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Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Research: 270 Days is Optimal Time in Foreclosure

by Calculated Risk on 6/02/2010 11:54:00 PM

BofA executive Jack Schakett made some interesting comments earlier today:

"There is a huge incentive for customers to walk away because getting free rent and waiting out foreclosure can be very appealing to customers."
Schakett noted that the foreclosure process is currently taking 13 to 14 months ...

For many the timeframe is apparently much longer. On Monday David Streitfeld wrote in the NY Times: Owners Stop Paying Mortgages, and Stop Fretting
The average borrower in foreclosure has been delinquent for 438 days before actually being evicted, up from 251 days in January 2008, according to LPS Applied Analytics.
More than 650,000 households had not paid in 18 months, LPS calculated earlier this year. With 19 percent of those homes, the lender had not even begun to take action to repossess the property ...
These long foreclosure time lines can have a significant adverse impact on housing.

Housing economist Tom Lawler alerted me to a 2008 research paper by Freddie Mac economists Amy Crews Cutts and William A. Merrill: Interventions in Mortgage Default: Policies and Practices to Prevent Home Loss and Lower Costs. They studied the foreclosure time lines and costs in several states and found that 270 days is sufficient time to allow the borrower to cure, and any more time actually incentivizes the borrower to strategically default:
There are many challenges that policy makers, investors, servicers and borrowers face in minimizing the incidence of home loss through foreclosure. Among them is the tension between too little time in the foreclosure process, such that some borrowers are unable to recover from relatively mild setbacks before they lose the home but investors minimize pre-foreclosure time related costs, and too much time in the foreclosure process, such that the borrower is incented to let the home go to foreclosure sale during which no mortgage payments are made (in essence, free rent for a significant time) and investor costs rise rapidly.
A sweet spot for the optimal time in foreclosure likely exists around a statutory timeline of 120 days (the current national median, and equivalent to 270 days after adding in 150 days for pre-referral loss mitigation activities by servicers through workouts) in which the borrower’s incentives are aligned with both a high probability of curing out of the foreclosure and keeping the pre-foreclosure costs to the investor contained.
One of unintended consequences of the government foreclosure delaying strategy (probably aimed at limiting supply and supporting house prices), is that strategic defaults have gained fairly widespread acceptance. And that means the eventual cost to the taxpayer will be higher than if the lenders had either modified the loans, or foreclosed, or approved a short sale, within about 270 days.