Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Foreclosure 101: What do you mean I don't have a mortgage?

Understanding the foreclosure process in Oregon begins with understanding one very basic fact.

A basic fact that a surprisingly high percentage of homeowners do not realize until faced with foreclosure.

That basic fact is this:

If you bought property here in the great State of Oregon, it is almost certainly the case that...

You do not have a mortgage.


Then you are not alone.


When you close on a piece of residential property, there seem to be a staggering number of documents to sign. If you are reading this blog, you have probably been there, done that. You are directed to an enormous pile of official looking documents, handed a pen and asked to sign here, and here, and here, and here and here. This goes on for about an hour until you’re sitting there with writer’s cramp and a glazed look on your face completely befuddled about what you’re signing, why you’re signing it, and why it takes as stack of paper the size of a Volkswagen Beetle to buy something that doesn’t move.

We get it.  The process can be mind-numbing.

But at the end of day, all of these papers really boil down to two key documents.

A promissory note.

And a deed of trust.


A promissory note, in the simplest terms, is a glorified IOU. You (the borrower) promise to pay Big Evil Bank (the lender) the sum of X at an interest rate of Y in monthly payments of Z. That’s it. Pretty straight-forward.

But what happens if you don’t pay?

That’s where the second document comes in....a security instrument. A security instrument, in the simplest terms, is a document that “secures” your payment obligation under a promissory note by doing one of two things: (1) actually transferring title to the property to someone else until the promissory note is paid-in-full (known in the law as the “title theory” because title actually changes hands until the underlying obligation is satisfied) or (2) by creating a “lien” or “security interest” in the property until the promissory note is paid-in-full (known in the law as the “lien theory” because the borrower actually keeps title to the property subject to the borrower’s lien). Oregon is what is referred to a “lien-theory” state.” So when you purchase a home here in Oregon, you receive title to the property but then you immediately transfer a “security interest” (a lien) in the property to another party until the promissory note has been paid.

Understood? Very good.

Now here are the two $24 million questions. First, who holds this “security interest” while you’re paying off your loan? Second, and most importantly, what does holding a “security interest” in a piece of property lawfully allow you to do? Let’s address the first question.

Traditionally, the person (or entity) holding the “security interest” was the lender and the typical security instrument was a mortgage. A mortgage involved two parties. The mortgagee (the lender) held a security interest (a lien) in the property until the loan was fully paid by the borrower (the mortgagor). Upon full payment of the obligation, the lien was released and the homeowner would own the property free and clear.

In 1959, the Oregon legislature passed the Oregon Trust Deed Act (OTDA). Unlike a mortgage, which involves a mortgagor (borrower) and a mortgagee (lender), a trust deed involves three parties: the “grantor” of the trust (the borrower), the “beneficiary” of the trust (the lender) and an independent trustee. When a borrower purchases a piece of property in Oregon using a trust deed as opposed to a mortgage, the borrower (1) receives title to the property but then concurrently executes a deed of trust which transfers a security interest to a trustee who then holds—”owns” if you will—this security interest for the benefit of the lender until the loan is fully paid or goes into default.

Since 1959, the security instrument of choice in Oregon has been the deed of trust, not a mortgage. Which brings us to the second question. What does holding a security interest in a piece of property lawfully allow the trustee of a trust deed to do in the event of a default?

The answer to this question lies in understanding the difference between a “judicial foreclosure” and a “non-judicial foreclosure” and how the OTDA dramatically changed the foreclosure process.

Next: The good, the bad and the ugly: Understanding foreclosures under the Oregon Trust Deed Act

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