Bulk Foreclosure Sales Could Cause Bigger Bank Write-Downs

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As government, federal regulators and big-money private investors try to figure out a plan for bulk sales of foreclosed properties, big banks are already making deals, but they are few and far between.

The trouble is, they are looking at even bigger write-downs than forecast if they sell these distressed properties in bulk.

"One of the things that might be holding these bulk sales back is that the assets might not have been fully written down by the banks," says Rick Sharga of Carrington Mortgage Holdings, a private equity firm. "The problem for the banks is that in that scenario, when they sell off these assets in bulk, they have to recognize pretty significant losses all at once, rather than spread those losses out over a longer period of time."

Sharga's firm is in the midst of a half billion dollar deal with a major U.S. bank to buy foreclosed properties.

No details on the deal until it closes, but those deals are still rare, despite investor appetite, because the banks would have to take bigger write-downs on the value of those properties than originally thought.

Bank officials will tell you that the write-downs are taken when the properties are taken back as REO (real estate owned), that is, when they are officially repossessed by the lender. That value is based on the current market value of those properties. In some markets, the bank will be able to sell REOs at pretty close to the market value. But if they sell the properties in bulk to investors, they will have to offer deep bulk discounts, and that means additional write-downs.

The same could be true of any bulk program with the government, involving current and future REOs at Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and the FHA.

Sources say there was a big meeting this week in Washington, DC about just that.

The players included Treasury and HUD officials, representatives of Fannie and Freddie and their conservator, the FHFA, along with private equity investors and housing non-profits.

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