From the Boston Globe:
Each month, Stephen and Kim Martinelli sent their mortgage payment to Chase Home Finance, and when they fell behind, it was Chase that launched foreclosure proceedings, with an auction of their Lawrence home scheduled for later this week.
The Martinellis, squeezed by the cost of caring for a disabled son and carrying an adjustable-rate mortgage that boosted their monthly payments by $900 over the past year, pleaded with Chase for a break: for a new payment plan, a lower, more affordable rate, or a delay in the foreclosure, due to hardship.
Chase’s answer: “No.”
What the Martinellis did not know was that Chase was not calling the shots. Chase merely services the loan, acting as bill collector and administrator.
The mortgage was held by an unknown investor, whom Chase declined to identify and who refused to modify the terms of the Martinellis’ loan.
They are among thousands of delinquent borrowers caught in the maze of modern mortgage financing as they desperately try to save their homes. Unlike in the last real estate bust, when local banks and credit unions wrote nearly 80 percent of mortgages in Massachusetts, most home loans issued today pass through a nationwide chain of brokers, lenders, service companies, Wall Street firms, and investors. That makes tracing ownership difficult, if not impossible.
In a rising real estate market, the system worked well, spreading loan risks among various players and expanding credit and homeownership.
But as foreclosures mount, the system is proving ill-suited to respond, analysts said. The reason: Spreading risk muddled responsibility.
“It’s perfect deniability,” said Patricia McCoy, a University of Connecticut law professor who specializes in financial services. “When there’s a problem, each person in line says, ‘Don’t talk to me, talk to the other person.’ “