More than 2,000 Sonoma County homeowners received reductions in their loan balances or were allowed to walk away from their mortgages in short sales under a 2012 mortgage settlement between lenders and the state of California, according to a new report.
Overall, banks wiped out $272 million in mortgage debt owed by Sonoma County homeowners, according to a report released today on the impact of the mortgage settlement with the nation's three largest home lenders.
The report, prepared by a UC Irvine law professor appointed to monitor the settlement, found that lenders provided $149.4 million in mortgage relief to Sonoma County borrowers by approving short sales between January 2012 and the end of June.
The banks erased an additional $122.6 million in debt by restructuring loans to reduce the principal, according to the report by California Monitor Katherine Porter. The average principal reduction for a first mortgage in Sonoma County was $129,487. For a second mortgage it was $90,807.
Napa County homeowners received a total of $98.8 million in relief, while those in Lake and Mendocino counties received $23.9 million and $14.6 million respectively.
Overall, the three banks — Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo — provided more than $18.4 billion in mortgage relief to California borrowers, significantly exceeding the terms of the $12 billion settlement over allegations of lending abuses.
"The banks did exceed by 50 percent what they had to provide in terms of reduction in mortgage loan debt," said Adam Holofcener, staff attorney with the monitor program.
When the agreement was first announced in February 2012, the state estimated that Sonoma County could receive $267 million. The actual amount was slightly higher. But Lake and Mendocino counties received much less than the original estimates of $43 million and $23 million, respectively.
Linda Hedstrom, housing and economic development manager at California Human Development Corporation in Santa Rosa, said Lake and Mendocino homeowners lacked the same level of counseling programs that were available at the time in Sonoma. The lower-than-expected results in Lake and Mendocino may have occurred because fewer homeowners heard about the assistance programs.
"Unless you're out there pushing your services, people don't know you're there," Hedstrom said.
In Sonoma County, the monitor program reported that 14 percent of homes with mortgages were underwater in June, compared to 29.7 percent in January 2012. There were 603 properties in the foreclosure process in June, 0.8 percent of all mortgages here, compared to 1,734 only 18 months earlier.
In three of the four counties, the banks provided slightly more money for short sales than for principal reductions. Short sales are transactions where the sale price is less than the amount owed on a mortgage.
The one exception was Mendocino County, where principal reductions amounted to $8 million, compared to $6.6 million for short sales.
Of the three banks, Bank of America provided $11.2 billion statewide in relief, according to the report. Chase provided $4.1 billion and Wells Fargo $3.2 billion.
The amounts differed because the three banks had different obligations, loan portfolios and strategies for carrying out the settlement, Holofcener said.
Besides the state settlement, Californians received nearly $2 billion more in relief from a $25 billion national settlement, the report stated.
Madeline Schnapp, director of economic research for PropertyRadar, a Truckee company that tracks foreclosure and property data, said the numbers may sound big but $18 billion is still relatively small in terms of distressed properties in California.