Friday, December 18, 2015

Chicago Ranked Among Cities with Most Distressed Home Sales

Why is Chicago still identifiable as one of the cities in America with the largest share of distressed home sales, including foreclosures and short sales? That is a question recently posed in an article in Crain’s Chicago Business, which reported that “Chicago’s housing market is struggling to slim down its stock of distressed homes.” A business data report from CoreLogic made clear that more than 20% of houses sold in September 2015 were identified as foreclosures or short sales.
What do you need to know about foreclosures in Chicago? Do the recent statistics suggest that our city has not fully recovered from the financial crisis?
Rate of Distressed Home Sales in Chicago is Double the National Average
Based on the data gathered by CoreLogic, Chicago has the “fifth-highest percentage [of foreclosures and short sales] among major U.S. cities and more than double the national rate of 9.7%.” The rate of distressed home sales in Chicago is not too far off from the highest number in the country. The percentages look like this, in order of highest-rate of distressed property sales:
·      Orlando, Florida (22.7%);
·      Tampa, Florida (21.5%);
·      Baltimore, Maryland (21.2%);
·      Miami, Florida (21.2%);
·      Chicago, Illinois (20.8%);
·      Newark, New Jersey (15.7%);
·      Las Vegas, Nevada (15.5%);
·      St. Louis, Missouri (14.4%); and
·      Atlanta, Georgia (12.6%).
As you can see, there is a relatively large drop-off after Chicago’s statistics, and the rates among the top five cities are comparatively close in number. Statistics suggest that the rate of distressed home sales in Chicago is not declining with a quick enough pace. At this same time last year, the rate of distressed property sales was at 21.4%—a number that is less than one point higher than this year’s total.
Many Chicago-Area Homes Remain Underwater
According to a real estate agent in the Chicago area, the “region’s volume of distressed homes is coming down, but it’s not happening fast enough.” She predicts that we will continue to see high numbers of distressed home sales for at least two more years, and possibly more. Why have we not witnessed a quicker decline in the number of foreclosure sales and short sales in our city?
Generally speaking, the “local residential market has bounced back from the crash,” the article emphasizes. At the same time, however, home price growth has not been moving in a steadily upward direction. As a result, a number of houses in Chicago remain underwater, meaning that they are worth less than what the owner currently owes on the mortgage. When homeowners cannot make enough money by selling their homes to pay off their mortgages, they are more likely either to default (resulting in a foreclosure) or to agree to a short sale.
Another potential reason for the high number of distressed home sales in Chicago is the fact that Illinois is a “judicial state” when it comes to foreclosures. In other words, all foreclosures go through our courts, and this can take a long time. At the same time, many Chicagoans are not making the kind of money they were before the crash and thus are not able to afford monthly mortgage payments.
If you have questions about foreclosure in the area or if you need help avoiding foreclosure, you should discuss your options with an experienced Oak Park foreclosure defense attorney as soon as possible. Contact the Emerson Law Firm today to learn more about our services.
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Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Foreclosure Inventory Remains Above Normal Levels

Have we really recovered from the economic downturn if there are still a higher-than-average number of foreclosures lurking in Chicago neighborhoods? According to a recent article from, the foreclosure inventory across the country remains at “more than double” the normal level of foreclosures we would expect to see.
Foreclosures on the Decline, But Numbers Remain High
Over the last several years, the number of foreclosures across the country has declined substantially. Yet according to the article, the rate of foreclosure inventory (or the “percentage of residential properties that were in some state of foreclosure”) is more than two times what it was before the recession. As of the end of September, nearly 740,000 properties were listed as being in pre-foreclosure inventory. While that number represents a decline by more than 200,000 properties at this same time last year, the total nonetheless is higher than most commentators would like to see. In total, homes in some state of foreclosure account for almost 1.5% of “all residential mortgages nationwide.”
While the rate of foreclosure has declined in significant ways of the last three or four years, consumer advocates would like to see a lower number of properties classified as part of the pre-sale foreclosure inventory. The reported numbers do not mean that we are not handling the foreclosure crisis and its aftermath in a useful manner. Many states, including Illinois, have been lowering the total properties in foreclosure throughout the year. But we may still have a long way to go before we see the foreclosure inventory numbers that were typical before the housing market crash.
Who is Buying Houses After the Foreclosure Crisis?
Throughout Illinois and across the U.S., courts carry on with foreclosures. As homeowners continue to face the repercussions of being unable to make mortgage payments (including hits to their credit reports), a recent report from Black Knight Financial Services reported that high-credit borrowers seem to be the ones making a serious impact on the housing market. Based on the buying patterns of high-credit borrowers, “it would appear that the market is experiencing a vibrant recovery.” Yet the conclusion is not so simple.
In the last three years, “only 20% of purchase loans . . . involved borrowers with credit scores of less than 700,” which is “the lowest level for that segment in over 10 years.” The disproportionate buying of homes does not stop there. The current average credit score for new homebuyers is 755, which is a “record high.” To put that another way, high-credit borrowers who are buying houses help to give the appearance that we are nearly back on track when it comes to the real estate market. The number of homes still in a state of foreclosure, however, tells a different story.
In addition to drawing a connection between market recovery and high-credit borrowers, Black Knight also noted that “third quarter foreclosure starts were up 1.70 percent from the second quarter due to a rise in repeat foreclosure.” In other words, Chicagoans should not assume that foreclosure risks have been eradicated.
Do you have questions or concerns about foreclosures in the Chicago area? Do not hesitate to reach out to an experienced Oak Park foreclosure defense attorney with your questions. Contact the Emerson Law Firm today to learn more about how we can assist you with your case.
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Friday, October 9, 2015

