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Sunday, February 24, 2008 3:50 PM

Ski Trip Extravaganzas And Housing Advocate Shills

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The Wall Street Journal is reporting Countrywide Treats Bankers to Ski-Resort Trip.

Countrywide Financial Corp., the nation's largest mortgage lender by loan volume, will host about 30 representatives of smaller mortgage banks for three nights next week at the Ritz-Carlton Bachelor Gulch ski resort in Avon, Colo. At one of the country's most-glamorous skiing spots, a regular room on a weekday starts at $750.

The first items on the agenda for guests arriving Monday evening: Cocktails and ski fittings. Next is dinner at the Spago restaurant, whose menu includes Kobe steak with wasabi potato puree for $105. (For the budget-minded, pan-roasted buffalo filet with Kabocha pumpkin flan is $54.)

The annual event is for bankers at correspondent lenders, which originate loans and then sell them to Countrywide. The Calabasas, Calif., lender is paying for hotel rooms, meals, skiing and tips, according to a program distributed to attendees.

The schedule calls for four-hour business meetings Tuesday and Wednesday mornings, followed by skiing and dinner. Those dinners are at Zach's Cabin, where diners arrive by sled, and at Larkspur in Vail, Colo., where the menu includes California farmed Alverta President caviar, listed at $140.50.


Sen. Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat who has been pushing Countrywide and others to do more for people facing foreclosure, called on Countrywide to cancel the trip and devote the money to refinancing distressed homeowners.

A Countrywide spokesman declined to comment. The company has argued in recent news releases that it is making efforts to keep distressed borrowers in their homes. Among those are agreements with nonprofit consumer-advocacy groups to negotiate loan workouts for borrowers. A Bank of America spokesman declined to discuss Countrywide's hospitality.
Countrywide's news releases that is it making efforts to help distressed borrowers via agreements with nonprofit consumer-advocacy groups is laughable. Yes, Countrywide is interested in keeping people in houses, but only because they do not want to own more property.

Nonprofit consumer-advocacy groups are in nearly every instance a scheme to benefit businesses not consumers.

Industry Shills

Companies accepting money from Countrywide (CFC), Chase (JPM), Ocwen Financial (OCN), Wells Fargo (WFC) and others are little more than industry shills.

HomeFree Funding, Inc.
HomeFree Funding, Inc was launched in 1997 as a wholly owned mortgage brokerage subsidiary of HomeFree-USA. From its inception HomeFree Funding was designed to close the loop between fully prepared, default resistant homebuyers and their access to mortgage products that reflected their needs and recognized their preparation for homeownership.

Since its inception, HomeFree Funding has originated in excess of 1,500 loans in Maryland and the District of Columbia in conjunction with the HomeFree-USA counseling program. These originations have been brokered to primary partners such as Bank of America, Chevy Chase Bank, CitiMortgage and Wells Fargo.
Hope Now Alliance
Hope Now USA is a full private mortgage counseling service that acts on behalf of homeowners to achieve mortgage relief and avoid foreclosure. The Federal Government does not act or negotiate on behalf of homeowners.
Translation: Hope Now USA's mission is to get you to keep paying your mortgage whether it is in your best interest or not.

Acorn Housing
National non-profit ACORN Housing has been providing free housing counseling to low and moderate income homebuyers since 1987. We have opened HUD-certified, Fannie Mae-approved housing counseling offices across the US, helping over 50,000 families to achieve homeownership.
Dominion Homes "Free Down Payments"

Here is another charitable advocacy program to consider: Dominion Homes Sponsors Broken Dreams with "Free Down Payments.
A federal database called Neighborhood Watch that tracks default rates among lenders who make Federal Housing Administration loans proved to be a smoking gun. The Neighborhood Watch Database showed Dominion led the state in the number of homeowners who defaulted on FHA mortgages within two years of closing on the loans.

It also allowed us to discover that Dominion had the worst default rate in the nation among its peers - builders with their own financing divisions. U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development audits, which took six months to obtain through a Freedom of Information Act request, documented Dominion's questionable lending practices. The company gave loans to buyers with shaky credit, income and savings. Dominion shielded from customers its ownership in a title agency that closed their loans.

The Dispatch also found that Dominion's "free" down payments also contributed to foreclosures among its customers. Dominion rolled the cost of the freebie into the price of the house. The company funneled the down payments through a national charity that did nothing but collect a processing fee and issue the down payment "gift."

In a sidebar, we profiled the California-based charity, Nehemiah Corp. of America, and its partnership with Dominion. Because these were FHA loans, an insurance fund bailed out lenders when the mortgages went bad. Dominion faced no financial consequences when foreclosures hit. The story "Suburban Blight" focused on one neighborhood, where one of every six houses was either in foreclosure, bankruptcy or both.

Residents of the Galloway Ridge subdivision who were able to pay their bills found themselves surrounded by vacant houses with weed-infested yards. They were stuck in a neighborhood where their brand-new houses were worth less than they paid for them, while Dominion was still building houses in the 804-lot development.
Those "free" down payments sure worked out well didn't they? Nonetheless, advocacy groups are still in the business of offering "free help". Meanwhile Bank of America is asking Congress for a $739 billion bank bailout.

The most likely business purpose of Countrywide's ski trip extravaganza is for banks to figure out a way to save their own buts regardless of what it costs the homeowner. Why not have a big party while doing so? After all, it's only shareholder money.... right now. The trick is to come up with a scheme that will make it taxpayer money instead.

Mike "Mish" Shedlock
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