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Mortgage Horror Stories: The U.S. Housing Industry Will Never Recover If Qualified People Can’t Get A Home Loan

Back about five or six years ago, when the housing bubble was still rising, just about anyone could get a mortgage.  Lending institutions were handing out ridiculously bloated home loans to almost anyone who breathed.  It didn’t matter if you had a rotten credit history, it didn’t matter if you didn’t have a job and in some cases it didn’t even matter if you had any income at all.  It was basically an orgy of mortgage lending.  But now the pendulum has swung 180 degrees in the other direction.  Severely burned by the subprime mortgage crash, mortgage lending institutions have been seriously tightening their lending standards.  As a result, in 2010 it is extremely difficult to get a home loan or a mortgage modification.  In their determination not to get burned again, mortgage lenders have completely overreacted and now a lot of highly qualified people can’t get a home loan.

This point was beautifully illustrated recently by one of our readers named John….

I was just turned down for a home loan. My credit score is 799, my wife’s 804. We had $40,000.00 to put down, which was almost 30%. BUT! Our bank turned down our application! Why? They required us to have 6 months “operating expenses” in the bank after all closing costs were covered. They came up with an arbitrary number on their own, based on our bills and such. We had that amount and more on top of our closing monies. Then why were we denied the loan? Several thousand dollars were from “cash” and the bank required that “cash” be in the bank for at least 60 days or they wouldn’t consider it fluid funding. Needless to say we didn’t make the closing date and are hiring an attorney to avoid being sued (by the seller).

A reader named distressedinbham on another website had an even more frustrating experience trying to get a home loan modification….

I am self-employed, have been all my life and have owned a home for 30 years. When I started my Loan Modification process in August of 09 I WAS NOT behind on any payments. I sent full documentation, over 150 pages, with the things they needed to verify my income. I am now 2 payments behind and I am getting nowhere. They keep flipping me between Loss Mitigation and Imminent Default, back and fourth month end month out. I made a habit of calling every week, then every two weeks just to be sure all was moving forward. From the middle of November I was told my file was with the underwriter and it would only be 30-60 days. I began automatically updating my income verification, verification that I still resided at the property and an updated 4506-T every month. In the middle of April a rep finally told me I was not in the loan modification process. In fact, that I had been denied on March 2. Keep in mind, I’m talking to these people every 2 weeks. She did a financial interview and sent me a new packet so that I could start all over, resubmitting all the documentation yet again. She told me she was my Account Manager. I completed the packet, called with a question (2 weeks later – over a week to receive the packet and another few days to complete it and gather all my documents again) and learned that my “Account Manager” was on maternity leave and I now didn’t have an account manager. Also, I was told that I had received the incorrect packet…it was the old version rather than the updated version. She asked me to fax four or five pieces of information in the hopes it would, quote, “jump start my file back into the process” and said she we send me another packet. That was mid April. Here we sit, 2-1/2 months later, I have still not received anything in writing about my rejection. And, though I’ve now had people tell me on three separate occasions that I would receive a new packet, it has yet to show up on my door step. I asked several times why my application was denied and the answer I finally got last week was that it was because I was DELIQUENT in my payments. Call me crazy but I thought that was the whole point??!! I almost hired a third party but am so hesitant to take that step. Every time I get on the phone with them it takes an hour out of my day and I am usually so upset I find it difficult to work, so I just don’t call. I’m going to sit back and regroup and decide what I need to do next.

The truth is that scenes such as these are being repeated over and over again across the United States right now.

Scott Stern, the CEO of Lenders One, says that a lot has changed since 2007….

“Lending standards have tightened dramatically between 2007 and 2009.”

In an attempt to avoid the mistakes of the housing bubble, the mortgage industry has now created a situation where standards are so tight that the entire industry is freezing up.

In May, sales of new homes in the United States dropped to the lowest level ever recorded.  To be more exact, new home sales dropped 32.7 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 300,000. 

Keep in mind that a “normal” level for new homes sales is an annual rate of about 800,000. 

New homes have never sold this slowly ever since the U.S. Commerce Department began tracking this data back in 1963.

Now, a lot of the drop in new home sales has to do with other factors, but certainly the fact that people are having such a hard time getting approved for loans is playing a role.

If large numbers of qualified people are getting turned down for mortgages that is going to suck a lot of money out of the marketplace.

And without enough qualified buyers, the U.S. housing industry is simply not going to recover.

But it isn’t just a lack of qualified buyers that is the problem.

The truth is that the U.S. real estate market is a complete and total disaster right now and there is every indication that things are going to get even worse.

So what does all of this mean?

It means that it is going to remain very difficult to sell homes.

It means that prices are going to continue to come down.

It means that real estate agents will continue to suffer and there will continue to be high unemployment in the construction industry.

In fact, every industry that is highly dependent on the U.S. housing market is likely to continue to feel a lot of pain for a long time to come.

So do you have a mortgage horror story to share?  If so, please feel free to leave it in a comment below…..

Strategic Defaults: Is It Morally Right To Decide To Simply Stop Paying Your Mortgage?

