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And beware of Grinches offering bogus mortgage modifications

This is depressing.

First, the fraudsters entangled people in ridiculously complex and costly mortgages. Then they turned around and hit up the same desperate people with bogus mortgage modifications schemes.

Keep in mind: This scheme, in which a West Newbury man allegedly played a central part, took place right as Lehman Brothers was collapsing and through the worst of the recession.

Yet it took this long to indict them, leaving you wondering how many other similar mortgage-modification schemes were (and probably still are) out there.

File under: Grinches

UpdateMore woes for those with underwater homes. This time, it’s taxes.

Foreclose crisis? What foreclosure crisis?

From the Warren Group:

A total of 247 foreclosure deeds were recorded in September, a 52 percent drop from 512 during the same month a year ago. A total of 2,382 foreclosure deeds have been filed so far this year, a 63 percent decrease compared to 6,491 deeds recorded during the same period last year.

Notice the teeny-tiny bar on the right in the Warren Group graphic below. Graphic copyrighted and courtesy of the Warren Group.

More good news: Foreclosures down — again

The Warren Group reports that both actual foreclosures and foreclosure petitions were down last month in Massachusetts.

They’re still relatively high, particularly the number of petitions. But the downward trend is yet another piece of the emerging recovery puzzle.

File under: Recovery, Cautious Category I

Is the foreclosure crisis winding to a close in Mass.?

It sure looks like the foreclosure crisis is ebbing here and elsewhere.

The Warren Group reports a big drop in the number of homes that were foreclosed upon in October. The number of actual filings continued to rise, but the Warren Group said the filing increases were artificially low last year due to a deliberate regulatory slowdown in petitions tied to all the robo-signing controversies.

Meanwhile, the Globe did a big story on Sunday about the foreclose picture across the nation and Massachusetts – and it came to the conclusion, citing data and economists’ viewpoints, that the foreclosure crisis is indeed “ebbing.”

File under: Housing recovery

Foreclosures down in Massachusetts in July

More evidence of a steadily improving housing market: Foreclosures were down in July in Massachusetts.

“It appears there is a downward trend in foreclosure activity,” said the Warren Group chief executive Timothy M. Warren Jr. “A strong economy and recovering housing market is helping lift consumer confidence. This news paired with banks’ return to standard foreclosure processes is also helping.”

Foreclosures increase again in May

Foreclosures in Massachusetts rose again in May, this time more than doubling from the same month last year, according to the Warren Group.

Normally, we’d be more than a little nervous about this trend. But the banks have recently been freed up to act more aggressively on the foreclosure front — and that’s exactly what they’re doing now. So it was expected.

As crushing as foreclosures may be on individual homeowners (and we’re genuinely sympathetic to them), it’s important to get things like this done fast, sort of like ripping off a bandaid quickly. It hurts less in the long run.

The mortgage-settlement shakedown scam

A short while ago, a bunch of states announced, to much fanfare, how they had negotiated a multibillion settlement with all those evil banks accused of screwing up foreclosure cases. The money, the government officials vowed, would go to those harmed by the banking-system process.

But guess what? Many of the states took the dough and are spending it on other government programs. The entire settlement, at least for some states, was simply a way to raise more money. Officials won’t use the words “scam’ or “extortion” or other loaded phrases. But that’s what it comes down to in the end, right?

Think of this the next time a bunch of state attorneys general, or other state officials, announce some major industry settlement, whether it’s with banks, or tobacco companies, or baby-toy makers. More than likely, it’ll just be a legalized extortion scheme disguising what it truly is: A tax increase.

File under: Fraud

Unemployed workers may get forbearances on mortgage payments

This is potentially big: Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac may allow people mortgage forbearances (i.e. skip payments) if they can prove unemployment interfered with their ability to pay their mortgages.

This will undoubtedly help people who are jobless and financially struggling. There’s no question about it. But here’s the question: What does it do to the economy and housing market in general? Does it simple delay the foreclosure day of reckoning? Will the housing market improve, thus helping the economy, or does it merely prolong the agony, thus hurting the economy? Close call on both counts.

It’ll be interesting to see how this plays out.

Foreclosure activity falls in Massachusetts in March

From the Warren Group press release:

Foreclosure activity in Massachusetts dropped significantly during the month of March, according to the latest report by The Warren Group, publisher of Banker & Tradesman. The number of foreclosures initiated by lenders plummeted almost 60 percent from a year earlier.

Lenders filed 1,048 petitions to foreclose in March, a 59.4 percent decrease from 2,581 in March 2010. A total of 2,535 petitions to foreclose have been filed in Massachusetts during the first quarter, a 61.5 percent decrease from 6,577 in the first quarter of last year. Petitions to foreclose represent the first step in the foreclosure process in Massachusetts.

“Another month of declining foreclosures is a sign that lenders have adopted a ‘go-slow’ approach to foreclosures,” said The Warren Group CEO Timothy M. Warren Jr. “We haven’t seen a drastic improvement in the housing market to signal the foreclosure crisis is over. There are likely more foreclosures in the pipeline, which will come to the surface in coming months.”