Jump to ratings and reviews
Rate this book

Chain of Title: How Three Ordinary Americans Uncovered Wall Street's Great Foreclosure Fraud

Rate this book
In the depths of the Great Recession, a cancer nurse, a car dealership worker, and an insurance fraud specialist helped uncover the largest consumer crime in American history—a scandal that implicated dozens of major executives on Wall Street. They called it foreclosure fraud: millions of families were kicked out of their homes based on false evidence by mortgage companies that had no legal right to foreclose.

Lisa Epstein, Michael Redman, and Lynn Szymoniak did not work in government or law enforcement. They had no history of anticorporate activism. Instead they were all foreclosure victims, and while struggling with their shame and isolation they committed a revolutionary act: closely reading their mortgage documents, discovering the deceit behind them, and building a movement to expose it.

Fiscal Times columnist David Dayen recounts how these ordinary Floridians challenged the most powerful institutions in America armed only with the truth—and for a brief moment they brought the corrupt financial industry to its knees.

320 pages, Kindle Edition

First published April 5, 2016

Loading interface...
Loading interface...

About the author

David Dayen

5 books167 followers
David Dayen is a journalist who writes about economics and finance. He is the author of Chain of Title: How Three Ordinary Americans Uncovered Wall Street's Great Foreclosure Fraud, winner of the Studs and Ida Terkel Award. He is a contributing writer to Salon.com and The Intercept, and a weekly columnist for The Fiscal Times and The New Republic. He also writes for The American Prospect, Vice, The Huffington Post, In These Times, Naked Capitalism, and more. He has been a guest on MSNBC, CNN, Al Jazeera, Current TV, Russia Today, NPR, Pacifica Radio and Air America Radio. He lives in Los Angeles, where prior to writing about politics he had a 15-year career as a television producer and editor.

Ratings & Reviews

What do you think?
Rate this book

Friends & Following

Create a free account to discover what your friends think of this book!

Community Reviews

5 stars
304 (43%)
4 stars
276 (39%)
3 stars
81 (11%)
2 stars
23 (3%)
1 star
8 (1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 121 reviews
Profile Image for Hana.
522 reviews286 followers
February 20, 2017
"Some rob you with a six gun, some with a fountain pen..." https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JdeTr...

Accurate records of ownership and sale are at the heart of all systems of trade and commerce. This cuneiform tablet from Sumer, dating c. 2600 BCE, records the sale of a field and a house

In Tang Dynasty China, property records included the price, descriptions of area in exchange, official signatures and names of witnesses.

Land ownership deeds are among the oldest written documents in Colonial America. This is a land grant issued by Virginia Governor Thomas Jefferson dated 1780.

Colonial authorities soon developed a strict system of property records that established a chain of title: "Virginia, for example, enacted statutes beginning in 1640 that effectively required all transfers of title to be recorded in order to preserve their validity. In 1662 it required even deeds executed in England to be recorded in Virginia. Deed and mortgages records were soon expanded to reflect mortgages, leases, marriage-related land contracts (deeds of settlement). Later statutes also clarified that the recording must take place in the jurisdiction where the land lay."

"Deeds first had to be proven, either by the testimony of the seller himself or by witnesses. Virginia initially required the testimony of two witnesses, then increased the requirement to three witnesses in 1748." For over 300 years this and similar laws and record keeping systems served as a safeguard for property owners in every state and county in America.

Then came the boom in mortgage securitization--the immensely profitable business of reselling mortgages, packaging them into bundles and slicing up the bundles for resale to investors around the world.

What happened next is a national disgrace. Every U.S. homeowner or potential home buyer needs to read this book.
Profile Image for Sarah Jaffe.
Author 7 books846 followers
May 26, 2016
I knew David Dayen was one of the sharpest writers out there on financial crimes and foreclosure fraud. What I didn't know was that he could turn that story into a fast-paced thriller with emotional heft that finally makes clear just how bad "robosigning" was. Maybe the best book I've read this year.
Profile Image for Jean.
1,699 reviews737 followers
July 5, 2017
I found this to be a fascinating book. David Dayen tells the story of three Florida homeowners as they discover that banks have been lying about signatures. Lisa Epstein, a nurse, learns that the bank foreclosing on her could not prove it had legally obtained the loan. Lisa met Michael Redman, a car salesman, and encouraged him to published an online guide as to how to find information online about who had the loan on their homes. The two of them connected with Lynn Szymoniak, an attorney, who investigated the signature in her own foreclosure action and found one with a date when the signor was actually in State Prison.

The book is well written and meticulously researched. Dayen skillfully narrates a slow reveal of fraud and uses some interesting metaphors. Dayen reveals the mechanics of the foreclosure business in an easy to understand way. The book reads like a fast-paced thriller instead of non-fiction book. I am not an expert in banking/mortgages so I cannot tell if the author is calling mistakes or process weakness fraud or if what he describes is actually deliberate fraud. Because the process was so widespread and there was a cover-up used, my inclination is to agree with the author that it was widespread fraud by the banking industry. If it is the later, why are these big bankers not in jail? This is an excellent book about the collapse of the housing bubble.

I read this as an audiobook downloaded from Audible. The book is fourteen hours long. Kaleo Griffith does an excellent job narrating the book. Griffith is an actor and multi-award-winning audiobook narrator.
Profile Image for Susan Turchick.
31 reviews1 follower
July 5, 2016
For any one who doesn't believe that the "BIG BANKERS" belong in jail for all the issues which resulted in a housing bubble, read about the foreclosure crisis afterwards and you just might change your mind.

Sickening, disheartening, and just plain hard to believe. However, I do believe it. The foreclosures problem is NOT just because a lot of people bought too much home with financial products that they didn't understand. It is NOT about deadbeats. It is about a financial and justice system in the USA that would rather put a family out on the street than to allow them the due process to figure out how to help them save their homes.

I am embarrassed to say I used to be part of the mortgage backed securities business.

Read the book. It's a bit dry----but all of a sudden I understand the Sanders phenomenon, and maybe I do wish I paid a bit more attention to him.
Profile Image for Dana Stabenow.
Author 93 books1,869 followers
November 22, 2016
The very inside story of the colossal mortgage foreclosure fraud scheme of the Oughts in Florida and all around the country, through the eyes of three victims, ordinary mortagers who were illegally foreclosed upon and who became activists in the cause of exposing said fraud. If you ever want to trust a financial institution again don't read this book. If you ever want to trust the government again don't read this book. If you want to confirm all of your deepest suspicions, have at it. Dayen says that the best estimate of how many people lost their homes (the Obama administration didn't keep records because they didn't want anyone to know how bad it was) is six million. Six million families dispossessed of shelter and their most valuable asset (and, a friend pointed out, their credit), and I repeat, that number is just an estimate, and many if not most of those foreclosures were fraudulent. And no bankers went to jail, not one. The 2016 election doesn't look quite so far out of left field now, does it?

