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Pressure to Approve Loans Ruined WaMu

There is a great article in the New York Times about how pressure to approve loans helped bring down Washington Mutual:

MS. COOPER started at WaMu in 2003 and lasted three and a half years. At first, she was allowed to do her job, she says. In February 2007, though, the pressure became intense. WaMu executives told employees they were not making enough loans and had to get their numbers up, she says.

“They started giving loan officers free trips if they closed so many loans, fly them to Hawaii for a month,” Ms. Cooper recalls. “One of my account reps went to Jamaica for a month because he closed $3.5 million in loans that month.”

And exactly what types of loans were they approving:

Vetting a loan one day, Ms. Cooper says she became suspicious when a photograph of the house being bought showed one street address while documents deeper in the file showed a different address. She contacted the appraiser, and recalls that he said that he must have erred and that he would send her the correct documents.

“So then he sent me an appraisal with a picture of the same house but this time with the right number on it,” Ms. Cooper recalls. “I looked the address up in our system and could not find it. I called the appraiser and said, ‘Please investigate.’ ”

The appraiser came back, reporting that a visit to the California property had found everything in order and in agreement with the original appraisal. “I was so for sure that it was fraud I wanted to get on an airplane,” Ms. Cooper says.

The $800,000 loan was approved, but not by Ms. Cooper. Six months later, it defaulted, she says. “When they went to foreclose on the house, they found it was an empty lot,” she recalls. “I remember clear as day this manager comes over to me and asks, ‘Do you remember this loan?’ I knew just what she was talking about.”

This was fraud all around. Fraud on the part of the buyer and fraud on the part of the lender.

Hat tip: Appraisal Scoop

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