My Two Dollars posted an article last week that made me see red. In the article, David (the author) said that he's changed his mind and that he now thinks that it's OK to walk away from your mortgage if your property value has declined to where you're underwater on your mortgage.
Even if you can afford to pay.
His argument (and he links back to another article in the NY Times that advocates the entire thing) is that the banks have been unwilling to help the borrowers out who they know are underwater, so turning around and ‘sticking' it back to the banks is fair play.
I think that's baloney. I actually think it's a lot more than that, but the words I'd like to use are ones that I try to stay away from in a public blog.
First, two wrongs don't make a right. Just because the banks are being ‘big meanies' doesn't mean that walking away will somehow wrong that right. There are other ways to go about dealing with this issue. Keep working with your bank. Try to sell your house. Or, keep making the payments. I mean, to act all flabbergasted that the banks are not jumping up and down to work with you, are you serious?
If anybody really thought that the banks were their buddies just because they acted all buddy-buddy to get a mortgage deal signed, well, give me a break. Banks are in the business to make money, and they do so largely in part by signing loans. Why do you think that the bank owes it to you? Let me ask this of anybody who thinks that it's OK to walk away: If the value of your home had continued to go up and you sold it for a nice profit, would you have ‘shared' that profit with the bank? Didn't think so, but how is anybody throwing a tantrum because the bank won't ‘work with them' any different?
Second, nobody forced you to sign the papers in the first place, did they? As far as I know, a lot of people signed a lot of papers agreeing to pay a lot of money for houses that, as it turns out, were not going to hold their value. While I agree that this is bad news, the fact is that there was nobody from the banks or the mortgage company holding a gun to anybody's head (except maybe on the Sopranos).
Let's face it, many of the same people that bought houses inflated in value was because they saw it as an investment. Just like any investment, a stock, a bond, whatever…there's a risk. But, instead of these people dealing with their losses like they would in any other investment, they would now rather leave someone else to deal with their losses.
Third, the short-sightedness is unbelievable in the logic that David uses. Why? Because banks aren't the only ones that lose here. Yes, you might be ‘sticking it to the bank, but let's think for a minute of all the other people, real people that aren't hiding behind corporations or skyscrapers, that get screwed every time someone walks away that could afford to keep paying:
- Neighbors – Anybody around the vacant home now has to deal with an empty house that will, more often than not, turn into an eyesore as the lawn goes uncut, the snow doesn't get shoveled, and gets open to all sorts of problems such as infestation, scavenging, broken pipes, or any other number of things that even a few months of neglect can bring on. And usually these sit for more than just a few months.
- Neighbors – Yes, I'll mention the neighbors again because now what happens is that the bank will have to foreclose and this will usually lead to lower values in the neighborhood. So, every one of your neighbors watches their own home value drop when you walk away. You think the bank is the one eating your loss, but chances are your neighbors are even more.
- The municipality you live in – I'm guessing that when you walk away, you're going to stop paying the property taxes. Since most municipalities rely on property tax collections to fund their operations, you're leaving them with less for as long as the foreclosure process goes on. That means less money to provide police and fire safety, less money to keep up infrastructure such as roads and other essential services in a time when many cities are barely scraping by as it is.
- The kids in your school district – Where I come from, property taxes also fund the public school system. You leave, and there's less money to fund the schools. At least here in Michigan, educational spending has already been cut a few times, largely in part because of declining property values AND less property taxes collected because of people who enter foreclosure. To think that there are people contributing to this willingly is simply nauseating to me.
I wonder if anybody that walks away simply to screw the bank looks in their rearview mirror as they're driving away and sees all the rest that they're leaving behind. Because, there are a lot of other people affected by that selfish decision, not just the bank.
Let's also mention the circular effect. As I mentioned, walking away typically leads to a foreclosure, which more often than not leads to a decline in the home value on the abandoned property and all the properties around this. These declining values will then lower values so that someone else goes underwater. Then, they walk away and that depresses the value even further, which leads to someone else walking away, and so on and so forth.
When does it end? Are we supposed to become a nation of renters because if things kept going and going, that's the end game.
I think I'll pass on that one, thanks.
If we want this real estate mess to stop, there has to be personal responsibility. There has to be sacrifice in order for this cycle to stop and for us to start the process of stabilizing the real estate market for good. It amazes me when I see blog posts and news stories like David's who either want to delay this process, or want to make it someone else's problem. In the end, that's all it's doing every time someone walks away is making it someone else's problem.
Let me put a disclaimer or clarification on all this. If there are circumstances where you can't afford your house, say you lost your job or you have a medical expense, or something else that's put your finances in the tank, none of what I said applies to you. I understand there are thousands of people who had to walk away from their homes because they had no other choice. I'm not chastising you in this article. What my comments and my anger are centered around are those people who still have their jobs, who can still afford the payments, but choose to consider not making them simply because things didn't work out like they planned.
One of my favorite bloggers is Funny About Money. Funny lives in Arizona and until the end of 2009, she worked for Arizona State University, but found herself out of a job due to budget cuts, and is now effectively retired. She now lives on her banked time and unemployment, and will soon be living on Social Security and a small-to-modest retirement account. She will be scraping by.
She also has a house that is worth a lot less than she paid for it a few years ago. Yet, she plans on staying there and in all the months that I've read her blog, she's never once seriously considered walking away. It would be the easy thing to do. It would probably help her out. But, she's never considered it because she knows it would be the wrong thing to do. I feel bad because she's definitely feeling a big impact in her life as a result of the real estate declines. But, I'm proud of her because she makes the right choice, even if it's the difficult one.
If someone in her position can make the right decision, even though it puts her in a tough circumstance, why is it so hard for others to comprehend doing the right thing even if it means sacrificing? People in generations past made a lot of sacrifices that, while they were tough, led to opportunity. Now, people want the opportunity without the sacrifice, and there are way too many people encouraging this mentality.
So, please, can we stop already with the sympathy to those who choose to walk away from their mortgages even though they can afford them? OK? It's baloney!