I leave you with a paragraph from the book's conclusion.

...what Lisa Epstein, Michael Redman, and Lynn Szymoniak learned, through triumphs and stumbles, is that this democratic ideal of grassroots action doesn't work the way it's described in history textbooks or Frank Capra narratives. At least, it doesn't work when you go up against banks, even if you have the truth on your side. "I believed there would be a resolution for everybody," Lisa told Michael and me at a recent dinner. "I don't believe it anymore."

And on that cheery note, adieu. Recommended, though. Know your enemy. Me, I'm thinking seriously about checking the title on my house. Even though I paid it off four years ago, this book proves that doesn't necessarily matter, to a bank or to Washington.
Profile Image for Mal Warwick.
Author 28 books387 followers
April 6, 2017
Recent events have made us all aware that police officers sometimes act outside the law, not just in fiction but in reality. But what about their bosses and their bosses’ bosses? And the judges, attorneys general, and Justice Department officials who are supposed to oversee the administration of the law? How do we find out about it when they act outside the law — and what can we do in response?

David Dayen explores that question in Chain of Title, an expose of the criminal conduct that ran rampant during the fallout from what is so delicately referred to as the “housing bubble.” (The phrase sounds frivolous, doesn’t it?) With a focus a handful of activists, most of them based in the state of Florida — among the states hardest hit by the foreclosure crisis — Dayen uncovers the truth about the role of law enforcement officials and the Wall Street banks in forcing an estimated six million people out of their homes. It’s a grim and deeply unsettling story.

Wall Street vs. Main Street

Dayen centers his tale on the experiences of three remarkable individuals: “a cancer nurse, a car salesman, and an insurance fraud specialist,” all foreclosure victims and all living in Florida. Theirs is the story of courage in the face of implacable resistance by powerful forces completely out of their control. However, several other key figures emerge in the story, including several other activists, a handful of county registrars determined to fulfill their legal responsibilities, and two low-level attorneys in the Economic Crimes Unit of the Florida State Attorney General’s office. Ultimately, Chain of Title is the familiar tale of Main Street versus Wall Street — and, in the final analysis the result is familiar as well, with Wall Street emerging victorious. When cries for justice confront powerful economic interests, the outcome is almost always foreordained. Nonetheless, the three heroes in Chain of Title achieved something truly noteworthy: they exposed blatantly illegal activity by the big banks and collusion by federal, state, and local officials. Eventually, the media took notice. It’s due in substantial part to their efforts that we are aware today of the extent of the fraud in the foreclosure crisis.

What is “foreclosure fraud?”

During the peak years of the housing crisis, from 2007 through 2010, bankers and their allies in the criminal justice system and the media were fond of speaking about “foreclosure fraud” — referring to homeowners who defrauded the banks in order to “live free” in homes they didn’t own. Undoubtedly, there were a few people who took advantage of the circumstances to avoid paying their mortgages and committed such offenses. In fact, however, the pattern of fraud conducted by the banks was far more pervasive, far more blatant, and far more serious. Those truly responsible for “foreclosure fraud” were bankers, their business partners, and their allies in the criminal justice system.

As Dayen reveals, the overwhelming majority of housing foreclosures carried out after the bubble burst were conducted illegally — and those charged with holding the bankers and their business partners responsible almost invariably looked the other way. Why? Why have no bankers gone to prison for what we all know was their criminal behavior in setting off the Great Depression? In Chain of Title, by examining the ensuing mortgage crisis, Dayen explains why. The responsibility for this travesty starts at the top, with Larry Summers and others in the Obama White House, possibly including the President himself. However, Attorney General Eric Holder and his aides were directly responsible for shutting down the investigations into what Dayen terms “the greatest consumer fraud scandal in history.” In a just world, in my opinion, Eric Holder would have been sent to prison for obstruction of justice. However, the original sin in this tragedy was committed by bankers and their counterparts in the “non-bank financial institutions” such as Countrywide, the nation’s largest subprime mortgage lender. And it is sadly ironic that while I drafted this post the financial columnist Gretchen Morgenson revealed that the Justice Department has informed Angelo Mozilo, Countrywide’s former CEO, that he is no longer under investigation. More than any other single individual, Mozilo was responsible for the foreclosure crisis. To compound the pain of this announcement, the New York Times ran a long, front-page story explaining how huge private equity funds, which face far less regulatory scrutiny than the banks, have bought up enormous numbers of distressed mortgages and are “repeating the mistakes that banks committed throughout the housing crisis.”

The human face of foreclosure fraud

Since I was never personally affected by the mortgage crisis, I paid only cursory attention as the story unfolded in the last decade. I remember reading about the “robo-signing” of mortgage papers, thinking this meant that the banks were using machines to sign the documents necessary for them to foreclose on their debtors. I was astonished to read the truth in Chain of Title. The “robo-signing” was carried out by law firms operating as document mills, some of them offshore, churning out a flood of fraudulent papers. Why? Because in their rush to rack up enormous profits the banks had failed to meet their legal obligations in documenting chain of title. Entry-level employees signed hundreds of documents every day, day after day, in what sometimes became a ludicrous parody of legal procedure. Chain of Title is full of jaw-dropping examples. Consider just this one to get the flavor of the problem:

American Home Mortgage Acceptance . . . does by these presents hereby grant, bargain, assign, transfer, convey, set over and deliver unto BOGUS ASSIGNEE FOR INTERVENING AS[SIGN]M[EN]TS, whose address is XXXXXXXXXXX, the following described mortgage.

This document was actually included verbatim in the papers submitted to justify tossing one family out of their home! And, in the course of just a few days, a handful of the activists identified in Chain of Title turned up 36 largely identical BOGUS ASSIGNEE examples in foreclosure proceedings around the country, including at least one in each of the eight states tested!

However, the injustice of foreclosure fraud went far, far beyond the use of bogus documents. As one Wall Street analyst and blogger explained,

. . . we end up with the wrong house being foreclosed upon, the wrong person being sued for a mortgage note, a bank without an interest in a mortgage note suing for foreclosure, and cases where more than one note holders [sic] are suing on the same property that is being foreclosed . . . The only way these errors could have occurred is if several people involved in the process committed criminal fraud. This is not a case of “Well, something slipped through the cracks.”

In many cases, “there were horror stories: banks breaking and entering into homes in the name of ‘property preservation,’ with one company even taking the ashes of a woman’s late husband; families making all their loan modification payments and still getting foreclosed; a woman who paid off her house and then got a default notice; sheriff’s deputies conducting an eviction and finding a dead body.” Dayen also cites one case in which a couple paid off their mortgage early, and another whose mortage payment was 14 cents short: both were foreclosed!

