Monday, January 11, 2010

Mortgages, Foreclosure, Morality

It is unfortunate but we must deal with the economics of keeping versus "walking away from" your house.

Housing values have fallen dramatically over the past 18 months, to a level that many homeowners owe more than the house is worth. That is not so bad if the owner can make the payments without struggling. But what happens when a foreclosure looms? The choices seem obvious - 1. Let the house, your home, go to a foreclosure sale, and you move; or 2. Scrape and fight and get money any honest way you can to try to keep that house you call home.

Ah, one might say - you are acting immorally by walking away from the home and the debt. Or, someone might think, "Gee, if I give up my house I will never be able to get another one." Better yet is the argument bringing the kids into the equation "Well, I can't move my kids to a different school or a different neighborhood. I MUST keep my house even if it kills me. I will work 20 hours a day if necessary!"

First, there is nothing immoral about making a contract with a bank or other lender that states "We, the BANK, will lend you money to pay for a house, and YOU promise to pay us back, a little each month. IF YOU DO NOT PAY we will take your house away from you and evict you." That is the deal. The contract, mortgage and note" do not mention heaven, hell, purgatory, or even limbo (if it still exists). It does not state that if you do not pay, and you believe in reincarnation, that you will come back as a rock, or a brick that get put into a house destined for foreclosure.

Let's be realistic: which is worse - 1. Kids having to move to a different house (same school through school choice in Mass. at least) and have to make new friends in the new neighborhood [even that doesn't work if they are past grammar school] or 2. Mom/Dad in a foul mood, bickering and fighting as to who is to blame for the money problems. That "discussion" typically goes something like this:"You were paying the bills. You knew we were getting behind. Why didn't you do something about it?" Responding in a louder voice "ME? You are the one who went to work for that sleazy contractor/sales force/outlet store/whatever. Why aren't you back to work yet. I mean why haven't you gotten a second (or third) job? I told you not to get that mortgage" Now, yelling back, "How dare you talk to me like that. I earned $XXXXX - how was I to know that..." Shrieking, the retort is "Is was your job to know! And you should have seen that the mortgage was no good (or that the house would drop in value or whatever).

That is great for kids to hear and feel - feel the tension in the house; understand that Mom/Dad (one or both) are angry, scared, "in a mood", ignoring those kids except to yell at them. And if there are no kids, but a spouse or companion, the battle rages on, neither party stopping to work out a solution - analyze the options. Just move ahead blindly because he/she MUST keep the house!!

There is no shame in finding out that you cannot pay the increased payments, or the regular payments because hours were cut. Do not try to blame yourself by believing "I should have read the papers more closely - even though I did not understand anything" or convinced that, if you are on lay-off, you will be called back to work and you can catch up then.

The mortgage companies had no problem or regrets in selling loans they knew might not be good. These same banks and lenders do not hesitate to let their own investment properties go to foreclosure if there is no value and it would be "good money after bad". They had no difficulty with their collective consciences when the mortgages were packaged and sold to mutual funds that crashed. They do not feel immoral when they refuse to modify loans so you can keep you house, or when they send you paperwork to complete which you send in which they lose so you send it in again, which they don't ever get etc.

I am not advocating just walking away from the debt/house without a full examination of whether there is a solution that will let you keep your home. But, I am pushing you to "do the numbers". Is it realistic to try to keep the house? Is there any equity in it or will you paying on value that was never there or that disappeared? How about the relationship with your partner, family, your kids?

If there is any shame in any of this housing mess, it would be that families are devastated and torn apart - not by having to move, but by trying to hang on to a dream that is not lost, just postponed.

It is just money - Contact an FHA Home Preservation Counselor or an attorney who deals with these issues regularly so that you can at least have all of the facts BEFORE you make a decision. If you are concerned about the Lender coming after you for any deficiency (difference between what you owed and the foreclosure sale price) there are ways to avoid that, legally. Do not despair - there is help available.
Author's Copyright by Richard I. Isacoff, Esq. , January 2010

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