02.28.2011 Foreclosure or Deed in Lieu: What’s Right for You?
Editor Bruno, Jamie WatkinsIn Virginia, a lender holding a defaulted loan secured by a deed of trust has two primary means to enforce its remedies under that deed of trust: foreclosure by a trustee’s sale and conveyance by a deed in lieu of foreclosure. We’ve put together a brief primer summarizing the key strengths, weaknesses and procedural guidelines for each alternative to help you determine which option works best for your needs, timeline and budgetary constraints.
I. Trustee’s Sale. The most common procedure for foreclosure is the sale of the property by a trustee, a non-judicial action. A trustee can act only in a manner authorized by the express or implied terms of the trust instrument or as authorized by statute. If the deed of trust does not provide otherwise, the provisions of the Virginia Code control as to the authority of the trustee. Foreclosure by a trustee’s sale can usually be completed within thirty (30) to forty-five (45) days after the expiration of any cure period provided by the loan documents for the default giving rise to the foreclosure, if the lender acts promptly.
1. Duties and Obligations. A trustee is a fiduciary for both the debtor and the creditor. The trustee must not place himself in a position where the trustee’s personal interests conflict with the interests of the parties to whom he owes a fiduciary duty. A trustee who is counsel to or an employee of the noteholder must be sensitive to the obligation to discharge his fiduciary duties in an impartial manner. The mere fact that a trustee in a deed of trust securing a debt due to a corporation is a stockholder, member, employee, officer or director of, or counsel to, the corporation, however, does not disqualify him from exercising the powers conferred by the trust instrument. Trustees cannot act as purchasers, directly or indirectly, at their own sales; when a trustee buys directly or indirectly at his own sale, that constitutes constructive fraud, and the transaction is voidable. This rule also applies to a trustee who is named in a deed of trust but does not act.
2. Substitution of Trustee. If the person who is to conduct the foreclosure is not named in the deed of trust as trustee, a substitution of trustee is needed. When an instrument appointing a substitute trustee has been executed by the holders of more than fifty percent (50%) of the secured obligations, the substitute trustee can immediately execute all powers granted to the prior trustee.
1. Documentation. A trustee should secure the proper documentation from the noteholder, which includes the deed of trust, the original note, title evidence (including title policies and surveys), copies of any correspondence between the noteholder and the debtor, copies of mortgage insurance or guaranty agreements, appraisal, written direction to proceed with the foreclosure and engagement letter. The trustee should verify that the noteholder has complied with all notice requirements set forth in the deed of trust.
2. Diligence. A trustee should contact the local commissioner of accounts regarding fees charged for approving and examining accounts as well as any local requirements, including proper advertisement procedures. Though the trustee is only charged with selling the property encumbered by the deed of trust, the noteholder should consider any relevant diligence issues affecting the property prior to initiating foreclosure proceedings, including environmental matters, permits, insurance, utilities, leases, appraisal, physical condition and rights in fixtures. In addition, though there is no statutory right of redemption in Virginia, the debtor does have the right to pay off the secured indebtedness before the sale; some deeds of trust provide for reinstatement of the debt if the debtor cures all defaults and pays all expenses in the manner and time provided in such deeds of trust.
3. Title. While the doctrine of caveat emptor applies in a foreclosure sale, a trustee must be aware of all liens and encumbrances affecting the property. A trustee cannot sell a greater interest in the property than the deed of trust gives him authority to sell, and any sale by the trustee will be subject to encumbrances having precedence over the deed of trust. A trustee must be aware of all encumbrances on the property, including federal tax liens, in order to properly notify all interested parties, to exercise proper discretion as to whether a fair sale can be had, and to make a lawful distribution of the proceeds of the sale. A trustee should order a title rundown of the property from the date of the original title policy, which can be obtained for approximately $100-$250.
1. Requirements; Timing. The present owner of the property must be given written notice of sale at his last known address as such address and owner’s name appear in the records of the secured party, which must be personally delivered or sent by registered or certified mail at least fourteen (14) days before the date of the foreclosure sale. It is a good idea to send a separate notice to each owner by regular mail. Each such must provide the date, time, and place of sale and is sufficient if it contains the same information set forth in the public advertisement of the sale. ‘Inadvertent’ failure to give notice imposes no liability on either the trustee or the secured party, and failure to comply with the notice requirements will not affect the validity of the sale. A purchaser for value will have no duty to ascertain whether proper notice was given. Actual receipt by the owner of the foreclosure notice is not required, and a defective statutory notice does not affect the validity of a foreclosure sale.
2. Other Parties. Notice should also be given to any guarantors of the indebtedness, subordinate lienholders, private mortgage insurers, the United States (if a federal tax lien affects the property) and any government agencies that are involved with the secured loan. If a federal tax lien affects the property and has been filed for at least thirty (30) days before the date of the proposed sale, notice should be given to the United States at least twenty-five (25) days prior to such sale.
1. Requirements; Timing. The advertisement must briefly describe the property to be sold by street address, if any, and, if there is no street address, the general location of the property with reference to routes, streets, and known landmarks. The tax map identification number of the property may be used but is not required. The advertisement must also include the name, address, and telephone number of the trustee and the secured party, or the secured party’s agent or attorney, to respond to inquiries from the public about the sale. Advertisement of the foreclosure must be made in a newspaper having a general circulation in the city or county where the property being sold or any portion thereof lies. The sale can be held no earlier than eight (8) days after the first advertisement and no later than thirty (30) days after the last advertisement.
2. Number of Publications. If the deed of trust provides for the number of publications by using language such as “advertisement required,” then the direction of the deed of trust must be followed. In any event, if the newspaper advertisement is published on a weekly basis, it must be published not less than once a week for two weeks before the sale; and if published on a daily basis, it must be published not less than once a day for three days, which may be consecutive days. If the deed of trust does not provide for the number of publications, the Virginia Code requires that “the trustee shall advertise once a week for four successive weeks; provided, however, that if the property or some portion thereof is located in a city or in a county immediately contiguous to a city, publication of the advertisement five different days, which may be consecutive days, shall be deemed adequate.”
II. Deed in Lieu of Foreclosure. With a deed in lieu of foreclosure, the grantor transfers the fee simple title to the property encumbered by the deed of trust to the lender under the deed of trust. The lender contemporaneously releases the lien of the deed of trust and forgives or stipulates the liability of the obligors under the obligations secured by the deed of trust.
For more information about this topic, please contact Jamie Watkins Bruno at 804.420.6922 or or any member of the firm’s Financial Services & Real Estate Team.
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