Why did all this happen?

Dayen explains in great detail the origins of the housing crisis and describes its unfolding, with tragic consequences for millions of Americans. But the essential facts are clear: Beginning in 1980 (before Ronald Reagan moved into the White House), Congress legislated “reforms” in the laws governing home mortgages in the interest of saving the troubled savings and loan industry, “effectively legalizing consumer abuse to aid a class of financial institutions.” Those changes in the law, greatly magnified by the actions of the Clinton Administration to weaken regulations over Wall Street even further, lay the groundwork for the banks to indulge in financial hocus-pocus and effectively build a massive Ponzi scheme: the securitization, derivatives, and subprime mortgage loans that precipitated the Great Recession and upended the world economy.

When the whole system began crashing down, millions of Americans were forced out of their homes because the banks were scrambling to protect their profits; they cut corners mercilessly, ignoring the law, good business practice, and simple ethics. Judges and other officials at the state and local level failed to clamp down on them because they were beholden to the banks or in thrall to right-wing ideology, because “finding the fraud got people fired,” because sometimes there were financial incentives to overlook the problems, or simply because they were lazy. And the state attorneys general and senior officials in the Department of Justice refused to stop the unfolding disaster, much less send senior bankers to prison, partly because they themselves had come from the financial industry or from law firms serving the banks, and partly because the stakes were so high. They feared that the American economy would go into a tailspin and possibly never recover if the big banks were brought to heel. That, at least, was the rationalization that led the Obama White House to turn a blind eye to all the illegal activity.

About the author

David Dayen is a contributing writer for Salon.com and a weekly columnist for The New Republic and The Fiscal Times. Chain of Title is his first book.
Profile Image for Ella.
256 reviews11 followers
February 24, 2018
Unreal!!! This happened Right in my back yard!
1 review
September 27, 2016
This was ultimately a disappointing book for a number of reasons; not sure where to start. The author was more concerned about weaving a narrative about good and evil, and hand picking snippets of evidence which supported his view than providing the critical analysis I sought.

A sad fact is that many people did have their mortgages foreclosed, and there was a great deal of fraud in inducing people to enter into mortgages that they couldn't afford. Had the author focused on this, he would have had a wealth of material to rely on rather than focusing on a part of the process which is less clear, and in which he relied on emotional positioning rather than analysis. A lack of space won't permit me to properly note the myriad of problems with the book, however I provide a general synopsis below:

The author paints anybody who does not support the position of the people he has chronicled in his account as corrupt, bad or harbouring negative motivations. He engages in conspiratorial supposition instead of establishing facts. Instead of confirming a theory with evidence, he draws conclusions which are supportive of his world view.

The author makes rationalisations for the people whose plight he follows notwithstanding a history of bad decision making. He also excuses less than righteous acts by them in their attempt to escape foreclosure. There were victims in the GFC, and I will not blame people for their losses and bad fortune, nor however do I think unethical behaviour is justified. The one-sided narrative attributed negative motives to anyone who had a different view, whilst at the same time ignoring the unethical conduct of others.

The next point I would make is that there were a great many contradictions. A statement would be made, and shortly thereafter would be contradicted. Unfortunately, most readers who are unversed in this area of law/finance may not have noticed the contradiction due to the moralising in the book. I hope people saw through this and understood that the book lacked nuance.

Perhaps my most critical point is that the author would present evidence that on its face was 'common sense', but if properly analysed could be explained away. A good example of this is the difference between legal ownership and equitable ownership. This is an incredibly important concept in property law, but the author does not address it; possibly because is severely undermines his overall argument.

My final word is that this is a weak book because the author too quickly uses words like fraud and corruption without substantiating evidence. Where there is clear fraud (e.g., affidavits signed in the name of others), his argument is weakened because he classes this conduct with other conduct which could be fraud, but which could equally be a mistake or weakness in process. There is a great deal of difference between fraud and corruption on the one hand, and mistakes and bad processes on the other. The reader is treated as ignorant and incapable of making that distinction.

The book lacks analytical integrity and fervour.
Profile Image for Hazel Bright.
933 reviews25 followers
October 19, 2018
Wow. This book had a better plot and characters than much of the fiction I have read. Both inspiring and depressing, it describes the impact a few dedicated people can have on their world, and also the stranglehold that big banks have on our entire legal and political system (the book spans periods of Republican and Democratic political dominance, and the Democrats do not come up smelling entirely like a rose). Fascinating discussion of the impact of a lot of arcane wheeling and dealing by the big money guys who knew they were defrauding people and took concrete steps to cover it up. Reading this book at this particular moment in time felt particularly harrowing. As I read about bad judges finding against homeowner plaintiffs in spite of clear bank violations, Kavanaugh, an obvious big money puppet, was successfully appointed to the Supreme Court. I am still feeling a little post-traumatic stress from reading this book. Not only do the big money boys stack the courts with friendly judges, they also write the laws so that people can't seek justice. The immense amount of courage and hard work these normal folks put in to fight the corrupt practices they encountered did work - until it didn't, and they kind of gave up. One thing is sure, we have some serious problems to fix in America, and our elected representatives are not going to do anything to fix them until they are not the wholly-owned subsidiaries of big corporations.
Profile Image for Jesse Field.
739 reviews36 followers
October 23, 2018
If you have any doubt that foreclosure fraud is one of the more fraught, and fascinating, problems of American life today, this intense triple profile by David Dayem will clear it up. The book is jam packed with hair-raising material, deftly drawing forth a portrait of fraud occurring to individuals, to the Florida region, and to the USA as a whole. And these events are not, as Obama administration officials like David Axelrod or Timothy Geithner likely to say, unfortunate but necessary and controlled collateral damage resulting from a larger effort to save the US economy, but rather characteristic of systemic corruption of financial institutions into and over political institutions. As Dayem so aptly puts it, "The Obama administration has ignored banks that lie to people, and prosecuted people who lie to banks." Which is to say, the democratic dream, likely never clear in the first place, of a *regulated* free market is well on its way to becoming merely viciously competitive markets in which the most heavy-hitters martial the full resources of the federal and local governments, including county judges, the Justice department, and of course, state and federal legislatures, to create predatory industries like the foreclosure mills. ("Industry," "mill" -- these metaphors work, but we could also call them "farms." Upwards of six million home buyers, human beings, are like so much corn or stevia, mere cash crops boosting Wall Street stock, bond and hedge fund returns.)

