Sociable

Thursday, November 10, 2011

How a Financial Pro Lost His House

People need to take lessons from the Dad, who lived during the depression.
But prices just kept rising, and when people kept buying, that made it seem safer. I knew from my work as a financial adviser that following the crowd could be costly. But like everyone else, I felt safer in a crowd.
We didn’t find anything we liked with Mitch, but one day in September 2003 Cori spotted a for-sale-by-owner sign in a really nice neighborhood. We ended up buying the house and paid the asking price of $575,000. (When we tried to negotiate on price, the owners were amused; it just wasn’t that kind of market.)
We borrowed 100 percent of the purchase price. In fact, I was told I could borrow even more if I wanted. I had perfect credit and a solid income that was growing. But even so, when the lender approved us at 100 percent, it was more than I had expected. I remember thinking something like “Wow. I guess if they’re willing to lend it to us it must be O.K.”
 And a few years later.
By then, we owed over $200,000 more than our original loan balance.
Borrowing that much had seemed to make sense when the value of the home was still rising substantially every year, taking our net worth higher with it. But at that point, there was no way we could sell the home for anywhere near what we owed. Some of my friends were already doing short sales, where the bank agrees to let you sell the house for less than your loan balance. I was also aware you had to be three months behind in your payments before the bank would talk to you about the possibility.
At first, I dismissed the idea of a short sale. Late that summer, I sat down with a really close friend in Las Vegas, someone I looked up to. He cut to the heart of the matter right away: Why, he wanted to know, were we still making the payments?
Then here comes the reality.
I remained troubled by the ethical implications of what I was doing, but I soon started seeing some of my friend’s arguments echoed in the work of Brent T. White, a law professor at the University of Arizona. He and others were arguing that homeowners should act more like companies — taking into account legal and economic reasons for stopping a regular payment rather than “perceived moral obligations.”
That was reassuring in the dead of night while I sat in front of the computer trying to make sense of the world financial markets and my own personal situation. I remember being relieved at discovering a way to frame my decision.
But we didn’t know what would happen in the harsh light of day, and we were scared to death. Would we be kicked out of our house? What would the neighbors think? What would the children think? We worried about the stress on our relationship and even the survival of our marriage. I felt like a complete failure.
We looked into a mortgage modification, thinking it might let us keep the house and rent it out after we moved. But the offer from Wells Fargo, which owned our loans by then, was too modest. That meant we could either walk away from the house or work with the bank to do an orderly short sale
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