New Mortgage Disclosure Rule

In the age of the real estate crash and the foreclosure crisis, many Chicagoans found themselves with subprime mortgages and the inability to make any headway on their home loans. Now, while the risk of foreclosure in Illinois remains a reality for many homeowners, many more find themselves in a better financial situation. One of the reasons that more homeowners are under control of their financial futures, according to a recent news release from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), is the institution of laws aimed at protecting consumers.
Consumer advocates have emphasized that soon-to-be home buyers simply need more information about the terms of their loans, and how those terms are likely to impact their financial futures. A new rule that aims toward the goal is now in effect.
Know Before You Owe and Mortgage Disclosure Requirements
The “Know Before You Owe” mortgage disclosure rule represents one of those legal changes. As the CFPB explains, the “disclosures required for getting most mortgages have been redesigned to help you shop around to compare offers and find the loan that is best for you.” In addition to underlining the need for consumers to shop around to find the best mortgage for their needs, the new rule also requires the following:
  • Lenders to give homeowners more time to review the terms of a mortgage prior to acceptance;
  • Lenders allowing homeowners to ask direct questions or to seek advice about the terms of a loan from an experienced consumer protection lawyer.
The Know Before You Owe rule is not entirely new. The Dodd-Frank Act mandated mortgage disclosure changes for new homeowners. At the same time, the new rule does even more for consumers. In addition to disclosures, as we mentioned, it also gives soon-to-be homeowners additional time to understand the terms of the loan and to ask questions they need to know to feel comfortable with the mortgage. For most Americans who apply for a mortgage on or after October 3rd, the new disclosures will be mandatory.
Helping Consumers to Avoid Costly Mistakes
The Know Before You Owe initiative from the CFPB is designed ultimately to prevent consumers from seeing “costly surprises” once they agree to the terms of a mortgage. When it comes to getting a fair mortgage and affordable terms based on your income and lifestyle, education is the key. In addition to “making the mortgage process easier” for consumers, the CFPB’s initiative also comes with tools to help you make the right decisions—and ultimately to avoid foreclosure—including but not limited to:
  • Sample loan estimate for consumers considering a mortgage;
  • Closing disclosure for soon-to-be homeowners so they do not have any financial surprises when it comes time to close on a house;
  • Tools to help you learn more about the process of getting a mortgage, including information about local rates, loan options, and the steps in a closing; and
  • Budgeting information, including worksheets and checklists to help you get through the process of buying a home affordably.
If you have concerns about how the new rule will affect you, or if you have questions about avoiding foreclosure, it is important to seek advice from an experienced Oak Park foreclosure defense lawyer. Do not hesitate to contact the Emerson Law Firm. We can discuss your case with you today.
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Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Homeowners Win Mortgage Foreclosure Appeal

