The $25 billion settlement with banks over foreclosure abuses may result in a wave of home seizures, inflicting short-term pain on delinquent U.S. borrowers while making a long-term housing recovery more likely.
Lenders slowed the pace of foreclosures as they negotiated with attorneys general in all 50 states for more than a year over allegations of faulty and fraudulent paperwork used to repossess homes. With yesterday’s agreement, banks are likely to resume property seizures.
“The best thing about the settlement, frankly, is that it will be done,” said Stan Humphries, chief economist for Seattle-based Zillow Inc. (Z), a provider of home-sales data. “The shadow of the settlement hung over the market for a year now.”
The backlog of foreclosures has trapped homeowners in properties they can no longer afford, depressed neighborhood prices by increasing the number of abandoned homes and led banks to tighten mortgage credit standards because of uncertainty about the cost of their potential obligations. Foreclosure starts fell 46 percent in December from October 2010, when the investigation into the so-called robo-signing of mortgage documentation began, according to Irvine, California-based RealtyTrac Inc.
The agreement will direct $17 billion to writing down debt to buffer about 1 million homeowners from foreclosure through mortgage forgiveness, forbearance or loan modification programs, according to Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan. About 750,000 borrowers may get direct payments of as much as $2,000 to compensate them for servicing errors.