prior to the FDIC takeover was exactly "nothing," either. Bair doesn't address that, so we still don't know if the FDIC's "expedited" approach has really been measurably better than what IndyMac was already doing. At best, it's probably only marginally better, which wouldn't be so much of a problem if Bair hadn't spent so much time earlier in the year scoring cheap rhetorical points about uncooperative servicers not doing enough to help. In any event, the Bair Plan doesn't seem likely to bring the mortgage crisis to a screeching halt by year-end.

And do note that Bair herself, in her testimony, does not trot out the fashionable line that the delays are all due to securitization rules and red tape:
“Initially, the program was applied only to mortgages either owned by IndyMac Federal or serviced under IndyMac Federal’s pre-existing securitization agreements, which provided sufficient flexibility,” she said in prepared remarks to the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs. “However, with their agreement, we are now applying the program to many delinquent loans owned by Freddie Mac, Fannie Mae, and other investors.”
That suggests to me it isn't the fact that the loans are securitized that is the major problem. It also suggests that the program is moving out of subprime and well into prime territory in order to find borrowers who can and want to arrive at a 38% mortgage-payment-to-income ratio. I guess that's progress; if you apply the program to borrowers who are, as a class, more likely to be able to afford their mortgages anyway, you do get more successful modifications. But something tells me that's not quite what we all had in mind.

On a personal note: I was in the hospital earlier this week, and I'll be in and out for treatment on an out-patient basis tomorrow and early next week. It's chemo again, unfortunately. Even though I did leave the hospital with better pain pills than I had (yay!), I have no idea when I'll be able to post again. I suspect that if you keep your expectations at or below zero for the next week or so, you're unlikely to be disappointed. And now it's nap time . . .