Articles Posted in Real Estate

If at any time since the year 2000, you purchased an American home financed with a mortgage, you most likely will have a MERS(Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems) or MOM(MERS as Mortgagee) Mortgage. If you are in South Florida, you can look up mortgages online on the following County Official Records websites:

Palm Beach County 

Broward County

Tom Grady, a wealthy Naples resident and former Florida state representative (R-Naples), served in the Florida House from 2008 until 2010.  He did not run for re-election in 2010.  Instead, Kathleen Passidomo was ran unopposed in Naples.  In 2011, Grady was appointed by Gov. Rick Scott to be the Commissioner of the Office of Financial Regulation.  He’s since left that job and is back in the private sector; watch for Tom Grady to run for public office again soon.   In 2010, Grady introduced the Florida House version of a bill that would make it much, much easier for banks to commit fraud to steal families’ homes.  Currently in Florida, and 23 other states, banks must go through the courts to foreclose and evict a family from their home.  This allows for a family to defend their foreclosure in front of a judge.  It’s called “Judicial Foreclosure.”  While this system often fails families due to a variety of reasons, it is preferable to the “non-judicial foreclosure” process that rolls out the red carpet for any financial institution that claims a family’s home.  Amazingly, Grady tried to get his dangerous, bank-serving bill passed by calling it the “Homeowner Relief and Housing Recovery Act.”  Representative Passidomo, who replaced Grady as Naples’ Florida House representative, carried on Grady’s legislative legacy by introducing similar non-judicial foreclosure legislation in 2011 and 2012.  Those bills also failed, but only after statewide citizen engagement, demonstrations, and protests.  She is running for re-election against challenger Peter Richter.

Not deterred by the failure of his bill, Grady found a much more powerful method of letting financial fraud rein supreme in Florida.  He did everything he could when he was head of a powerful state banking regulatory agency to use Florida’s taxpayers’ dollars to fund a luxurious lifestyle while hacking off Florida’s oversight into the  financial industry.

Two journalists at the Tampa Herald-Tribune recently wrote As Fraud Soars, Funds are Cut for Watchdogs.  Grady was on a “mission to slash costs at the state agency that oversees mortgage brokers, banks and securities firms. The moves come even as a new report shows Florida continues to lead the nation in mortgage fraud.”  The article, and another previous one from the Herald-Tribune, also highlight a few of the expensive perks Grady enjoyed while “serving” the state of Florida, for example, “more than $6,000 on in-state travel, including $296 for a night at the Ritz-Carlton in Sarasota and $240 for a night at the Grand Hyatt Tampa Bay.”

“When the banks went under and the stock market went way down … I lost [most] of it,” said Charlotte Wahlstrom, 74,  who lives in a trailer in a small town in Michigan and gets by on $140/month in food stamps.

This wasn’t part of her retirement plan. After her divorce in 1976, Wahlstrom continued to work as an administrative assistant and went back for her college degree, later landing a solid job at a university. Growing up on a small farm in Minnesota, Wahlstrom learned to stretch a dollar, and by her late 50s she had accumulated roughly six figures in her retirement account. Unfortunately, it was mostly invested in stock mutual funds.  Wahlstrom is part of a group experts call “the hidden hungry.”

“When the banks went under and the stock market went way down … I lost [most] of it,” she said.  This is point where she would have been bailed out if she were a major financial institution who “lost most of it” when the financial crisis hit.

When financed through complex credit schemes that lack basic consumer protections, homeownership and higher education can quickly become debt shackles instead of the promised brass ring of financial security and middle class status.  In today’s harsh economic and jobs climate, education debt that burdens millions of young Americans is often far in excess of their foreseeable earning capabilities.  Often, the cost of borrowing to fund certain types of education is not commiserate with the realistic future earning power gained.  The Department of Justice along with many states’ Attorneys General are probing for-profit education outfits that promise a valuable education but actually offer a paper degree for which there is often little or no demand in the real world.

When financial institutions lure millions of families to take on predatory debts to finance an over-valued home or an over-valued education the end result is the same, an asset that is worth far less than the debts incurred to obtain that asset.  In the aftermath of the financial run-up of the housing market and the prolonged foreclosure crisis, homeownership is at it’s lowest rate in fifteen years. Today, there is an ongoing financial run-up of education. How will this end for families and students?

USNews.com published an article yesterday, Student Loan Debt Rises as Most Other Debt Falls, which points out that both the total debt load and the delinquency rate for education debt is rising at alarming rates.  It offers some sage advice, If you’re considering borrowing to help pay for college, be sure to research your options and determine a smart amount to borrow, based on your financial situation, academic major, and career plans.

The National Mortgage Settlement which gave Ally/GMAC, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Chase, and Citi a very easy out for massive financial and real estate crimes is getting a lot of mainstream media coverage in the wake of the release of the first report card.

