'Put-Backs,' 'Robo-Signers' Put New Pressure on US Housing Market

2010-10-21

Photo: AP
Lawyers of the Ticktin Law Group stand with evidence provided by 150 "robosigners" which they say shows wrongdoing throughout the home loan industry

This is the VOA Special English Economics Report.

Since January, lenders have seized or begun the process to seize about two million American homes. In September alone, banks and other financial companies reclaimed over one hundred thousand properties because of unpaid loans. That was the most yet since the housing collapse that led to the recent recession.

Now, efforts to speed a housing recovery have hit new problems. These include questions about whether banks have acted unlawfully in reclaiming some homes.

Reports of abuses have grown with talk lately of "robo-signers." These are employees who sign foreclosure forms without taking the required legal steps or even reading the paperwork. They simply act like robots. In some cases, documents may have been falsified.

Last week, the top law enforcement officials in all fifty states announced an investigation of big servicers of home loans. Servicers receive the payments from borrowers and might also hold the loans.

Among the targets of the attorney-general investigations are Bank of America, J.P. Morgan Chase and Ally Financial. An Ally employee admitted robo-signing thousands of foreclosures each month.

The Obama administration has launched its own investigation. White House spokesman Robert Gibbs says several agencies are looking into the way banks have been processing bad loans.

ROBERT GIBBS: "We are looking at their process in order to determine their compliance with the law. Obviously, they have certain requirements under the law that have to be met, and if they're not meeting those requirements they certainly face fines from us and they can face legal actions from homeowners."

But the administration has not supported the idea of a temporary suspension of all foreclosures. Officials say this could endanger the slow economic recovery.

Twenty-three states require a court to approve a foreclosure. Several banks have suspended foreclosures in those states temporarily to review their operations. Bank of America, the nation's largest bank, now believes it can restart home repossessions in those states.

Robo-signers are not the only concern right now. "Put-backs" have joined the list of bank worries. In a "put-back," investors try to force a bank to take back a bad loan.

This week, Bank of America said it received a letter from investors holding almost fifty billion dollars in mortgage-backed securities. These are bonds based on large numbers of individual loans. The investors want the bank to buy back any improperly processed loans included in those securities.

Demands on banks for put-backs could grow. And there are even questions about who really owns those bad loans.

And that's the VOA Special English Economics Report, written by Mario Ritter. I'm Steve Ember.

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Includes reporting by Robert Raffaele