Liar loans redux — They’re back!

The pitch arrived with an iconic image of the American Dream: a neat house with a white picket fence.

But behind that picture of a $2.95 million home in Manhattan Beach, California, were hints of something darker: liar loans, those toxic mortgages of the subprime era.

Years after the great American housing bust, mortgages akin to the so-called liar loans — which were made without verifying people’s finances — are creeping back into the market. And, like last time, they’re spreading risks far and wide via Wall Street.

Today’s versions bear only passing resemblance to the ones that proliferated in the mid-2000s, and they’re by no means as widespread. Still, they reflect how the business is starting to join in the frenzy that’s been creating booms in everything from subprime car loans to junk-rated company bonds.

The Manhattan Beach story — how the mortgage on that house was made and subsequently packaged into securities with top-flight credit ratings — recalls a time when borrowers, lenders and investors all misjudged the potential danger…

…Federal regulations put in place following the crash effectively outlawed liar loans. Under so-called ability-to-pay requirements, lenders must take specific steps to ensure homebuyers actually can afford the mortgages. If they don’t, homeowners can sue and potentially win damages that can dwarf the value of the homes.

But in a throwback to subprime times, Velocity and other specialty lenders routinely offer certain mortgages with limited reviews, if any, of borrowers’ finances. That’s because the rules exempt mortgages made for “business purposes.” The setup lets borrowers avoid typical paperwork, in return for paying higher mortgage rates…

Chris Farrar, Velocity’s chief executive officer, says his company takes steps to ensure customers really are buying homes for business purposes…“Our goal is to never make a consumer loan,” Farrar said. Velocity’s lawyers have advised the company, previously known as Velocity Commercial Capital, that its processes would put it on solid ground even if it somehow failed to weed out inaccurate applications, he said…

Representatives for Nomura and Citigroup declined to comment…

It’s difficult to say how far the problems might go, but industry experts agree that mortgage lending is nowhere near as sloppy as it was during the last go-round, which created a bust that produced about 6 million foreclosures…

To Jeffrey Naimon, a partner at BuckleySandler, the real danger would be if unscrupulous mortgage brokers once again encouraged homebuyers to get in over their heads.

RTFA. We witnessed the same hustle last time – just before the tsunami of the Great Recession swamped millions of Americans in debt and unemployment. No one seriously at the top did time. No one suffered much more than a golden parachute to another Wall Street job.

Hear anyone in our fiscally-responsible, Republican-controlled Congress letting out a peep this time?

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