America is a punitive nation, the most incarcerated nation on earth. If you’re caught stealing a soda or smoking a joint, we’ll put you away for way too long. But if you commit systemic crimes—if you hand out millions of fraudulent mortgages, package them into fraudulent securities, fail to complete fraudulent securitizations, engage in fraudulent servicing, and evict homeowners with fraudulent foreclosure papers—you can get away with it. Many have theorized why the banks would be so cavalier as to break the housing market just to make a few extra dollars. And the answer is proven by the outcome: because they knew they could, without serious consequences. We don’t have a justice system with the will to convict everyone, regardless of wealth and power. And that ensures that the wealthy and powerful will keep committing crimes.

In Chain of Title, this nearly incredible statement is proven all too true. In twenty-one action-packed, stressful chapters, we meet Lisa Epstein, Michael Redman, and Lynn E. Szymoniak as they become obsessed with violations of their property rights, especially relating to "securitization FAIL," meaning that the "chain of title" linking trust organizations, mortgage holder, and loan granter with property purchaser breaks down. Soon a janky electronic ledger company called Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems (MERS) emerged to patch up gaps in the title chains. This organization, essentially the holders of a spreadsheet to hold title exchanges that avoid county registrars fees, is not only the source many violations of legal rights of individuals, counties, and even states, but also a symptom of the potential downfall of capitalism itself: for if we cannot guarantee the ownership of property within formal property systems, we lose the source of capital per se. (Or so goes the claim cited by economist Hernando de Soto.)

The systemic crisis resulting from predatory practices was predicted in 2001 by the savvy consultant Nye Lavalle. Too bad nobody listened to him, but this too, seems a consequence of the potential to make money from using advanced telecommunications to erode old formal property law. And even further, once the crisis did break in 2008, entire new industries for making money off unfair foreclosures emerged, as for example the law firm of one David J. Stern:

Cheryl Samons worked for the David J. Stern law firm, a foreclosure mill that ballooned to nine hundred employees during the crisis, filing more than seventy thousand cases in 2009 alone, diligently forcing people out of their homes all week long and sometimes on weekends. The company also owned several ancillary services, making money at every stage of the foreclosure process. Stern lived like a captain of industry, with a $15 million mansion on the Intracoastal and a 130-foot yacht named Misunderstood. According to rumor, he initially considered calling it Su Casa Es Mi Casa.

Against people like this are pitted the Lisas, Michaels and Lynns of this world. They are the epic heroes for this era, on a quest against the very institutions of law and finance themselves, broken and contradictory and conflated as they were, illustrating the path by which real change ought to be possible, but tragically was not -- or shall we say, has not been.

The activists who helped expose foreclosure fraud did everything civics classes teach us will create effective change. They found patterns of systematic criminality. They coordinated and gathered evidence. They organized, using old-fashioned protests and new media tools, paralleling the pamphleteers of the American Revolution and the muckrakers of the Progressive Era. They built a movement of similarly situated followers, and publicized their cause through the media. With persistence, they enlisted support from figures of authority. They helped file lawsuits against the perpetrators. They ensured that the whole nation, from a circuit court judge to the man seated in the Oval Office, would know what happened. They did all this while simultaneously fighting their own foreclosures.

Despite real successes on individual cases, though, the federal government essentially passed the buck on enforcing laws eroding formal property systems, and foreclosure mills, MERS, and securitization on vast scales all still happen today, with little end in sight. This is all so incredibly dramatic, it is really hard to believe its real. Lisa, Michael and Lynn likely have no regrets, for their lives were fully activated, as were those of Achilles and Odysseus, in their quests for justice and the right. If it did not, in these years, lead to significant justice and reform, at least it proved that the USA still makes available the moral and intellectual environment where individuals flourish who will continue to demand reform, and justice.
Profile Image for Lindsay Nixon.
Author 18 books709 followers
June 9, 2017
Holy shiitake. This book. It reads like a thriller but it's real life, as hard as it is to believe. It's The Big Short on steroids. A deep look into how and why the housing crisis happened. It's an octopus with many flying limbs and heads but the monster still persists.

This book helped me better understand this last election, why America is so divided right now, and Florida. Yes, Florida. Holy shiitakes gas that been in crisis. There are so many people in pain needing answers and someone to blame. It's too hard to conceptualize the real villain -- even hating "Wall Street" or "DC" is completely accurate. I was shocked to see how many non-financial corporations and non-politicians were involved in this fraud and that even the church of Scientology played a role ! I also hadn't considered how the crisis in 2010/2011 and subsequent years skewed voting in "sand states" like Florida. So many people are angry and looking for relief. I keep coming back to "you will not have my hate" that is the only attitude to get through this.
Profile Image for Jonathan.
506 reviews30 followers
November 22, 2017
Not surprisingly, it ended badly. Despite rampant malfeasance and fraud and crime, the banks, in the end, get away with it all. For some reason, a homeowner, wondering who actually owns the title and mortgage on their house, is the one considered the deadbeat when banks fail to provide a paper trail and are assumed guilty. Even if they were trying to "get their house for free", it still shouldn't excuse the evil the banks did, all with the powers that be, all the way up to President Obama, looking the other way. Terrible, horrible, and they got away with it scott free, kicking millions of people out of their homes, leaving them empty, often without a shred of proof.

It was written pretty well, although you could tell it was his first book. Sometimes, the details got too overwhelming and sometimes his heart got ahead of the story, but at least the story gets told, even if it gets ignored.
Profile Image for Brian Cubbage.
119 reviews1 follower
May 15, 2019
A fine look at the foreclosure crisis in the United States in the run-up to, and especially after, the financial crash of 2008. Dayen follows three individuals who combat the shame and isolation brought about by their own foreclosure cases by uncovering the massive fraud at the heart of most mortgages issued in the United States in the last fifteen years.

Although the account focuses a lot on the mass-manufacturing of fraudulent documents that came to be known as "robo-signing," Dayen makes clear that these fraudulent documents were really the cover-up of the real fraud, which involved widespread, near-total failure of the banks originating mortgages to transfer them properly into the securitized trusts they used as investment vehicles, in violation of state and federal law and the terms of the securitization trust agreements. (Hence the title of the book: the foreclosing banks in foreclosures could almost never prove an unbroken "chain of title" for the loan. So they forged the documents.) The sheer scope of the chain-of-title problem, in fact, ends up being the undoing of the fight against the wave of foreclosures that shook the nation, as policy-makers from the White House down apparently decided that it was safer to indemnify the banks than to confess in public that who held title to most of the mortgages in the country was an open legal question.

