Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Lenders Versus Homeowners: The Moral Quandary of Foreclosure

David Streitfeld has a story in The New York Times about homeowners who simply stop paying their mortgages and continue living in their homes. (Or are they squatters in the lender's "home" at that point?)
A growing number of the people whose homes are in foreclosure are refusing to slink away in shame. They are fashioning a sort of homemade mortgage modification, one that brings their payments all the way down to zero. They use the money they save to get back on their feet or just get by.

This type of modification does not beg for a lender’s permission but is delivered as an ultimatum: Force me out if you can. Any moral qualms are overshadowed by a conviction that the banks created the crisis by snookering homeowners with loans that got them in over their heads.

It raises some interesting questions about personal responsibility versus the responsibility of banks and lenders during the housing crisis.

From the lenders’ standpoint, people who stay in their homes without paying the mortgage or actively trying to work out some other solution, like selling it, are “milking the process,” said Kyle Lundstedt, managing director of Lender Processing Service’s analytics group. LPS provides technology, services and data to the mortgage industry.

These “free riders” are “the unintended and unfortunate consequence” of lenders struggling to work out a solution, Mr. Lundstedt said. “These people are playing a dangerous game. There are processes in many states to go after folks who have substantial assets postforeclosure.”

But for borrowers like Jim Tsiogas, the benefits of not paying now outweigh any worries about the future.

“I stopped paying in August 2008,” said Mr. Tsiogas, who is in foreclosure on his house and two rental properties. “I told the lady at the bank, ‘I can’t afford $2,500. I can only afford $1,300.’ "

As this map in the Times story shows, the time it takes for a Michigan resident who defaults on a loan to lose the property is, on average, quite short compared to the rest of the country.

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