Victims of Robo-Signing: Fight the Machine!

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With the national foreclosure settlement ramping up, victims of the housing crisis may finally be getting some satisfaction. Starting this week, more than 4 million homeowners who faced foreclosure between 2009 and 2010 may be able to get their cases reviewed to determine whether their lenders engaged in robo-signing and other questionable practices.

The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency has ordered the 14 largest mortgage servicers to send out mailers informing borrowers how to request a review if they suffered "financial injury as a result of errors, misrepresentations, or other deficiencies in foreclosure proceedings" on the purchase of their primary home.

In addition to being spanked for robo-signed signatures (pictured above) and other faulty documentation, banks may also be on the hook for other "financially harmful" practices, such as foreclosing on a home at the same time that the homeowner was in the process of a loan modification.

To qualify, the homeowner's mortgage must have been active in the foreclosure process between Jan. 1, 2009 and Dec. 31, 2010. Requests for reviews must be submitted by April 30, 2012. The loan must have been serviced by one of the lenders listed here. A neutral third party will review the complaints, according to the OCC release.

There is no word yet as to how much individual homeowners may recoup, nor is there any indication that foreclosed homeowners who fall outside the 2009-2010 window will receive a similar deal. And while this may be a step in the right direction for homeowners wronged by their lenders during the housing bubble, it falls far short of getting to the root of the problem. Robo-signing may have been a widespread phenomenon as far back as the mid-1990s, according to The Associated Press.

To learn more about the program and to see if your loan is eligible, visit IndependentForeclosureReview.com.

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Victims of Robo-Signing: Fight the Machine!

So you've just dumped your life savings into your new home. The good news is, you're living in a place you love. The bad news? Get ready for canned peas and particleboard furniture for the foreseeable future because, depending on where you settle down, the cost of living could set you back further than you expect. Using ACCRA’s cost of living index (national average: 100), Kiplinger has ranked the 10 markets with the highest and lowest cost of living, and we're counting down with the average-priced home listings in each of the cities.


For the full story, visit Kiplinger.

Cost of Living Index: 218

Median Household Income: $63,553

Average Home Price: $1.14 M

This listing: $1.069 M


New York and its surrounding suburbs of White Plains and Long Island topped Kiplinger's list for the second year in a row. While everyone knows that housing in the Big Apple is pricey (the national median home price is $158,700, according to the NAR), the cost of living here is equally jaw-dropping -- more than double the national average. Tour this posh uptown apartment to see how the upper crust lives.

This $1,069,000 condo, just off the Big Apple’s storied Broadway, boasts 1,812 square feet of prime Manhattan real estate. Hardwood floors and bright décor evoke signature New York chic in the Upper West Side apartment.

Seven rooms and two bathrooms provide generous space and amenities for classy soirees. The guests of such get-togethers can take pride in a progressive achievement of the city: Thanks to its mass transit system, New York has one of the lowest energy consumption rates in the country.  


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Cost of Living Index: 171

Median Household Income: $67,066

Average Home Price: $689,781

This Listing: $799,000


Location, location, location -- that's what this island city has in common with the rest of the priciest burgs in the nation. Of the six factors ACCRA uses to measure the cost of living index (see their methodology here), Honolulu has the highest combined costs for food, utilities and transportation. There's a price for living this far from the Continental U.S. But with views like these, who can blame buyers for trying?

This 1,900 square-foot condo offers three bedrooms and bathrooms along with a ceramic-tiled living room designed to reflect those Pacific rays. 

The white-sand beaches and tropical setting of this city are enough to drive its non-home living costs up higher than even New York’s. The home’s patio affords inhabitants a view of its clear-blue canal waterfront.


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Cost of Living Index: 164

Median Household Income: $74,876

Average Home Price: $808,481

This Listing: $815,000


Coastal cities dominate the high-end spectrum of the list, and San Francisco is no exception. The average home price in the City by the Bay is nearly $650,000 more than the national median, and gasoline prices teeter around $3.95 a gallon for unleaded, or 26 cents more than the national average. But the city's architectural style, like its hilly terrain, is one-of-a-kind. Click on to see what $815,000 gets you in SFO.

San Francisco offers less space than its island peer. This 800-square-foot $815,000 rowhouse typifies your middle-of-the-road deal here. The many windows of the four-room flat shed light on the city’s rich environs of mountains and hills encircling San Francisco Bay. 

Chop brussels sprouts and asparagus (avoid meat in this liberal metropolis) on the granite countertop of the kitchen island while you take in the urban view.   


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Cost of Living Index: 150

Median Household Income: $85,020

Average Home Price: $761,867

This Listing: $799,000


Having one of the higher median household incomes on the list doesn't come cheap. The biggest expense that residents of San Jose can expect are substantial housing costs, utilities and transportation. Pray you don't find much use for the attached garage of this Mediterranean-style family home -- travel here is expensive. 