The dedicated foreclosure defense attorneys at the Emerson Law Firm recently helped homeowners in the Chicago area to win an appeal concerning the foreclosure of their homes. If you are at risk of foreclosure, it is extremely important to speak with an experienced foreclosure defense lawyer who can provide you with advice for keeping your home. To better understand the significance of the recent Court of Appeals decision in foreclosure actions, we should take a look at the facts of the case and the court’s reasons for finding in favor of the homeowners.
Details of the Appeal
In U.S. Bank v. Kosterman, the homeowners executed a mortgage in 2006 and made payments on their loan for a number of years. In 2011, the bank began foreclosure proceedings by filing a complaint, contending that the homeowners had not made timely payments. The homeowners responded with two affirmative defenses: lack of standing and lack of capacity to sue.
In effect, the trial court treated both defenses as concerning a lack of standing, and it emphasized that lack of standing is not an affirmative defense. As such, the trial court dismissed the homeowners’ affirmative defenses with prejudice. The bank filed a motion for summary judgment, which the trial court granted. When a motion for summary judgment is granted, it simply means that the court will enter a decision without hearing a full trial. Given that the motion for summary judgment was granted in the bank’s favor, the bank received an order of possession and an order of foreclosure, and the homeowners appealed.
The Appellate Court of Illinois disagreed with the trial court and remanded the case. How did it comes to its decision? In short, the Court made clear that “a challenge to standing in a civil case is an affirmative defense,” and this remains true even in a foreclosure action such as this one. The Court then had to determine whether the trial court had improperly granted summary judgment to the bank. Ultimately, the Court determined that summary judgment was granted erroneously. What did the Court’s reasoning look like?
When is Summary Judgment Inappropriate in a Foreclosure Action?
After the Court of Appeals made clear that the trial court should not have dismissed the homeowners’ affirmative defenses with prejudice, it turned to the question of summary judgment. How did the Court come to its conclusion that the bank should not have been granted its motion for summary judgment?
The Court emphasized that summary judgment is “appropriate when the pleadings, depositions, admissions, and affidavits, viewed in a light most favorable to the nonmovant, fail to establish a genuine issue of materials fact, thereby entitling the moving part to judgment as a matter of law.” In other words, a motion for summary judgment should only have been granted in this case if the facts presented by the bank, when viewed in the light most favorable to the homeowners, did not establish a substantial issue with regard to the homeowners such that it would have made sense to move forward with the case.
However, under this standard, the trial court improperly granted the bank’s motion for summary judgment. The Court emphasized that the bank’s motion was supported by an affidavit from a bank official that referred to “various records” concerning the foreclosure action. Yet, as the Court pointed out, “none of the records were attached to her affidavit.” According to the Illinois Supreme Court Rules, “affidavits submitted in support of motions for summary judgment ‘shall have attached thereto sworn or certified copies of all documents upon which the affiant relies.’”
Lack of Access to Records and Other Evidence
Many communications occurred between the homeowners and the bank, but the homeowners did not receive access to all of the records relied upon in the affidavit. The Court determined that the homeowners were denied the records and the ability to depose the bank official who provided the affidavit. As such, the Court concluded that the homeowners “had no meaningful change to challenge [the bank’s] contentions” since all the information they needed to do so was in the “sole possession” of the bank.
Upon retrial, the Court emphasized that the homeowners will be able to seek evidence for their affirmative defense and to replead that defense, as well as to seek access to the evidence surrounding the bank’s affidavit.
If you have questions or concerns about foreclosure defense, it is extremely important to contact an experienced Oak Park foreclosure defense lawyer. An advocate at the Emerson Law Firm can help with your case today.
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Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Illegal Mortgage Servicing Results in $1.5 Million Fine

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) has been busy in the last few months. The watchdog agency was created to monitor and enforce laws that protect consumers, and it appears that it is working to do just that. According to a recent article from HousingWire, the CFPB has levied a fine of $1.5 million against Residential Credit Solutions, a mortgage servicer that didn’t abide by the law.
Illegal Mortgage Servicing Allegations Against Residential Credit Solutions
Why did Residential Credit Solutions receive a whopping $1.5 million fine? The company was fined for illegally servicing of thousands of loans it acquired from other servicers. According to the article, the mortgage servicer broke the law in a number of ways, including:
  • Failing “to honor modifications for loans transferred from other servicers”;
  • Providing false information to consumers about unpaid loan balances, payment due dates, required payment amounts, and delinquency statuses;
  • Treating “consumers as if they were in default when they weren’t”;
  • Misrepresenting the amount of escrow surplus due to consumers; and
  • Forcing consumers “to waive their rights in order to get a repayment plan.”
The mortgage servicer is based out of Fort Worth, Texas, but it has consumers across the country. Residential Credit Solutions is known as a company that “specializes in servicing delinquent or default loans and so-called ‘credit-sensitive’ residential mortgage loans, where the borrower is at high risk for default.” The CFPB estimates that the mortgage servicer has assets totaling about $95 million. And since 2009, around 75,000 homeowners have seen their mortgage loans transferred to the Texas-based company.
Details of Mortgage Servicer’s Violations
One of the biggest problems, according to the CFPB, is the way in which Residential Credit Solutions handled loans that had already undergone modifications from other servicers. A number of its customers are said to have had trial loan modifications with their previous servicers, but when Residential Credit Solutions acquired those mortgages, it failed to honor the modifications.
Instead, the CFPB alleges that the Texas mortgage servicer “insisted that the consumer re-prove that he or she was qualified.” And if the CFPB is correct, then Residential Credit Solutions “effectively set consumers back as though they had not received a trial modification.” The CFPB described the position into which the mortgage servicer placed these consumers as a “trial period purgatory.” In connection to the issues surrounding loan modifications and other violations, the CFPB alleged that the Texas-based mortgage servicer effectively prevented consumers from saving or selling their homes through confusion and misrepresentation.
In addition to the fine, will the CFPB require any additional steps from Residential Credit Solutions? The article emphasizes that the mortgage servicer won’t be able to simply pay the $1.5 million and forget about the accusations against it. Rather, it will have to take some of the following steps to repair the harms it is alleged to have caused:
  • Engaging in outreach campaigns to help borrowers save their homes;
  • Honoring loss mitigation agreements entered into with prior servicers;
  • Creating a rigorous program to ensure accurate information in mortgage transfers; and
  • Making loss mitigation applications available to consumers electronically and at no cost.
If you believe you were treated unfairly by a lender or a mortgage servicer, it is important to discuss your case with an Oak Park consumer protection attorney. Contact the Emerson Law Firm today to learn more about how we can assist you with your claim.
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