The Housing Chronicles Blog: Is it time for principal reductions?

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Is it time for principal reductions?

Amidst the news that approximately 25% of homeowners with mortgages are now underwater (meaning they owe more than their mortgage balance), will we start seeing more cries for lenders to offer principal reductions to (a) make these existing mortgages more affordable; and (b) provide an incentive to keep borrowers in their homes? Given the high recidivism rate among borrowers with loan modifications -- which is often like putting a Band-Aid on an amputated limb and then praying it holds -- perhaps it's time to look at other options. From a story:

Nearly 25% of all mortgage borrowers were underwater, meaning they owe more on their loans than their homes are worth.

First American CoreLogic, the research firm that monitors housing equity, reported Tuesday that 11.3 million homeowners -- or 24% of all homes with mortgages -- were underwater as of the end of 2009. That's up from 23% and 10.7 million borrowers three month earlier...

For many homeowners, being underwater, also know as negative equity, has few consequences. If they're not planning to sell and can afford their monthly bills, they can wait out the downturn.

For others, however, plunging underwater can spell disaster. If they become unemployed or have a financial emergency, they have no equity to tap. Or, if they need to downsize or sell their home to relocate for a job, they can't...

Traditionally, being underwater was one of two main factors in determining a borrower's likelihood of foreclosure. The other is having sufficient income to pay bills. But, there's an increasingly important exception: strategic default. As equity gets more and more negative, some homeowners are choosing to quit paying and give the keys to the bank.

As long as negative equity remains a big problem, it will be difficult to stem the tide of foreclosures that continue to plague many local real estate markets around the nation.

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