All about foreclosures

Foreclosure is the legal and professional proceeding in which a mortgagee, or other lien holder, usually a lender, obtains a court ordered termination of a mortgagor’s equitable right of redemption. Usually a lender obtains a security interest from a borrower who mortgages or pledges an asset like a house to secure the loan. If the borrower defaults and the lender tries to repossess the property, courts of equity can grant the borrower the equitable right of redemption if the borrower repays the debt. While this equitable right exists, the lender cannot be sure that it can successfully repossess the property, thus the lender seeks to foreclose the equitable right of redemption. Other lien holders can also foreclose the owner’s right of redemption for other debts, such as for overdue taxes, unpaid contractors’ bills or overdue homeowners’ association dues or assessments.

The foreclosure process as applied to residential mortgage loans is a bank or other secured creditor selling or repossessing a parcel of real property (immovable property) after the owner has failed to comply with an agreement between the lender and borrower called a “mortgage” or “deed of trust”. Commonly, the violation of the mortgage is a default in payment of a promissory note, secured by a lien on the property. When the process is complete, the lender can sell the property and keep the proceeds to pay off its mortgage and any legal costs, and it is typically said that “the lender has foreclosed its mortgage or lien”. If the promissory note was made with a recourse clause then if the sale does not bring enough to pay the existing balance of principal and fees the mortgagee can file a claim for a deficiency judgment.

Types of foreclosure

The mortgage holder can usually initiate foreclosure at a time specified in the mortgage documents, typically some period of time after a default condition occurs. Within the United States, Canada and many other countries, several types of foreclosure exist. Two of them – namely, by judicial sale and by power of sale – are widely used, but other modes of foreclosure are also possible in a few states.

Foreclosure by judicial sale, more commonly known as Judicial Foreclosure, is available in every state and required in many, involves the sale of the mortgaged property under the supervision of a court, with the proceeds going first to satisfy the mortgage; then other lien holders; and, finally, the mortgagor/borrower if any proceeds are left. As with all other legal actions, all parties must be notified of the foreclosure, but notification requirements vary significantly from state to state. A judicial decision is announced after pleadings at a (usually short) hearing in a state or local court. In some fairly rare instances, foreclosures are filed in Federal courts.

Foreclosure by power of sale, which is also allowed by many states if a power of sale clause is included in the mortgage or if a Deed of trust was used instead of a mortgage. In some states so-called mortgages are actually deeds of trust. This process involves the sale of the property by the mortgage holder without court supervision. It is generally more expedient than foreclosure by judicial sale. As in judicial sale, the mortgage holder and other lien holders are respectively first and second claimants to the proceeds from the sale.

Other types of foreclosure are considered minor because of their limited availability. Under strict foreclosure, which is available in a few states including Connecticut, New Hampshire and Vermont, suit is brought by the mortgagee and if successful, a court orders the defaulted mortgagor to pay the mortgage within a specified period of time. Should the mortgagor fail to do so, the mortgage holder gains the title to the property with no obligation to sell it. This type of foreclosure is generally available only when the value of the property is less than the debt (“under water”). Historically, strict foreclosure was the original method of foreclosure.

Acceleration

The concept of acceleration is used to determine the amount owed under foreclosure. Acceleration allows the mortgage holder to declare the entire debt of a defaulted mortgagor due and payable, when a term in the mortgage has been broken. If a mortgage is taken, for instance, on a $100,000 property and monthly payments are required, the mortgage holder can demand the mortgagor make good on the entire $100,000 if the mortgagor fails to make one or more of those payments. The mortgage holder will also include any unpaid property taxes and delinquent payments in this amount, so if the borrower does not have significant equity they will owe more than the original amount of the mortgage.

Lenders may also accelerate a loan if there is a transfer clause, obligating the mortgagor to notify the lender of any transfer, whether; a lease-option, lease-hold of 3 years or more, land contracts, agreement for deed, transfer of title or interest in the property.

The vast majority (but not all) of mortgages today have acceleration clauses. The holder of a mortgage without this clause has only two options: either to wait until all of the payments come due or convince a court to compel a sale of some parts of the property in lieu of the past due payments. Alternatively, the court may order the property sold subject to the mortgage, with the proceeds from the sale going to the payments owed the mortgage holder.

Process

The process of foreclosure can be rapid or lengthy and varies from state to state. Other options such as refinancing, a short sale, alternate financing, temporary arrangements with the lender, or even bankruptcy may present homeowners with ways to avoid foreclosure. Websites which can connect individual borrowers and homeowners to lenders are increasingly offered as mechanisms to bypass traditional lenders while meeting payment obligations for mortgage providers.

