Let’s take a step back for a second to remember the fall of 2010, when “robo-signing” came to light. The idea that one low-paid guy sitting in a room was signing his, or perhaps somebody else’s, name to thousands of foreclosure documents was appalling. It is appalling, no question. But let us not forget that the vast, vast majority of those foreclosures being processed were in fact legitimate foreclosures; it was the documentation process that was fraudulent. Banks didn’t foreclose on borrowers for no reason, they foreclosed because borrowers weren’t paying their mortgages.
So fast-forward to 2011 when the housing market is still in deep despair. Home prices are still falling, eleven million borrowers owe more on their mortgages than their homes are worth, home construction sees its worst year ever, and government relief programs are doing very little to help. Cries arise that the only way to help housing is to reduce the principal on all those underwater mortgages, give borrowers their equity back! But how does government force the banks to do that? Robo.
The last thing the banks need are fifty state lawsuits over bad foreclosure documents, plus they need to be able to get all these legitimate foreclosures through the courts, so they can stem some losses by reselling the homes. The “robo” scandal has ground foreclosure processing to a veritable halt in much of the county and slowed it everywhere else. Borrowers are sitting in their homes paying nothing. So the banks agree to the deal, any deal, because they have no other choice.
You can hear it in their statements today:
“We believe this settlement will help provide additional support for homeowners who need assistance, brings more certainty to the housing market and aligns to our ongoing commitment to help rebuild our neighborhoods and get the housing market back on track.” -- Bank of America
“Today’s agreement represents a very important step toward restoring confidence in mortgage servicing and stability in the housing market.” -- Wells Fargo Home Mortgage.
Getting the housing market back on track. Restoring stability in the housing market. That’s what they want. They’ve already stopped “robo-signing” long ago. Now what they need is closure. Move the foreclosure process along again, so that the housing market can clear all the distress and move ahead. Let the bank black eye begin to heal. Sure, they will get hit with plenty more lawsuits over mortgage securitizations, but that has little to do with their customers on the street, the average consumers. That has to do with investors, and federal regulators and all kinds of complicated Wall Street products that are lost on average Americans. Robo-signing was more personal; it had to do with real people’s mortgage papers that they signed at their kitchen tables.