In 2010, record numbers of Americans are defaulting on their mortgages.  For most of them, it is because they simply cannot afford the mortgage payments any longer.  But for a growing number of Americans, the decision to stop paying on a mortgage is not because of financial hardship.  Rather, after taking a hard look at the numbers, many Americans are simply deciding to walk away rather than continuing to make monthly payments on a home that has dramatically declined in value.  It is called a “strategic default”, and it is a phenomenon that is sweeping the nation.  So why have strategic defaults increased so dramatically?  Well, in some areas of the United States, homes are only worth about half of what they were going for at the height of the market.  So what is the morally right thing to do in that situation?  Should someone “honor the contract” that they signed and continue making payments no matter how hard it hurts, or is the morally right thing to stop making payments on the mortgage in order to put your family in a better financial position?

The truth is that the answers to these questions are not easy.     

In the past year it is estimated that at least a million Americans who can afford to stay in their homes simply walked away.

Take a moment and think about that.

A million Americans that have simply walked away from their homes.

This is something that is absolutely unprecedented in American history.

In fact, 31 percent of all foreclosures in March were deemed to be “strategic defaults” by researchers at the University of Chicago and Northwestern University.  That is up from just 22 percent in March 2009.

So the strategic default trend is accelerating.

And with more than 24% of all homes with mortgages in the United States underwater as of the end of 2009, it is likely that we are going to see a whole lot more strategic defaults.

This is particularly true in areas that were hurt the worst by the real estate crash.  In Arizona for example, it is estimated that 50 percent of all homes are underwater, and in Nevada it is estimated that a whopping 65 percent of all homes are underwater.

That is a whole lot of families that have some very hard decisions to make.

But it just isn’t families that are making these kinds of decisions.  Even the biggest financial institutions in the United States have committed strategic defaults.  For example, Morgan Stanley walked away from five San Francisco office buildings they bought at the height of the real estate boom.

But is it the right thing to do?

Well, let’s look at both sides of the issue.

Why many would say that strategic defaults are morally acceptable….

Many Americans have no problem at all walking away from their mortgages.  After all, they would argue, they never agreed to pay twice what a house is worth.

If they signed up for a $400,000 mortgage, they would argue that they expect to be making payments on a house that is worth somewhere around $400,000.

So is that unreasonable?

After all, if a $400,000 house goes down to $200,000, there are many that would argue that it represents an unforeseen circumstance that negates the deal.

Others would argue that bankers tricked millions of Americans into accepting mortgages that they could not possibly afford, and therefore nobody should be crying for the bankers when people quit paying on those mortgages.

In essence, the argument is that the bankers created this mess so the bankers should be the ones to pay the penalty.

Still other Americans are choosing strategic defaults because it enables them to provide for their families during these hard economic times.

For many Americans, often the choice is between paying the mortgage and putting food on the table.

And because of the massive delays in processing foreclosures these days, many people are finding that they can live in their homes “rent free” for months on end after they stop making payments.

In fact, Bank of America’s credit loss mitigation executive, Jack Schakett, has even acknowledged that many home owners have a huge financial incentive to walk away: “there is a huge incentive for customers to walk away because getting free rent and waiting out foreclosure can be very appealing to customers.”

So how much “free rent” are those who have walked away from their mortgages getting?

According to LPS Applied Analytics, the average home owner in foreclosure has been delinquent for 438 days before actually being evicted.  That is up from 251 days in January 2008.

The truth is that especially in states where the foreclosure process must go through the courts, the systems are simply being overloaded.

For example, in Pinellas and Pasco counties, which include St. Petersburg, Florida and the suburbs to the north, there are 34,000 open foreclosure cases.  Ten years ago, there were only about 4,000.

But there are others that would argue that strategic defaults are 100 percent morally wrong.

Why many would say that strategic defaults are morally wrong….

Those who would say that strategic defaults are wrong would argue that no one put a gun to the head of anyone signing up for a mortgage.

They would argue that “a contract is a contract” and that Americans should fulfill their obligations, no matter how hard it hurts.

The truth is that once upon a time in America, a “strategic default” would have been unimaginable to most people.

Back then, a man was only as good as his word.

Even today, to purposely break a contact is on the same level as purposely telling a lie to many people.

Not only that, but the reality is that a strategic default will ruin your credit for years to come.  Many would argue that it is immoral to ruin your family credit for the simple convenience of getting out of a bad mortgage.

In addition, many would argue that it is wrong to take advantage of the banks by exploiting the delay in foreclosure processing – no matter how evil the banks have been.

After all, do two wrongs make a right?

Plus, in some states there may be additional financial penalties even after you walk away.

Kyle Lundstedt, the managing director of Lender Processing Service’s analytics group says that those who do willingly walk away from their homes are playing a very dangerous financial game….

“These people are playing a dangerous game. There are processes in many states to go after folks who have substantial assets postforeclosure.”

Plus, those who do commit strategic defaults raise borrowing costs on the rest of us.  In the future, banks are going to have to charge all of us higher interest rates on our mortgages in order to factor in the risk that many Americans will simply walk away from their mortgages if their house values go down.

So is it right for everyone else to suffer in the future so that some can get out of bad mortgages right now?

The truth is that it is not the purpose of this article to answer these questions.

The purpose of this article is simply to raise these questions.

We live in unprecedented economic times, and we are all going to be faced with very hard decisions as we move into a very uncertain future.

Strategic defaults pose some very interesting moral dilemmas, and if you ask 10 different people about strategic defaults you are likely to get 10 different opinions.

So what do you think about strategic defaults?

Is it morally right to decide to simply stop paying your mortgage?

Feel free to leave a comment with your opinion….

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