Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Foreclosure Alternatives

On November 30, 2009 the Treasury Department announced the Home Affordable foreclosure Alternatives (HAFA), a program that features standardized short sale procedures, common forms, and fixed time frames. The program is directed to lenders and servicers participating in the Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP). It applies to non Freddie Mac or Fannie Mae loans. It covers liens on a borrower's principal residence up to an amount of $729,750 (higher if the property is 2 – 4 units).

HAFA is meant to help borrowers who either do not qualify for a loan modification or who have been unable to keep up their payments under such a plan. A major time-saving feature of the HAFA program is that the financial information already gathered in the loan modification application will be used to determine eligibility for the short sale program.

Prior to approving a borrower to participate in a HAFA short sale the servicer must determine the minimum acceptable net proceeds that the investor will accept. Each servicer must develop a written policy, consistent with investor guidelines, for making that determination. Then, once a borrower has been approved for the short sale program, the net requirement may not be increased for at least 120 days.

A borrower's approval is expressed in a standardized Short Sale Agreement (SSA). The SSA must be good for at least 120 days. No foreclosure may take place while the agreement is in effect. The SSA requires that the property be listed and actively marketed with a "licensed real estate professional who is regularly doing business in the community where the property is located."

Within three business days of an executed purchase agreement, the borrower is to submit a Request for Approval of Short Sale (RASS), which is also a standard form. Within ten days of receipt of a completed RASS, the servicer must indicate approval or disapproval. The approval cannot be contingent on a lowering of the real estate commission that had been agreed to. Also, the approval cannot require a closing in less than 45 days. Again, no foreclosure may take place during the period approved for closing.

One of the common hang-ups in short sales is the matter of junior liens. HAFA takes this into account, although perhaps not to a degree than junior lien holders might wish. The servicer may "authorize the settlement agent to allow up to an aggregate of $3,000 of the gross sale proceeds as payment(s) to subordinate mortgage/lien holder(s) in exchange for a lien release and full release of borrower liability." Each lien holder may be paid up to 3% of their unpaid balance, but the aggregate of such payments may not exceed $3,000. They are paid up to 3% in order of their priority.

HAFA has financial incentives for all parties. The borrower receives a $1,500 relocation allowance, paid at closing. The servicer receives $1,000 for administrative costs. The investor will be paid one dollar for every three that had been paid to junior lien holders. If $3,000 had been paid to juniors, $1,000 would be paid to the investor.

The HAFA program will not apply to all loans, but it will cover a lot of them. Hopefully, it will bring a little more order and sanity to the process.

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