It is interesting to come at this book right after reading Adam Tooze's Crashed: How a Decade of Financial Crises Changed the World. Tooze takes the perspective of the global policy makers, the field of macroeconomics and the arcana of central-bank monetary policy. Dayen instead focuses on American law and the fine-grained ethnography of foreclosure in Florida. Yet the books dovetail in interesting ways. Tooze shows how, in the US and elsewhere, the vast measures of stimulus and capital infusion undertaken to stave off a catastrophic collapse of the global economy, the beneficiaries of which were the "too big to fail" banks, were not coupled with comparable efforts at fiscal stimulus. Indeed, the US, in his account, stands out for having attempted at least some meek stimulus, as compared to Europe, which strangled the Eurozone over a cruel and tragically mistaken belief in fiscal austerity. Obama and his team, who inherited the crisis in their first term, apparently had little desire to promote significant fiscal stimulus for Main Street, even if they had been able to get Congress to go along. Far from being big-spending Keynesian New Dealers unfortunately boxed in by Republicans in Congress, Obama and his team were enthusiastic adoptees of austerity logic.

We see this diffidence of the Obama administration to pivot from helping the banks to helping ordinary Americans in this book from the side of the Americans who suffered loss of their homes as a result of it, as policymaker after policymaker (Larry Summers, Timothy Geithner, Eric Holder, and the states attorneys-general) pointedly refuse to take the banks' fraud, and its effects on real people, seriously out of a concern for overall economic stability. The interesting exceptions to this indifference are Sheila Bair, Obama's chair of the FDIC (who we learn from Tooze's book was repeatedly boxed out of the decision-making process by Geithner and Summers), and Elizabeth Warren. The paltry nature of the eventual settlement with the banks over foreclosure fraud, much of which was absorbed by phony paper credits and by states' general budgets before any of it reached individual Americans, is, in Dayen's account, a direct result of the Obama administration's indifference to the banks' criminality.

This is an interesting and infuriating read, and it raises (but doesn't answer) important questions about popular movement-building in the Internet and social media age.
Profile Image for Athan Tolis.
309 reviews565 followers
September 18, 2017
As advertised, this is the story of how a nurse, a car salesman and a sixties-activist-turned-lawyer took on the Great Foreclosure Machine and lost, but not before landing a good few punches.

I consider myself knowledgeable on both the causes of the recent financial crisis and on the particulars of the mortgage debacle. I’ve read both “House of Debt” by Mian and Sufi (which Larry Summers himself called “book of the year” when it came out, despite the fact that it condemns his policies) and “Bailout” by Neil Barofsky. The former is quite possibly the best explanation of how wrong we got policy around the time of the most recent crash and of how the public interest would have been protected by less concern for “sanctity of contract” and by more leniency for homeowners. The latter is an insider’s view on how the system was rigged against the homeowner and in favor of “foaming the runway” for the banks.

Regardless, this book taught me stuff I could not possibly have imagined.

In particular, “Chain of Title” takes you through the detail of the manner in which the mortgage industry trampled all over American law:

(i) first it faked most of the paperwork for the sake of expediting the creation of mortgage-backed bonds and keeping down the costs involved and

(ii) second, as soon as the market went into reverse and it was time to foreclose, it fostered systematic forgery of the chain of title between the original mortgage originators and the trustees of the pools out of which the mortgage bonds were issued.

Also it leaves you in no doubt of the fact that there are two standards in the American justice system, and in particular in the way it treats participants in the mortgage market: one for the powerful, who get a second chance and one for the poor who lose everything.

Here’s the main discovery: the vast majority of foreclosures that occurred during the crash of 2008 and its aftermath were technically illegal. The way the author puts it, if we had applied to foreclosure the legal standard of burden of proof that we apply to pretty much any crime or misdemeanor, judges ought to have laughed out of court at least 90% of claims on people’s homes, regardless of whether their payments were current. The industry had taken zero care to transfer the titles of the mortgages and was not entitle to foreclose.

Where the book does not do as good a job is in disentangling the many different issues:

1. Predatory lending, whereby people who cannot afford a loan are given one anyway, either on fraudulent premises or on an unaffordable structure that is designed to eventually turn toxic and relies heavily on house price appreciation before the usurious bits of the loan are triggered.

2. Predatory servicing, whereby people who miss out on a few cents or miss a payment by mistake get slapped with fines and fees that are designed to lead them to foreclosure.

3. Fraudulent lending, whereby citizens who qualify for a low-interest loan are given an unaffordable sub-prime loan, all in the interest of generating higher fees for the mortgage broker.

4. The fact that the mortgage pools were put together so haphazardly that all due process was skipped in the interest of saving time and money for the issuers of the bonds, with the end result that the chain of title was habitually broken.

5. Industrial-scale after-the-fact forgery of the necessary paperwork to re-establish the broken chain of title.

6. A whole list of unethical practices, such as pretending to consider a modification all while never intending to go through with it, ransacking properties, delivering paperwork to strangers etc.

Instead, you discover all these layers of the systematic fraud and abuse alongside the book’s heroes, Lisa, Michael and Lynn. It is an amazing way to learn about it all, but it’s equally quite easy to get confused. One could argue that there is no better way to experience what homeowners went through than to get confused alongside the heroes in this book. Equally, there is a lingering suspicion on my part that the author made a conscious decision to let this read more like a novel or a biography than like the result of a deep journalistic investigation.

There is a cost. What the book gains in passion it does lose in clarity.

Similarly, and I hate to say this, I fear the author goes for the easy judgement that the banks have the politicians in their back pocket, and that with Eric Holder and Lanny Breuer (habitual defendants of big business at their day job with Covington & Burling) in charge of investigating the injustices of foreclosure, the result was bound to be a cover-up.

Even if that is true, and I have no reason to doubt that to some extent it is (I’ve only recently finished reading Jesse Eisinger’s “Chickenshit Club,” after all) policy of such importance is not made by guys at their level. More to the point, as lawyers they would know better than anybody else that they were acting in a manner that was both at some level illegal and inconsistent with the values that underpin the American legal system. To say that they would stick their own neck out to screw homeowners is to accord them courage in their conviction that they’ve never displayed on any other issue.

Rather, I would not-so-humbly suggest, what was at work was the perceived political mandate to preserve the valuation of the savings of the American middle class. Obama’s economic policies of 2008 – 2016 were guided by 100% the same team who made policy for Bill Clinton in 1992-2000, the time when the “Greenspan put” underpinned the stockmarket and the Democrats discovered they could win by moving to the middle and supporting the net worth of an expanding “ownership class.”

What with trillions of dollars parked in pension funds, both for private corporations and for the government itself invested in mortgage-backed securities and in equities, the policies that won the day were TARP (which stood for “Troubled Asset Relief Program,” don’t forget), Quantitative Easing (which both removed safe Treasury Bonds from the market to encourage investing in riskier assets and brought down the 30yr interest rate which underpins mortgages) and the forced mergers of deadbeat banks with allegedly healthier money-center banks such as JP Morgan, there was simply no way a question mark would be allowed to hang over the banks or the mortgage bonds. Period.

This turned out to be a miscalculation, of course. The reason is that home ownership has fallen from 69% to 61%, stock ownership has fallen even further, the Gini coefficient has moved to places you normally associate with Latin America and the faith of Americans in the justice system has taken a hit that you simply cannot measure in dollars, with political outcomes not worth repeating here.

