New Trial Opinion on Tennessee Post-Foreclosure Deficiency Statute Shows a Creditor-Friendly Trend in Interpreting “Materially Less”

A few months ago, I argued the first appellate case construing Tenn. Code Ann.  § 35-5-118, which is the new Tennessee post-foreclosure deficiency judgment statute. As you may recall from my blog post about the new law, the statute provides a possible defense to a deficiency action, where the debtor can show “by a preponderance of the evidence that the property sold for an amount materially less than the fair market value…”

In layman’s terms, a foreclosed borrower may be able to avoid a judgment for the remaining debt if he can show that the foreclosure buyer drastically under-bid at the foreclosure.

All across the state, this statute has resulted in two fights:

  1. What was the fair market value at the time of the foreclosure? and
  2. Was the foreclosure sale price “materially less” than the fair market value?

A big problem under the statute has been that “materially less” isn’t defined in the statute or anywhere else in Tennessee law.

In the resulting GreenBank v. Sterling Ventures  opinion, the Court of Appeals issued a bank-friendly interpretation,  offering guidance as to what “materially less”  means by saying that a sale price of 86% is not “materially less.”

I’ve heard from a number of bank lawyers since that opinion, complaining that 86% isn’t low enough. I’ve told them, just wait, the Sterling Ventures opinion didn’t set the “floor;” there is room in the statute for lower values, which will be established in future cases (in the Sterling Ventures case, the bid at issue was 88-91%, so it didn’t require the Court to define the lowest possible percentage).

This past week, my firm received another favorable  opinion from the Williamson County Chancery Court. In this Opinion (click to review), the Court recognized this issue, and rightfully upheld lower percentage bid amounts. The Court, following the lead of the Court of Appeals, cites the Holt v. Citizens Central Bank case, which recognized that a 50% recovery at foreclosure is a customary result.

While this doesn’t suggest that 50% is the magic number/floor percentage, this analysis shows a judicial tendency in interpreting the statute at a lower range than most debtors have argued.

With any new law, it takes a few decisions to “battle test” how it works. So far, the parameters of Tenn. Code Ann.  § 35-5-118 are being defined in a way that favors creditors.

Your Next Landlord Could be A Hedgefund: Are Rental Properties Making a Comeback as a Good Investment?

I’ve said for years that the contractors and investors who got burned by the economic downturn will eventually hit rock bottom, dust themselves off, and end up making as much money on the backside of the recession as they lost on the front end. This is because the same market inefficiencies that were exploited in the past are being replaced by equally exploitable new ones.

The builders who once built speculative homes on inflated market appraisals are going to be the contractors who do the work for the investors who buy the properties from the banks at 40 cents on the dollar.

The Las Vegas Sun did a story last week on how hedge funds are buying Las Vegas real properties at bargain rates, making minimal investments/improvements, and renting the properties for an 8% to 12% annual return.  Then, once the economy rebounds, the investors could expect appreciation to add more value to the investment.

As far as investments go, being a landlord is fairly labor-intensive. And, if the past 4 years has shown us anything, it’s hardly a fool-proof move.

Potential landlords would be smart to read this excellent article in the Wall Street Journal, Do You Really Want to be Landlord? The article has both horror stories and advice, as well as a forecast that rents are likely to increase over the next few years.

I got out of the landlord business two years ago, when my tenant couldn’t unclog her drains and called me every other day.  The 30 minute drive, coupled with time spent waiting on plumbers, gave me all the time to reconsider the pros and cons.

 

Foreclosure Auction Sales: Buyer Beware

In my post from last week about ways to avoid disaster when buying real property at a foreclosure sale, one of the “nightmare” scenarios I noted is when “the house is still subject to prior liens or taxes.”

Well, that exact nightmare came true for these California foreclosure auction bidders, who bought their dream house for half of what it was worth…only to learn that they bought it subject to an existing $500,000 mortgage.

They paid nearly $100,000 for a house they thought was worth $200,000 (great deal so far)…but, under the foreclosure laws, they purchased the house still subject to a pre-existing $500,000 lien (not a great deal anymore).

This is the perfect example of my earlier advice: don’t bid at a foreclosure sale unless you do your homework in advance or consult with someone who will do your homework for you.

As a general rule, foreclosure sales wipe out liens behind the foreclosing instrument, but they are subject to any senior liens (liens recorded before the lien being foreclosed). The foreclosing lender didn’t do anything wrong here, and this isn’t that out-of-the-ordinary. Sometimes, the buyer mistakenly bids so much money above a junior mortgage that the lender is forced to pay that money to the defaulted borrowers–not upstream to those senior liens.

Over the next few years, we’re going to hear a lot about people who made a lot of money in foreclosure sales…just like we’re going to see stories like this one.

Hat-Tip: Calculated Risk Blog.