Homeowners won’t get state bailout

Nevada homeowners facing foreclosure on their houses won’t be getting any financial help from the state, but they could soon find that mortgage banks are more willing to renegotiate terms on problem home loans.

About 35 Nevada-based home-lending professionals from companies including Bank of America, Countrywide Homes Loans and Wells Fargo Bank held a summit Thursday with Gov. Jim Gibbons to discuss ways to ease Nevada’s growing foreclosure rate. Their solutions revolved around reconfiguring delinquent loans and mounting a statewide consumer education effort. None of the ideas involved a bailout using state funds or grants to assist homeowners.

The state can’t force private businesses to alter mortgage contracts with customers, Gibbons said, but lenders attending the summit said they’re willing to re-examine the terms of mortgages on the cusp of foreclosure. One bank executive said his business would review 1,100 unconventional or subprime mortgages in the state to evaluate how company officials could tweak interest rates or mortgage lengths to help keep borrowers in their homes.

“Each situation is unique, and involves different people in different circumstances with a common problem,” Gibbons said at a news conference following the closed summit. “Assistance available through lenders will be the catalyst to help buyers in trouble. Sometimes, a lender can make an adjustable-rate mortgage a fixed loan, or they can extend the years on the mortgage.

“I’m convinced the way out is addressing each individual problem one at a time,” Gibbons added.

Rejiggering loan terms could be complicated in some cases because banks bundle home loans and sell them to investors on the secondary market. Gibbons said banks have indicated that some secondary-market investors are increasingly willing to grant latitude on changing loans to prevent defaults.

Consumers in Nevada can also expect an informational campaign in coming weeks, as state officials and banks work to educate borrowers about their options.

The state is preparing a Web site that will link to lenders and financial counselors. The site will also contain details on potential solutions for homeowners facing delinquency or foreclosure. A public-service announcement will direct borrowers to agencies and companies that can help them out of a mortgage pinch. The idea is to remind consumers that they should work with their lenders to keep their homes, and to educate them on keeping their budget problems from getting worse.

“There’s no silver-bullet solution,” Gibbons said. “We didn’t get into this overnight, and it won’t end overnight. It will take us some months to get out of it.”

Gibbons will also assemble a task force of industry members and state and local officials to examine the foreclosure issue in more detail. Mendy Elliott, director of the state’s Department of Business and Industry, said the task force should have its first meeting within about three weeks. Gibbons will also call a second summit that will include Realtors, contractors and credit counselors to discuss the wave of mortgage defaults in the state. The group should meet shortly after the task force has its first session.

In addition, state officials are planning a series of “home-stay” fairs that would connect homeowners with mortgage troubles and lenders who could help them. The fairs will visit local high schools by year’s end.

Gibbons noted Sept. 20 in a speech to a local business group that the ailing housing market was beginning to affect the state’s economy, and said he would convene a housing summit with Nevada’s biggest lenders to discuss the issue.

Data from California research firm RealtyTrac show that Nevada led the nation in mortgage defaults, with one foreclosure for every 165 households. That’s three times the national average of one foreclosure for every 510 households.

The jump in foreclosures and mortgage delinquencies, combined with the ensuing housing credit crunch, has bolstered unemployment and depressed taxable sales in recent months, Gibbons said last month.

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