The full report card is here.  Florida’s stats are on page 42.

Florida’s portion of the “relief” which was originally intended to allow families to stay in their homes with a modified, sustainable mortgage has been doled out thus far (notice the heavy concentration of short sale “relief”).  Without the short sales, the total relief is $244,221,629 for 10,086 homeowners.

When a family is sued for foreclosure of their home by a Wall Street investment scam, the lawsuit looks something like this, U.S. Bank as Trustee for CMLT 2007-AMC2 v Jane Smith and John Smith.   In this lawsuit, U.S. Bank as Trustee for CMLT 2007-AMC2 has no problem with hiring a foreclosure mill lawyer to file papers with an American court and tell a judge that his client has the right to kick the family out onto the street and repossess the home since they are owed a lot of money that the family promised they would pay.  As it turns out though, no family ever borrowed money from these investment scams with names like U.S. Bank as Trustee for CMLT 2007-AMC2.

If the shadowy U.S. Bank as Trustee character gets it’s way, the foreclosure is granted by the judge, the title reverts to U.S. Bank as Trustee at the foreclosure auction (unless a new buyer bids a higher amount), and the family is evicted.

Now, in many cases, the home quickly falls into disrepair, incurs municipal liens for non-payment of sewer and water bills, stacks up code enforcement violations, is delinquent for homeowner association dues, becomes an eyesore and safety hazard, and further brings down the sinking property values in the neighborhood.

When the federal protections put in place to prevent another financial crash after the Great Depression (Glass-Steagall Act of 1933) were repealed in 1999 (Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act) it wasn’t long before the 2008 financial crash followed.  Then came a massive bank bailout in which programs were implemented to help prop up failing financial institutions with hundreds of billions or possibly trillions of American taxpayers’ dollars while leaving those same citizens drowning in debt and foreclosures.   Now, those same Americans are subjected to pervasive foreclosure fraud and homeowner abuses by mortgage servicers, topics that have been widely covered in the national and local media.  Neither presidential candidate has made any of these issues, so important to American voters, central to their campaigns.

Now, the political geniuses who are seeking Florida votes are sending campaign workers to knock on an awful lot of doors where the voters were evicted, the home has been long vacant, and a sheriff’s eviction sticker is taped to the door.

Read more on Foreclosures Leave Holes In Voter Outreach at NPR.org here.

The Department of Justice, which has not exactly been chomping at the bit to investigate or prosecute the financial industry fraud that lead to the global economic crash, the depletion of savings, and the loss of millions of American families’ homes, has settled with three banks over “discriminatory lending practices”.   Our firm, which specializes in foreclosure and debt defense for South Floridians affected by these and other lending abuses, suspect more settlements of this sort to be announced in the future.

Let’s be very clear about the racist behavior of our top banks.

Imagine three families; one Caucasian, one Black, one Latino.  All three have the same exact financial profile; income, debts, assets, credit score.  All three exactly the same except for the color of their skin and their ethnic background.  The broker gets a bonus commission for offering the Black and Latino families worse loans; higher interest, adjustable rates, balloon payments, prepayment penalties, origination fees, servicing fees, etc.

I have been asked, many times, over the past several years of handling foreclosure defense cases, by friends, family, and other attorneys, what is foreclosure defense? There is routinely a follow up of, “aren’t you just trying to buy people time, isn’t that all you can do?” Sometimes helping a client obtain extra time is their goal and as a lawyer, the client’s goals and best interest is of paramount importance. However, for me, foreclosure defense is so much more. It’s about justice!

Our nation is a nation of laws, to be applied equally to all. The words “and justice for all” are not just a part of our Pledge of Allegiance. They are heartfelt principals that people have fought and died to help achieve and preserve.

During the run up to the financial crisis, some banks turned into sophisticated con-artists. They pushed home loans to people they knew, or should have known, couldn’t afford them. Then they bundled those loans together into Wall Street securities and paid off rating agencies to rate them as AAA, good as gold, when behind the scenes they were calling them “sacks of cr_ _” and placing bets against them so they could collect even more money when they knew these securities would fail. These banks sold their toxic investments to everyone and anyone, local governments, foreign governments, individuals, and pension funds of our citizens, retirees, veterans, and more. In the end, as most of the Wall Street insiders knew they would, these “securities” failed. The big banks made billions selling them and billions more when they collapsed, collecting on their bets. To add insult to injury, when the companies that backed these devious wagers couldn’t pay off the Wall Street gamblers, the US taxpayers and Main Street stepped in to bail them out. Then, if you weren’t upset about that, what happened next should tip the scales. In the year after the bailout and the crisis, Wall Street executives took in more money in bonuses and salaries then they did in any year during the heyday.

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