Against the backdrop of a recent New York Times story about borrowers in the forward mortgage world electing to stop paying their debt – and living sometimes for years cost-free – concerns in the reverse world about prolonged defaults is drawing more attention, and some official government action.
To wit: Fannie Mae (NYSE:FNM) reportedly has been reminding reverse servicers they must follow HUD guidelines regarding tax and insurance defaults for HECM customers. In the past, Fannie has elected not to have servicers follow these established guidelines – that is, beginning foreclosure when taxes, insurance or maintenance are not current – because of so-called “headline risk.”
Now, however, servicers have been instructed to submit troubled loans to HUD to get approval to start the foreclosure process. Once approved, a demand letter is sent to the borrower(s) who has six months to cure the default. After that, the servicer must start the foreclosure process – one exception is when a borrower refuses to take necessary curative action, at which time the foreclosure process begins immediately.
“Tax and insurance defaults have gone up dramatically in the last few years,” says one servicer, who believes reactive changes now “would turn us into collection agencies.”
At the moment, the industry is waiting for HUD to issue a promised Mortgagee Letter regarding tax and insurance (T&I) defaults. An agency spokesman told RMD: “FHA is working closely with Fannie Mae and servicers of reverse mortgages to develop a plan to notify seniors of the delinquency and provide the necessary support and outreach to these seniors to find solutions to bring delinquent taxes and insurance current.”
Considering low default balances
According to Ryan LaRose, chief operating officer of Celink – a reverse mortgage servicer – an industry committee “presented HUD with a white paper awhile back that included industry recommendations for how to deal with the existing T&I default population. It included an analysis of the loan’s LTV [loan-to-value] and took into consideration those borrowers with a low default balance and put them into a ‘monitoring’ program,” according to LaRose, who is a member of that committee.
“If FHA is smart,” says another servicer, “they will approve foreclosing on high claim amounts because [if they don’t] the situation will come back to haunt us,” he warns, adding: “Fannie wants more loans assigned to HUD.” What’s missing in all this, he says, “is that the industry has no real loss mit program for seniors.”
In the aggregate, T&I defaults are relatively small. HUD’s Erica Jessup puts the current number at less than 2 percent of all reverse mortgages extant.
Written by Neil Morse