Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Homeowners will get "Experienced" Mediators

Foreclosure Fairness is about to come to Washington and yesterday, an email from the Washington State Bar Association outlined some of the minimum requirements to be considered a mediator.  A mediator is simply a neutral third party that helps negotiate conflicts between two parties.  In the instant case, it will be the frustrated homeowner who has sought HAMP and conventional modifications from an unmotivated banking institution.  The mediators must have had a minmum of 200 hours of mediation experience, or 60 hours of mediation experience and 40 hours of mediation training with a minimum of 10 completed mediations. 

All in all, the qualifications are not really problematic.  It is good to have mediators that have experience dealing with two individuals working out thier problems.  Where I find issue with the qualifications is that there is no requirement that the individual have any experience in finance and real estate law.

Foreclosure mediation is going to be its own beast.  This is not a divorce or custody dispute, it is not an employee who feels wronged by a manager, nor is it two homeowners fighting over boundaries.  This is an intense struggle between a homeowner and a highly sophisticated, financial entity which has access to economists, finance experts, and lawyers.  Who do you think has leverage going into this mediation?

Additional issues come into play that stem from the new Foreclosure Fairness Act itself.  The act has handcuffed the mediators because there is no requirement that the banks disclose all of the factors going into the net present value (NPV) tests of a loan modification.  An NPV analysis can be quite simple, it is a function of the number of payments, interest rate, starting and ending values.  However, this simple function that can be run on a HP 10bII calculator can become incredibly complex though, when the interest rate and end values are gerrymandered with payoffs from third party insurance products and volatile derivative markets.

Since those inputs into the NPV analysis do not have to be disclosed, it makes it difficult for the average homeowner to understand why a modification is being offered when the modification has a NPV that is clearly higher than the NPV of a foreclosure in the simple set.  This fact alone is one of the reasons why a homeowner should choose legal representation over a simple housing counselor when approaching the mediation process.  You must meet sophistication with sophistication, even if the argument, boiled down to its essential elements, is quite simple.

The representative of the homeowner must have the ability to understand and dissect the bank's complex jumble of information, essentially cutting through the crap, and deliver the actual terms.  Since the mediators are not required to be able to do this on their own, nor will they have the resources at $400 per mediation, it falls to the homeowner to deliver a break down of the bank's proposal and a solid counter proposal which is more reasonable.  Good luck getting that done with a free housing counselor being funded by the banking institutions.

I have harped on the way the new legislation force feeds housing counselors on the public and this is why.  When it comes to complex negotiations, it is unlikely that the homeowner will get adequate representation in the foreclosure mediation because there are too many cases, limited resources, and a suspect source of funding to legitimately expect excellence.  Homeowners that can afford nothing else will likely be better off than with no help, but remember the adage that "you get what you pay for."

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