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December 31, 2012 is the deadline for eligible borrowers to request a free, impartial foreclosure review through the Independent Foreclosure Review. Eligible borrowers include those people whose primary homes were involved in a foreclosure process in 2009 or 2010 and whose mortgages were serviced by one of the participating mortgage companies listed at http://www.independentforeclosurereview.com.

In August, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System directed mortgage servicers to conduct additional outreach to increase awareness of the Independent Foreclosure Review. As part of enforcement actions issued in April 2011, the agencies required 14 large mortgage servicers to retain independent consultants to conduct a comprehensive review of foreclosure activity in 2009 and 2010 to identify borrowers who may have been financially injured due to errors, misrepresentations, or other deficiencies in the foreclosure process. If the review finds that financial injury occurred, the borrower may receive remediation such as lump-sum payments, suspension or rescission of a foreclosure, a loan modification or other loss mitigation assistance, correction of credit reports, or correction of deficiency amounts and records. Lump-sum payments can range from smaller amounts for less serious errors to $125,000 plus equity in the most egregious cases.

Reviews are free and federal regulators are monitoring the process to ensure they are conducted in a thorough and impartial manner. Requesting a review does not preclude borrowers from taking other actions related to their foreclosures. Servicers are not permitted to require a borrower to sign a waiver of the borrower’s ability to pursue claims against the servicer in order to receive compensation under the Independent Foreclosure Review.

For more information about the foreclosure review, including how to apply online, visit http://www.independentforeclosurereview.com.

The National Association of REALTORS® (NAR) is urging REALTORS® to contact their representatives in Congress and tell them to extend the Mortgage Forgiveness Tax Relief. The Silicon Valley Association of REALTORS® (SILVAR) is asking its members to answer NAR’s Call for Action because it is crucial to the continuation of a housing recovery that Congress extend this tax relief to distressed homeowners.

If Congress does not extend the Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act of 2007 by the end of this year, homeowners will have to pay income tax on the portion of their mortgage that is forgiven in a foreclosure, short sale or principal reduction. Homeowners should not be forced to pay a tax on money they have already lost with cash they never received. 

Despite many positive signs of recovery, the U.S. real estate market is still fragile. Over a quarter of all transactions still involve distressed properties. Without an extension, families engaged in loan modifications, short sales, or foreclosures will face a big tax bill, according to NAR.

The Issue Brief about the Mortgage Cancellation Tax Relief NAR has produced will provide more information on why it is important for Congress to extend the tax relief as soon as possible.

California REALTORS® this week strongly objected to the bulk foreclosure sale program and called for a change of leadership at the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA), the agency which initiated the pilot program and oversees mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

The California Association of REALTORS® (C.A.R.) released a statement on Monday objecting to the recent REO bulk sale transaction between Fannie Mae, the FHFA and Colony Capital. Colony Capital, a Santa Monica real estate investment company, has purchased 970 foreclosed homes in California, Arizona and Nevada at auction from Fannie Mae for $176 million.

C.A.R. president LeFrancis Arnold called the recent purchase of California properties “another gift to Wall Street at the expense of taxpayers.”

According to the C.A.R. statement, “The implementation of the ill-conceived program highlights the failure of FHFA to appropriately address this issue despite C.A.R. and others outlining alternatives. The botched execution of the REO bulk sales, and Home Affordable Foreclosure Alternatives (HAFA) and Home Affordable Refinance Program (HARP) under FHFA’s oversight and leadership has demonstrated a lack of understanding of the housing market. Given these and other missteps, C.A.R. believes it is time for a change in leadership at the FHFA.”

The bulk foreclosure sale is a pilot program of the FHFA intended to help clear the large numbers of foreclosed homes on the books of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The National Association of REALTORS® has objected to the program. California and Florida REALTORS® have also deemed the program unnecessary since housing inventory in their markets is now at an all-time low, prices are rising, and demand for homes is up.

C.A.R. data indicates the median home price in the Inland Empire is up 15 percent from $172,000 in February 2012 to $198,270 in September, and unsold inventory is down from 5.3 months to 3.8 months during the same period. The median home price in Los Angeles has risen 37 percent from $272,920 in February 2012 to $373,020 in September, and inventory is down from 5.7 months to 3.7 months.

Although Silicon Valley properties are not  included in the bulk sales program, Suzanne Yost, president of the Silicon Valley Association of REALTORS®, said the region is also experiencing a shortage of inventory. She noted the housing market has greatly improved statewide and buyers are having a difficult time getting into the market because there are not enough homes to meet demand.

“By going forward with bulk sales of foreclosed properties, investors will be buying homes and holding them until prices appreciate further. These are homes that are affordable now for first-time buyers but may not be when prices have gone up. It is sad that FHFA is choosing to support investors instead of people that want a home to own and live in,” said Yost.

Along with the 970 properties in California, Arizona and Nevada bought by Colony Capital, the first round of bulk single-family home sales included 699 Florida properties sold to Pacifica Companies LLC and 94 Chicago properties purchased by The Cogsville Group.

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