Furthermore, the author fails to take account of the feelings of those who never borrowed a penny but saw their neighborhoods blighted by the borrowing habits of their neighbors. While they probably all came to eventually realize that from the point of view of “the system” they are no different from their neighbors, back in 2008 – 2010 they would strongly have supported the rough justice meted out to “deadbeats,” much as a more sensible policy of principle reduction would have been to everybody’s benefit.

In conclusion, this book offers but one angle. It is the story of the foreclosure tsunami as experienced by millions of Americans at ground zero, warts and all: the real estate agent who supported the activists’ website was herself a real estate fraudster; the sixties activist eventually made her mark through a whistleblowing lawsuit that actually landed her millions; her efforts to give that money back were met with heckling and even a lawsuit.

It’s a tremendous story, basically, and it’s told well. Its intensity and pain and torrent of injustice felt like watching the first ten minutes of “Saving Private Ryan.” When you’re in there, fighting alongside Lisa, Michael and Lynn, uncovering the robo-signers, getting stared down by hostile judges, getting served foreclosure documents, doing all-nighters by the printer, organizing protests, putting together case files or answering email on the website well past midnight, it’s easy to forget that it’s just one angle. And it’s even easier to forgive.
Profile Image for David Flood.
49 reviews5 followers
September 26, 2020
Chain of Title is a nonfiction book that explores the fallout of the 2008 financial crash and the ensuing waves of foreclosures that happened across the US. It connects the efforts of 3 ordinary Americans who, without any real legal training, discovered that banks were outright forging documents to force through foreclosures on Americans.

It works like this. Due to the frenzied selling and reselling of mortgages into Collateralized Debt Obligations (CDOs), a bank would sell you a mortgage but over the course of the next year it would be sold on to so many different entities that it was impossible to tell which bank technically owned the mortgage. Title transfer is a serious legal process and the book outlines the arduous process of transferring a title. As this process is manual and labor intensive, banks developed an electronic outfit called MERS to perform the title transfers electronically. This system was buggy though and was not subject to any kind of legal oversight, it also violated established legal practices of ensuring that titles are properly transferred.

So, the economy goes down the toilet, people stop paying their mortgages and now banks have to prove that they own the mortgage to foreclose. But since they don't know if they own the mortgage or not, they decide to just outright start forging foreclosure documents. Going as far as to develop a an entire cottage industry who's only purpose is to take some ambiguous documents, forge some collateral documentation to make it look like the bank definitely owns the property and them serve you with these fraudulent foreclosure papers. Even as this is revealed to law enforcement, financial regulators and the judicial system, there is such an extent of regulatory capture that people barely believe it and so the great foreclosure machine rolls on.

This book was absolutely infuriating to read. The degree to which all this illegal activity is explored and how it wasn't as big a scandal as the financial crash itself is unbelievable. It will likely damage your faith in basic American institutions like the rule of law and convince you to keep your money in a mattress and to only live in houses that you build yourself.

4 Stars because there is an immense cast of characters and legal battles in this book - it's a little dry and hard to keep up with it all. But maybe the endless dirge of shocking detail is part of the infuriating magic of this book.

Profile Image for Scott.
361 reviews4 followers
March 3, 2017
There are a lot of enjoyable reads out there, and while I have to say that while David Dayen's "Chain of Title" is one of the most important books of the year, it is far from an enjoyable read.

That's because Dayen's book will have you enraged pretty much cover to cover.

In "Chain of Title," Dayen writes compellingly of perhaps the greatest domestic scandal in the last fifty years in America - the undermining of the American dream of home ownership through fraud, thanks to the mortgage industry and its accomplice, our state and federal government.

It's hard to overstate the economic carnage wrought by the Great Recession - it is far greater than the carnage of closed American factories described during the Trump inaugural address. Millions of Americans lost their homes through financial machinations they were completely ignorant of - mortgage backed securities, collateral debt obligations, etc. But they also lost their homes because the same financial system that blew out the economy also illegally forced them from those homes.

Dayen writes about an exceedingly complex system with clarity and skill. At its heart, the mortgage system should be simple. You borrow money to buy a home and you pay the lender back - if you can't, the lender takes the home as collateral for your default. Your status as the home owner and the lender's status as the party entitled to the collateral are clearly documented down at the county office - this is the 'chain of title' Dayen refers to. Every interest in property and every transfer is recorded, so it should be clear who has the right to kick you out of your home in case you default.

But, in the interests of making everything more efficient, the banking industry blew this up. What should be a simple relationship between borrower and lender became Byzantine - the lender who originated the mortgage routinely sold the mortgage to another lender, who then resold it again, and eventually the mortgage got packaged into some synthetic creature holding thousands of mortgages. But in the interest of saving recording fees and making the process more efficient, the banking industry wiped out the recording of each of these transfers of mortgages, figuring out it would be somebody else's problem to foreclose.

Then the Great Recession occurred, and all the sudden the banks were foreclosing on millions of Americans.

Unfortunately, just because a home owner defaults on his or her mortgage payments does not mean they automatically lose their home. Only one party - the proper holder of the mortgage interest entitled to enforce the collateral - has the right to foreclose. And it is difficult to enforce that right - every t must be crossed, every I dotted.

The banking industry had forgotten to dot the "I"s and cross the "T"s, but they still wanted to foreclose on Americans en masse. They capitalized on the general sense that if a deadbeat fails to make his mortgage payments, he should lose his house. The question of whether the banks had the right to foreclose was irrelevant.

"Chain of Title" tells the story of how a few 'regular Joes' began to question the banks' abilities to foreclose - and how they nearly toppled a mighty, brutal industry by asking a basic question: "Can you prove that you have the right to foreclose on this person's home?"

The answer, all to often was, "No, we can't prove it." Then the banks followed up with, "We're the banks - go to hell."

As Dayen writes, the banking industry's hold on our government is so strong that this response was basically enough to carry the day. Corruption at the state level (most of the story occurs in Florida) as well as in the Bush and Obama administrations led to the government routinely taking the banks' side in this debate, siding with Wall Street over individual Americans.

This book should be required reading - in these pages you will see the shamelessness of the foreclosure industry run amok. Keep this in mind as President Trump fills his administration with men and women who made fortunes foreclosing on Americans . . . and put them in charge of de-regulating our economy.

This de-regulation is not going to help you, dear reader. It will help the banks.

You have an option. You can arm yourself with the facts. This book is a great start - and you should ask your elected officials if they have read it. If not, buy them a copy.
Profile Image for Sara G.
1,718 reviews
May 31, 2019
This book is a fascinating look at what actually happened in the early 2000s when the US economy went into a recession and it seemed like everyone was losing their homes. I remember it vividly because it happened right in my backyard and at a very formative time in my life. I finished school and wanted to get set up with my adult life, but everything in our economy was headed to hell in a handbasket. (I believe this is why millennials like myself are so resistant to homeownership, too - we saw our parents' generation get completely screwed over.)

