Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Lien filing service?

Huh? Lien filing service? How is this happening? Apparently contractors are paying firms (NOT law firms) to file mechanic's liens for them. The Illinois Attorney General is getting after one of these firms:

According to the Attorney General’s complaint, Contractor’s Lien Services (CLS) and its founder, Steve Boucher, analyze, prepare and file mechanic’s liens on property on behalf of general contractors and subcontractors. CLS allegedly misrepresents to contractors that it has valid cause for filing mechanics liens against homeowners when, most often, those contractors do not actually have valid claims under state laws. CLS also allegedly files liens without the knowledge of some contractors and, in other instances, CLS files liens against homeowners when contractors have not performed work at the properties in question.
After filing foreclosure liens, CLS allegedly files foreclosure actions against consumers who don’t pay off the debts. Some contractors claim that CLS collects money on behalf of contractors but then fails to redistribute the collected debts to them.

The press release does not refer to any unauthorized practice of law claims, which seems like a slam dunk. While filing a mechanic's lien is easy-peasy, the mechanic's lien law is rather complex. Filing it amounts to filling out a simple form and giving the recorder's office $40 or $50. There is no need to pay someone to do that. Knowing when to file one and in what circumstances is where the knowlege and expertise comes into play. If this CLS was giving this kind of advice, they were 1) giving wrong advice, and 2) engaging in the unauthorized practice of law. Either way, all they are allowed by law to do is file a form you complete at the recorder's office. If they were charging more than fifty cents, the contractors were paying too much, since all you need to do is mail it with your filing fee check to the recorder.

File a lien when you should not, and you could be looking at your lien being invalid at best, or defending a slander of title lawsuit at worst. I have no idea how much this CLS outfit charged contractors, but mechanic's lien law is not the place to skimp. Hire an attorney who knows mechanic's lien law.

The press release goes on to describe how many homeowners were duped into paying off liens which were wholly invalid, sometimes when they did not even have any work done by the contractors whose names were on the liens. Just because someone files a lien against your home does not necessarily mean you owe them money or that you need to pay them. If you believe there is a valid reason you do not owe the money they claim (whether it is because the contractor did not do all the work claimed, did it badly, did not do it at all, you already paid them, the lien was filed too late, etc., etc., etc.), talk to an attorney before you pony up the cash.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Interesting stats

I have been tracking lender's bid vs. sale price for FHA loans in Iowa for a little while, and the numbers are interesting.

The calculation:
The sale price to a new buyer after the sheriff's sale divided by the amount bid by the lender at the sheriff's sale as a percentage.

The data:
The amount bid by the lender at the sheriff's sale is essentially the money the lender has lost, between the principal balance of the loan, accrued interest, taxes and insurance paid by the lender, and costs of the foreclosure. The sale price to a new buyer is the actual price paid by someone who is buying the property after the foreclosure has gone through and the property has gone back on the market.

The results:
The price paid by the new buyer is a little more than half of what the lender bid at the sheriff's sale. For seventy-six properties analyzed, the drop is 48.28%. There were some amazing outlyers:
$58,000 bid - $8,000 sales price
$44,000 bid - $5,000 sales price
$45,000 bid - $3,000 sales price
$80,000 bid - $21,000 sales price
$115,000 bid - $42,000 sales price

The average number of days between the sheriff's sale and the date of the accepted contract is 291--sneaking up on a year. This does not include the time it takes to foreclose, which can be an additional two to twelve months.

Granted, this is a relatively small sample (however, the standard deviation is 0.1656, so the difference is certainly statistically significant), but what is the cause of incredible loss of value? Three possibilities come to mind:
  1. The lenders loaned way more than the property was worth;
  2. The foreclosure process takes too long, and allows the properties to remain vacant for such long period of time that they significantly deteriorate;
  3. Something about the property being vacant and/or foreclosed somehow stigmatizes the property, and makes many buyers avoid them.

Any other ideas, or better yet, suggestions?