Thursday, December 20, 2007

BofA: Attitudes Changing Towards Default

by Bill McBride on 12/20/2007 04:00:00 PM

Within the next couple of years, probably somewhere between 10 million and 20 million U.S. homeowners will owe more on their homes, than their homes are worth. (See Homeowners With Negative Equity)

One of the greatest fears for lenders (and investors in mortgage backed securities) is that it will become socially acceptable for upside down middle class Americans to walk away from their homes.

See these comments from Bank of America CEO Kenneth Lewis via the WSJ: Now, Even Borrowers With Good Credit Pose Risks

"There's been a change in social attitudes toward default," Mr. Lewis says. Bankers typically have believed that cash-strapped borrowers would fall behind on their credit cards, car payments and other debts -- but would regard mortgage defaults as calamities to be avoided at all costs. That isn't always so anymore, he says.

"We're seeing people who are current on their credit cards but are defaulting on their mortgages," Mr. Lewis says. "I'm astonished that people would walk away from their homes." The clear implication: At least a few cash-strapped borrowers now believe bailing out on a house is one of the easier ways to get their finances back under control.

... there is a new class of homeowners in name only. Because these people never put up much of their own money, they don't act like owners, committed to their property for the long haul.
If every upside down homeowner resorted to "jingle mail" (mailing the keys to the lender), the losses for the lenders could be staggering. Assuming a 15% total price decline, and a 50% average loss per mortgage, the losses for lenders and investors would be about $1 trillion. Assuming a 30% price decline, the losses would be over $2 trillion.

Not every upside down homeowner will use jingle mail, but if prices drop 30%, the losses for the lenders and investors might well be over $1 trillion (far in excess of the $70 to $80 billion in losses reported so far).

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