In the United States, there are two types of foreclosure in most common law states. Using a “deed in lieu of foreclosure,” or “strict foreclosure”, the noteholder claims the title and possession of the property back in full satisfaction of a debt, usually on contract. In the proceeding simply known as foreclosure (or, perhaps, distinguished as “judicial foreclosure”), the property is subject to auction by the county sheriff or some other officer of the court. Many states require this sort of proceeding in some or all cases of foreclosure to protect any equity the debtor may have in the property, in case the value of the debt being foreclosed on is substantially less than the market value of the immovable property (this also discourages strategic foreclosure). In this foreclosure, the sheriff then issues a deed to the winning bidder at auction. Banks and other institutional lenders may bid in the amount of the owed debt at the sale but there are a number of other factors that may influence the bid, and if no other buyers step forward the lender receives title to the immovable property in return.

Other states have adopted non-judicial foreclosure procedures in which the mortgagee, or more commonly the mortgagee’s servicer’s attorney or designated agent, gives the debtor a notice of default and the mortgagee’s intent to sell the immovable property in a form prescribed by state statute. This type of foreclosure is commonly referred to as “statutory” or “non-judicial” foreclosure, as opposed to “judicial”. With this “power-of-sale” type of foreclosure, if the debtor fails to cure the default, or use other lawful means (such as filing for bankruptcy, which temporarily stays the foreclosure) to stop the sale, the mortgagee or its representative conduct a public auction in a similar manner to the sheriff’s auction. The highest bidder at the auction becomes the owner of the immovable property, free and clear of interest of the former owner, but possibly encumbered by liens superior to the foreclosed mortgage (e.g., a senior mortgage or unpaid property taxes). Further legal action, such as an eviction may be necessary to obtain possession of the premises.

Defenses – The Constitutional Issue of Due Process has affected the ability of lenders to foreclose property. In Ohio, the Federal District Court has dismissed numerous foreclosure actions by lenders because of the inability of the alleged lender to prove that they are the real party in interest In Colorado, on June 19, 2008, a District Court Judge dismissed a foreclosure action because of failure of the alleged lender to prove they were the real party in interest.

“Strict foreclosure” is an equitable right available in some states. The strict foreclosure period arises after the foreclosure sale has taken place and is available to the foreclosure sale purchaser. The foreclosure sale purchaser must petition a court for a decree that cuts off any junior lien holder’s rights to redeem the senior debt. If the junior lien holder fails to do so within the judicially established time frame, his lien is canceled and the purchaser’s title is cleared. This effect is the same as the strict foreclosure that occurred at common law in England’s courts of equity as a response to the development of the equity of redemption.

In most jurisdictions it is customary for the foreclosing lender to obtain a title search of the immovable property and to notify all other persons who may have liens on the property, whether by judgment, by contract, or by statute or other law, so that they may appear and assert their interest in the foreclosure litigation. In all US jurisdictions a lender who conducts a foreclosure sale of immovable property which is the subject of a federal tax lien must give 25 days’ notice of the sale to the Internal Revenue Service: failure to give notice to the IRS results in the lien remaining attached to the immovable property after the sale. Therefore, it is imperative the lender search local Federal Tax Liens so if parties involved in the foreclosure have a federal tax lien filed against them, the proper notice to the IRS is given. A detailed explanation by the IRS of the Federal Tax Lien process can be found.

Contesting a foreclosure

Because the right of redemption is an equitable right, foreclosure is an action in equity. To keep the right of redemption, the debtor maybe able to petition the court for an injunction. If repossession is imminent the debtor must seek a temporary restraining order. However, the debtor may have to post a bond in the amount of the debt. This protects the creditor if the attempt to stop foreclosure is simply an attempt to escape the debt.

A debtor may also challenge the validity of the debt in a claim against the bank to stop the foreclosure and sue for damages. In a foreclosure proceeding, the lender also bears the burden of proving they have standing to foreclose.

One note-worthy but legally meaningless court case questions the legality of the foreclosure practice is sometimes cited as proof of various claims regarding lending. In the case First National Bank of Montgomery vs Jerome Daly Jerome Daly claimed that the bank didn’t offer a legal form of consideration because the money loaned to him was created upon signing of the loan contract. The myth reports that Daly won, and the result was that he didn’t have to repay the loan, and the bank couldn’t repossess his property. In fact, the “ruling” (widely referred to as the “Credit River Decision”) was ruled a nullity by the courts.

Foreclosure auction

When the entity (in the US, typically a county sheriff or designee) auctions a foreclosed property the noteholder may set the starting price as the remaining balance on the mortgage loan. However, there are a number of issues that affect how pricing for properties is considered, including bankruptcy rulings. In a weak market the foreclosing party may set the starting price at a lower amount if it believes the real estate securing the loan is worth less than the remaining principal of the loan.

In the case where the remaining mortgage balance is higher than the actual home value the foreclosing party is unlikely to attract auction bids at this price level. A house that went through a foreclosure auction and failed to attract any acceptable bids may remain the property of the owner of the mortgage. That inventory is called REO (real estate owned). In these situations the owner/servicer tries to sell it through standard real estate channels.

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