Thursday, July 16, 2009

Mortgage Firms Struggle to Redo Hard-Hit Loans

At a time when struggling homeowners need it most, new studies are showing that mortgage firms are struggling to negotiate loan modifications fast enough to keep up with demand. The change comes with new government pressure to negotiate more loans under their Home Affordable Modification Program, or HAMP, where the Federal government encourages these firms to help keep families in their homes. Check out the following story on the issue courtesy of the Wall Street Journal.

Morgan Stanley chief John Mack recently made a new friend, he told shareholders in April -- a Southern woman who had benefited from the big bank's stepped-up efforts to modify loans under a new federal program aimed at keeping borrowers in their homes.

"I'm now invited -- if I ever visit Memphis, Tennessee -- to drive two hours south to have dinner with her and her family," Mr. Mack said.

But by some measures, Morgan Stanley's mortgage-loan servicing firm, Saxon Mortgage Services Inc., has a long road to go. An April Credit Suisse Group analysis of how quickly companies have renegotiated loans ranked Saxon last among 18 mortgage-servicing firms. Saxon has modified just 6% of the loans it oversees that originated between 2005 and 2007. By contrast, Litton Loan Servicing, a Goldman Sachs Group Inc. unit, modified 28% of its loans.

Such firms are at the center of a grand government experiment aimed at halting foreclosures and the collateral damage they cause neighboring homes. New foreclosure notices will total 2.4 million this year, which could trigger price drops in 69.5 million nearby homes, estimates the Center for Responsible Lending, a financial-services research and policy firm. At an average decline of $7,200 a house, that translates to a potential drop of $502 billion in total U.S. property values.

The government plan, rolled out in February and called the Home Affordable Modification Program, or HAMP, will pay mortgage-servicing firms to modify mortgages and find other ways to keep people in their homes. But the program's sheer scale and the speed with which it was rolled out have created a new set of problems for some of the 27 firms charged with carrying it out.

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