Prior to reading this book I had a very limited understanding of the massive amount of foreclosures during this time period. I pretty much just knew that the banks were using hard sell tactics to convince people to buy houses under bad terms. That's just the tip of the iceberg. The author goes into great detail about "robosigning" and actually falsifying titles and land documentation, and I understand much better now. The whole story hit very close to home because it all happened right here. One of the companies committing the massive document fraud was headquartered literally a mile away from my house. (They're still here, under a new name of course.) And yet, the banks basically got away with the whole thing with a slap on the wrist and no real new oversight. The CFPB was pretty much gutted under our current presidential administration. I'm glad I read this because I have a new understanding of this issue, but I'm also thoroughly disgusted now.
Profile Image for Plusilikefrogs.
23 reviews2 followers
July 6, 2017
Sometimes hard to read due to narrative flow, most times because of content. Dear god, how demoralizing
Profile Image for Andrew Breza.
329 reviews20 followers
December 14, 2020
An important story that affirms the power of a small group of persistent Americans fighting some of the country's most powerful corporations. The book loses a star for being overly detailed in a way that sometimes takes away from appreciating the bigger picture.
Profile Image for Kathy Dalton.
138 reviews2 followers
September 29, 2017
The book is clearly one-sided and has an agenda. It's obviously not objective. Big banks and politicians and judges are bad...rogue individuals questioning the "machine" are good. If you can deal with that baseline, this book is for you.

That caveat aside, this book provides a thoroughly detailed look at how mortgage fraud happened on such a massive scale. It calls into question the ready acceptance of office workers everywhere to simply do as told and not ask questions. "Oh, you want me to sign as someone else or call myself a VP? Sure!" - that was the attitude of many $10/hour employees in document mills who unknowingly provided the manpower to bring down our entire economy.

Aside from the details of mortgage fraud perpetrated by banks, this book details what happens when one or two or three ordinary people become obsessed with a particular cause or project. The foreclosure warriors in this book almost destroyed their lives trying to bring this fraud into sunshine. They accomplished what a reasonable person could not, because they were willing to throw away marriages, jobs, time with children and personal security. They were also able to see the fraud for what it was, since they were not contaminated and brainwashed by corporate culture that mandates adherence to orders from above. Only reckless outsiders such as themselves could have accomplished so much.

I loved the "characters" in this book - they were flawed, they were relentless, they were role models and they were right. They were the good guys. This is the quintessential "quest" story, in that these people are on a quest for truth and justice. It is impossible not to sympathize with them after reading their stories. Desperate times call for desperate measures, and these 3 people rose to the challenge. All in all, this was an extremely inspiring read.
Profile Image for Mia.
4 reviews
May 5, 2018
This is the part where I tell you a book about foreclosure fraud is a compulsive page turner and you maybe don't believe me but in the end that would be your loss. Of the post-financial-crisis, real-life-thrillers-about-topics-previously-thought-boring genre, this minutely researched piece of activism will leave you sleepless and disoriented, googling Wells Fargo for your own (probably robo-signed) mortgage documents, and realizing that but for the grace of Wall Street, there go you. Read this. Read it to feel grateful for your luck, luck all those foreclosure "deadbeats" simply didn't have, and read it so the next time you sign a mortgage, vote for a county clerk, or (heaven forbid) have a small chance to push that banks be punished for fraud, you do it with the knowledge that people like you can and have accomplished feats of strength against the powerfully un-American government/bank collusion that (as Dayen proves) still exists to this day.
Profile Image for James.
67 reviews8 followers
July 7, 2016
Chain of Title does an excellent job of telling the story of the collapse of the housing bubble and the massive problems with fraud and other bad behaviors by the banks, foreclosure firms, and other players in the industry. It's probably not wise for me to share all my thoughts and opinions about this book given its relevance to my job, but I will say that this book helped me understand some things I'd never quite grasped before, gave me useful context for understanding some things I'd already known, and occasionally made me add notes to the book where I felt the author missed the mark. The book does a great job of explaining an extremely complicated subject and paying attention to people whose stories could easily have gone ignored otherwise.
808 reviews11 followers
September 20, 2016
4.5 stars

A damning look at how companies fudged paperwork and constantly lied to force foreclosures. Well written. Really effective to use the story of three different people to crystallize what this was like. Gets a bit repetitive in the middle, but highly enjoyable.
Profile Image for Kim.
329 reviews12 followers
June 15, 2017
In the rush of information from a 24-hour news cycle it's difficult to hold on to the small cumulative facts that stream by as part of a major news story. There's a shortage of long-form journalism, either in print or in broadcasting, that can bring an event into full and unflinching focus. That's where a book like Chain of Title is especially valuable.

David Dayen places three "ordinary Americans" in the center of this book about the housing/banking crisis of 2007-2008. The most powerful character in the book is Lisa Epstein. Like millions of other Americans, Epstein was a victim of the banks. She worked as a nurse, was careful with her money, invested carefully in a house she could afford, and after marrying bought a new home with her husband. While she never missed a payment she found herself in a legal battle over foreclosure.

Lisa noticed irregularities in the notices that she was receiving and became obsessed with researching both the laws and bank practices surrounding foreclosure. The things she found would give any homeowner with a mortgage nightmares, and were the cause of millions of people losing their homes ... the largest loss of wealth in American history ... even for those who had never missed a payment in their lives.

Among other practices she found a banker-created clearinghouse for shifting titles outside the control of county records that regulated property titles for the whole of the country's history. She discovered foreclosure mills in which employees holding notary seals would forge the signatures of bank officers and then notarize the documents. She found lenders who were foreclosing on homes without having any financial interest in the property.

The book details Epstein's obsessive research and her efforts to try to get action from the US Department of Justice and the judges making the rulings on foreclosures. She and another of the book's major personalities, Michael Redman, join forces to try to educate homeowners through a website on their basic rights while collecting as much evidence as possible.

It's almost as frustrating and terrifying to read as it must have been for those finding themselves homeless without having done anything wrong. It would be nice to say that the work of Epstein and others helped solve the problem. Instead, Dayen details the inaction of Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner and his ability to convince Obama that the issue was not a danger to the banking industry (as if it were the only important player). He tells of the Department of Justice closing down the one working team that picked up the investigation and running the investigators out of their jobs. He covers the slow conversion of judges and attorneys dealing with foreclosure, where history left them with the presumption that the banks didn't lie and anyone facing foreclosure was clearly guilty with no evidence provided. And, finally, he describes the total failure to act by Congress, either by refusing to pass remedial legislation or refusing to fund programs that did pass. This is an indictment of the banking system but it's also an indictment of a legal system unwilling or unable to adapt to benefit voters over contributors.