This four-bedroom modern house in San Jose’s foothills makes smart use of its space by cramming 2,400 square feet and a two-car garage into its tenth-of-an acre lot. 

Built in 2007, its high ceilings and wall-to-wall carpeting encase slab granite countertops and high-end appliances. The home also boasts some state-of-the-art amenities like a custom-outfitted walk-in-closet and soaker tub. 


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Cost of Living Index: 147

Median Household Income: $81,114

Average Home Price: $606,742

This Listing: $699,900


While Stamford's average home price falls $550,000 short of New York's average, it can compete with the best of them in terms of health care and utility costs. It beat third-ranked San Francisco in both categories. This Colonial-style two-level comes in just north of the metro area's average.

This four-bedroom colonial looks and feels more like a suburban dwelling than a city home. Refinished hardwood floors sweep through eight rooms and run out to a deck in the back where a backyard and brook await. 

Vaulted ceilings give grace to a cozy living room that sits beneath a master suite, complete with Jacuzzi and walk-in closet. Convenience also awaits outside: The house is minutes from Metro-North Railroad, which shuttles many a resident to his day job in Stamford’s patron city, New York.  


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Cost of Living Index: 86

Median Household Income: $44,171

Average Home Price: $213,485

This Listing: $211,000

On the other end of the spectrum, we find the Lone Star equivalent of a two-for-one: cheap housing and affordable living expenses. Just 60 miles from Dallas, Sherman is a small-town city in the company of some heavyweight metros. Monthly rent costs a paltry $595 a month on average in this Southern burg. But why rent, when this prairie-style three-bedroom comes in below the metro average?

Try on 2,400 square feet for $211,000. How’s that feel? Modest by price tag, this house, weighing in at $89 a square foot, still furnishes a family with more than the basics. Mom, dad and the kids have three bedrooms, two baths and a living room to enjoy. 

Granite countertops, ceramic and wood floors make up the Tex-Mex station.


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Cost of Living Index: 85

Average Household Income: $37,363

Average Home Price: $235,168

This Listing: $235,000


Fort Smith has a median household income that's nearly half that of New York, but in terms of living expenses, the low cost of utilities and groceries more than makes up for the difference. This quaint three-bedroom with a porticoed entrance is in the perfect price range for a first-time buyer or a fixed-income retiree.

The price per square foot falls further, reaching $64 in the case of this three-bedroom, four-bathroom house. 

$235,000 buys you three stories, a swimming pool, 10 carpeted or wood-floored rooms, two fireplaces and a whopping 3,600 square feet.


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Cost of Living Index: 84.8

Median Household Income: $46,183

Average Home Price: $210,383

This Listing: $209,000


This Army base enclave is younger than one might expect outside of youth-culture centers like Austin and Houston. Some 15 percent of its population is made up of 25-to-34 year olds. Home prices in the area rank among the five lowest on the list. This four-bedroom home is no exception.

This handsome 2,970-square-foot brick-built ranch in nearby Killeen, Texas, runs for $209,000 with four bedrooms, two and half bathrooms, and amenities like a utility room, walk-in pantry and walk-in closets.

When you’re not lazing around on the house’s porch or patio, you can step inside to kick back in its spacious living room or cook up some country grub in the kitchen. 


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Cost of Living Index: 84.1

Median Household Income: $40,805

Average Home Price: $194,302

This Listing: $195,000


The sleepy town of Pueblo is home to the lowest average home prices on the list, bar none. Couple that with the fact that Pueblo also has one of the most robust median incomes on the affordable end of the spectrum, and it's no wonder why this nature-enthusiast hideaway came in a close second. This 2,600-square-foot home sits on an acre of bucolic Colorado terrain, perfect for an outdoorsy buyer.

In Clintwood, which has the cheapest average property costs in the rankings, $195,000 will fetch you an acre of land, five bedrooms and four bathrooms in the case of this 2,600-square-foot stucco ranch.

Circled by fence, rock, trees and lawn, the house features a monster master bedroom and an appliance-stocked kitchen.  


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Cost of Living Index: 80

Median Household Income: $30,034

Average Home Price: $209,177

This Listing: $205,000


The most affordable place to live on Kiplinger’s list hails from the southwestern tip of the Lone Star State, a short drive away from the Mexican border. A combination of supremely affordable groceries and consumer goods, with reasonably priced housing, score Brownsville an 80 on the cost-of-living index. In context, the U.S. average is 100, and New York, the most expensive market, scored a 218. Perhaps the most surprising thing about Brownsville is the variety of inexpensive housing options for buyers.

The fact that this house has less acreage and square feet than other houses in the low-living-cost cities of Kiplinger's rankings tells us it must be situated in one of the ritziest parts of dirt-cheap Brownsville.

The black-and-white décor of its interior almost seems to conjure the chicness of dwellings found in Brownsville’s opposite on the cost-of-living spectrum, New York. 


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