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Isle lending experts cautious about Obama mortgage plan


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POSTED: Thursday, February 19, 2009

The lending plan President Barack Obama unveiled yesterday to help keep at-risk homeowners from losing their homes could shore up some aspects of the Hawaii market, but local experts say it won't solve all of the problems locally.

The $75 billion plan, slated to become effective in March, has been backed by the National Association of Realtors as well as many members of the mortgage industry. And, homeowners who are in crisis are following its progress like a beacon of hope.

Homeowners facing foreclosure or borrowers owing more on their homes than their mortgages are worth would have more opportunities to refinance their loans so that they have lower monthly payments.

“;This is certainly a step in the right direction that will let many Hawaii homeowners stay in their homes,”; said John Riggins, owner of John Riggins Real Estate. “;However, Hawaii still needs to mandate licensing requirements for mortgage brokers and the industry needs to consider implementing financial education programs for real estate professionals and consumers.”;

The foreclosure footprint in Hawaii has been steadily growing as falling sales, dropping home values and the overall economic decline have made it more difficult for homeowners who get in trouble to save their homes.

There were 337 foreclosure filings, or one per every 1,504 households, in Hawaii in January, according to RealtyTrac, a national research firm that tracks foreclosure activity in the United States.

It's still unclear how many Hawaii foreclosures will be averted by the plan that Obama himself has said will not save every home. The plan focuses on rescuing families who have played by the rules and acted responsibly, Obama said, as he unveiled details before an audience in Arizona, a frontrunner among foreclosure-plagued states.

“;It will not rescue the unscrupulous or irresponsible by throwing good taxpayer money after bad loans,”; he said.

While Obama's plan will alleviate some of these stresses in Hawaii's housing market, it doesn't stave off foreclosure for those with poor credit, distressed second-home owners, investors, or mortgage companies or clients that used liar loans to distort the facts during the boom, said real estate analyst Stephany Sofos.

“;About a third of our residential owners are second-home owners or investors and the plan does not address how to halt these foreclosures,”; Sofos said. “;When investor-owned condominiums and apartments are foreclosed upon, we'll have tenant families out on the street.”;

Hawaii homeowners who are already in default should continue working with their lenders to reach a solution, said Wendy Burkholder, executive director for Consumer Credit Counseling Service of Hawaii.

“;This program is not an automatic bailout,”; Burkholder said.

Burkholder said her clients possibly could benefit more from a bill Obama's administration is proposing that would allow bankruptcy judges to modify the terms of primary home loans in court. Some lenders have fought this plan, but Burkholder said that it behooves them to work with distressed consumers.

“;The lenders are being given every opportunity to work with consumers in distress, and if they are not willing to do that voluntarily, then the bank-ruptcy judges might step in to save people's homes,”; she said.

Such a law might make it easier for lenders to modify loans, said Daren Blomquist, RealtyTrac's marketing communications manager.

“;Because many of the loans were sold in the secondary market, it's been tough for lenders to get approval from investors to modify the loan,”; Blomquist said.

In the text of his speech, Obama told American homeowners that even if they had not personally experienced a foreclosure that they were likely feeling the trickle-down impacts of the foreclosure crisis in lost home values, housing market-related layoffs, lost revenue and dwindling tax bases.

Some Hawaii neighborhoods where foreclosures have been prevalent have seen dramatic drops in value, said Jean Seki, owner of Hawaii Mortgage Resources LLC.

“;I was trying to do a reverse mortgage for a client in Wai-pahu, but I wasn't able to because the value had dropped due to nearby short sales and foreclosures,”; Seki said. “;Last year, the house appraised at $640,000, but now it's only worth about $514,000.”;

Dropping values and loan defaults in Hawaii and elsewhere have made it tougher to get people into homes, said Rusty Rasmussen, a mortgage broker with Castle & Cooke .

“;Navigating through the loan requirements is like going through a minefield,”; Rasmussen said. “;If we can clear up some of the problems with the market, it may ease access for buyers.”;