If you read it like I did you may find your jaw tired from grinding your teeth at the end of the day. It isn't easy to read about people being railroaded out of their rightful property by greedy swine at the trough, and then blamed for the theft as people wanting a free handout. Still, knowledge is power. This is the kind of book that can fuel the fire needed for change. If you find yourself wondering why you should bother about the next election this book will give you the reason.

47 reviews1 follower
January 12, 2020
David Dayen makes at least one point very clear in Chain of Title, when morality trumps law, it is often to kick those who are down. Who cares about small things like proper paperwork when people are trying to get FREE HOUSES (despite the fact that most people were stretching themselves to the limit to make payments). It is vividly illustrated throughout that the legal system rarely seeks protects individuals, especially when our horrific and rapacious financial system is involved. Dayen should be commended for humanizing this crisis, and, as Lisa Epstein tries to do, for illustrating that the shame and stigma of foreclosure is the result of a misapprehension. It is the false diagnosis of a societal/institutional problem as a personal failure. This is an evergreen lesson for leftist politics, one that must be forcefully driven home and sadly relearned over and over.

Sort of 5 stars -1 for the 100 pages it could stand to lose. This book convinced me that writing these stories as near-linear narratives is a mistake. This is very much the stories of Lisa, Lynn and Michael, and not a telling of how these mortgages contributed to the financial collapse of 2007. In writing style, Dayen is too verbose and can oftentimes repeat himself throughout the chapters in away that made my eyes glaze over at times. I just yearned for an examination of the broader implications of these fraudulent practices. Or, the book could have used some exposition on the other side of the matter. What was going on in these banks, in these foreclosure mills, in these document farms, in MERS.

A big disappointment is the chapters describing the conclusion to the cases and the Obama administrations complete failure to do anything meaningful. I found certain case descriptions very confusing, such as the one involving John Kelleher and Tracy Lawrence; it is described as being the most humiliating defeat but I couldn't follow the logic of the case's dismissal. I also wish Dayen included more of the machinations that went into the policies that saved the banks at the expense of homeowners. While the failure of HAMP to actually help homeowners is brought up, the fact that much of the money was never spent and just sat there is not explored.

In the end, it is a strange, wild ride seeing these people finding themselves as activists on the forefront of a national crisis. It's immensely saddening that one of the main conclusions is that there is little justice to be found in this story.
Profile Image for Collin Lysford.
59 reviews8 followers
June 22, 2019
I think the 2008 financial crisis has a lot of excellent lessons to teach about fragility, network effects, and just how strange the global economy really is. And I thought I had a handle on what caused after reading the (also excellent) All the Devils are Here: The Hidden History of the Financial Crisis: the link between lenders and creditors was severed, the remixed finanical packages outran regulations and obscured the true degree of leveraqge and everyone passed the problem around assuming they wouldn't be holding the bag. However, Chain of Title makes another point entirely - the financial crisis wasn't just propelled by risky lending from big players, but a lot - a lot - of outright fraud on the ground was necessary to put the gas in the tank.

It turns out the first reaction to the financial crisis -"It shouldn't be legal to repackage mortgages so many times so everyone believes they're insulated from the risk of the mortgage failing" is kind of misinformed, because...well, it kinda is illegal, it's just that no one cared. The titular "chain of title" is "who actually owns the land the home is on", and of course a document like this could never follow the layers of abstraction and make-believe that things like CDOs require.

So, this is a story about people seeing something obviously criminal happen in front of them, covered up with laughably transparent fraud. If you have a drop of faith left in the US legal system, reading this should disabuse you of that pretty quickly. The real point of Chain of Title is that the law truly is optional for big interests like this, and that we should think of the financial crisis less a story about correlation and tail risk (like I did before) and more about good old fashioned outright fraud.

While sometimes I think this goes a little too far into the human minutiae - I think the "ordinary americans" angle is emphasized beyond it's importance to the story - this is ultimately just one of those paradigm-shifting books I can't rate anything besides 5 stars.
Profile Image for Kelly.
1,023 reviews1 follower
March 18, 2021
When the foreclosure fraud crisis was in its apex, it was a background issue for me. I was so far away from the idea of owning a a home and had my own worries, so I followed it only casually. I was mad the banks got bailed out and not the homeowners. The end.

Then I read this book for my book club. Whoa Nell(ie Bly, because this investigative reporting blew my mind). I had no idea, for example, that a major issue in foreclosure fraud was the systematic industry practice of falsifying documents, or that most judges didn't care about it (in the states that even had judicial review of foreclosure) or that banks often closed on properties they didn't actually own. Or that this shit is still common today.

This was an infuriating read that reminds me how little the government cares about the people, how often "the law" is about magically doing what's best for big money, and how taxing activism is for those on the front lines.

The book centers around the stories of three ordinary Americans who put in countless hours, fractured relationships, and risked their own safety and stability to expose this intentional deception: a nurse, a salesperson, and an insurance fraud lawyer. They kept waiting for the government to take the reins, to make the banks pay, and instead they get sold out. It's devastating.

While the book does discuss minor wins and small policy changes Lisa, Michael, and Lynn's work provided, it's a stark reminder that we have two separate legal systems, one for the haves, one for the have-nots, and that, in real life David and Goliath stories, Goliath walks over to the bar to celebrate his win with his cronies who trip David up while purporting to help him.
Profile Image for David.
786 reviews8 followers
March 26, 2017
Once this got going, I could hardly put it down. I know understand more the whole issue of "robosigning," and why it was needed. One underlying argument of the book is that the current system is so flawed, and so corrupted, that clear title to homes is at risk for decades to come. This story focuses on a few figures who ended up in foreclosure, and their own journeys are interesting. They don't completely deal with the issue of "deadbeats," a perception that only a morally flawed person doesn't pay their debts. I'm not saying they don't, but some context which would show the overwhelming number of bankruptcies are not a moral problem, but due to things like unforeseen critical illness, coupled to poor health insurance, and a poor safety nest. I think the most important point in this is not the fraud of manufacturing documents so as to be able to foreclose on a borrower, but that all parties were profiting from throwing someone out of their homes rather than working to make the loan work. It's interesting to also see Pam Bondi, Florida's Attorney General, who made the news not long ago for dropping an investigation in to Trump University after taking a campaign donation from the Trump Foundation. She doesn't come off well in this story either, in case you were wondering. It's no wonder at the populist anger which keeps showing up in elections, and the poor electoral turnout, when members of both parties are so willing to sweep problems like this under the rug.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 121 reviews

Can't find what you're looking for?

Get help and learn more about the design.