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Treasury relaxes rules to free-up HAFA short sales

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The Treasury Department took action in December eliminating some rules it said have held back short sales through the Home Affordable Foreclosure Alternatives program. HAFA was launched in April 2010 to provide an incentive to servicers and investors for pursuing short sales and deeds-in-lieu of foreclosure. The program was designed for homeowners who fell out of the Treasury's Home Affordable Modification Program and was touted as a new standard for short sales. But both HAFA and HAMP have struggled. The Treasury has spent only $4.3 million through HAFA, inducing roughly 661 short sales since the program launched, according to the Congressional Oversight Panel, the Troubled Asset Relief Program watchdog. With such low numbers, the Treasury has eliminated rules that have constricted eligibility for HAFA. Among them, servicers are no longer required to verify a borrower's financial information or determine if the borrower's total monthly mortgage payment exceeds a 31% debt-to-income ratio. Servicers still must obtain a signed hardship affidavit. "While this requirement has set the standard for mortgage affordability under HAMP, it is not as important for homeowners ready to transition out of their home," a Treasury official said. "Eliminating this requirement further streamlines the process for homeowners applying to the program." Larry Bird, an executive at BirdRock Enterprises and a vice president for the Foreclosure Response Team, a company that specializes in short sales, said removing the 31% DTI requirement should allow many more people to qualify for HAFA. "This will certainly help, the 31% ratio should have never been part of the HAFA requirements to begin with," Bird said. In order to get more second-lien investors to clear short sales, the Treasury changed how servicers pay out to these holders. Before, the second-lien investor had to agree to accept 6% of the unpaid principle balance owed to them, up to $6,000. But the new guidelines eliminate that 6% rule. Now, servicers on behalf of the investors determine the amount or percentage of the unpaid principal balance of the second lien to be paid to each holder. However, the cap still remains at $6,000. The Treasury also directed servicers to grant borrowers who request consideration for HAFA the same timeline as those who are approached by the bank. Now, all borrowers must receive a short sale agreement no later than 30 days after request. The Treasury said it will begin reporting official HAFA numbers in the first quarter of 2011. Write to Jon Prior.

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