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Robo-signing settlement may boost short sales

The government's $25 billion settlement with the nation's five biggest mortgage servicers over so-called "robo-signing" practices could boost short sales, as loan servicers will receive credit when they approve sales that include forgiveness of a portion of underwater homeowners' debt.

(Read more about the settlement here.)

Although the settlement is only expected to help a fraction of homeowners who owe more their properties are worth -- perhaps one in 20, according to one estimate -- it will also help bring certainty back to housing markets by removing some of the obstacles that have been keeping homes stuck in the foreclosure pipeline.

Announced last month, detailed terms of the agreement between mortgage servicers and a coalition of state attorneys general and federal agencies were filed today.

Broadly, the settlement calls for mortgage servicers to pay $5 billion in fines and commit to a minimum of $17 billion in homeowner relief, including principal reductions. Another $3 billion is earmarked for helping underwater borrowers refinance.

"We will see an increase in short sales, because lenders and loan servicers will get the same credit for doing a short sale, as if they did a loan modification or principal reduction," said Rick Sharga, executive vice president of Carrington Mortgage Holdings LLC.

The Wall Street Journal reported Sunday that the structure of mortgage write-downs was a major point of contention in the year-long negotiations leading to the settlement.

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