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Foreclosure-Gate Explained: Big Banks on the Brink

One foreclosure expert estimates that just 6 to 7 percent of the loans made in the last three years can produce properly recorded title transfers from borrower to final lender. Legally assigning, or recording title transfers was much too slow and cumbersome for the fast-paced trade in MBS, so most banks just ignored those requirements, according to testimony, analysts and consumer advocates like Hackett. On many mortgages, the loan owner's name was routinely left blank, the titles never recorded and title transfer fees not paid. Banks invented an investment vehicle in 1987 called REMICs (Real Estate Mortgage Investment Conduits) to allow them to profit from MBS trading. A Real Estate Mortgage Investment Conduit is what the name implies - an empty pipe that allows banks to collect fees as trustees of MBS' without owning any of the assets that back them. It also allows them to avoid taxes and title transfer fees since they only pass through titles to property held as collateral for the MBS' they sell. But this is clearly a convenient fiction for huge consumer lenders like Bank of America and GMAC, which are trying to have things both ways. REMICs were a real sweet deal for banks until the bottom fell out of the housing market in 2007, triggering the worse recession in 75 years. Banks soon found themselves going to court to repossess property they had been claiming for years they never owned. They hired foreclosure mills to retroactively produce documents showing the chain of ownership ended with them. In many cases, foreclosure mills provided affidavits of lost mortgage notes attempting to prove banks' control of mortgages in hopes of winning a favorable judgment.

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