H&R Block, the tax preparer that has seen its ownership of subprime lender Option One Mortgage Corp. become an albatross around its neck as the mortgage industry has run aground, said Monday morning that it has signed an agreement with an affiliate of WL Ross & Co. LLC to sell its once-mighty lending and servicing platform. The deal is tentatively worth $1.1 billion, H&R Block said in a press release Monday, and includes a financing contingency limiting the obligations of WL Ross & Co. The final deal price will be tied to the amount of outstanding servicing advances at deal close; at the end of January, Option One reported $1.07 billion in servicing advances. Under the terms of the deal, WL Ross will acquire the entire Option One servicing platform and call center assets; H&R Block shut down origination activities late last year after a previous deal to sell the lender/servicer to Cerberus Capital Management, LP, fell apart. “In today’s turbulent markets, the challenge is to complete a transaction, not simply announce an agreement,” said Richard Breeden, chairman at H&R Block. “There is still much work to be done until the business is safely transferred at closing.” Billionaire investor Wilbur Ross has been buying up servicers amid the industry crash; Option One will mark his company’s second such acquisition within a year. In October of last year, Ross acquired the servicing platform of failed lender American Home Mortgage. Servicing platforms are seen as the most stable and profitable asset of most lending operations, because of the steady cash flow they generate. The purchase price is also tied to the performance of the servicing portfolio, H&R Block said. Deterioration of 30 day delinquencies above an unspecified threshold would reduce the price the WL Ross affiliate would pay to acquire Option One. In a bit of good news for employees at the beleaguered company, WL Ross will move to retain what H&R Block characterized as a “substantial number” of existing employees at the servicer. For more information, visit http://www.hrblock.com.
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