Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Study: Using Home ATM Led to Most Foreclosures in SoCal

by Bill McBride on 7/28/2009 07:30:00 PM

Nick Timiraos at the WSJ writes: Study Finds Underwater Borrowers Drowned Themselves with Refinancings (ht Jack)

Why are so many homeowners underwater on their mortgages?
Michael LaCour-Little, a finance professor at California State University at Fullerton, looked at 4,000 foreclosures in Southern California from 2006-08. He found that, at least in Southern California, borrowers who defaulted on their mortgages didn’t purchase their homes at the top of the market. Instead, the average acquisition was made in 2002 and many homes lost to foreclosure were bought in the 1990s. More than half of all borrowers who lost their homes had already refinanced at least once, and four out of five had a second mortgage.
Here is the study: Follow the Money: A Close Look at Recent Southern California Foreclosures
The conventional wisdom is that households who purchased at the top of the market during the recent housing bubble are those most at risk of default due to recent price declines, upward re-sets of adjustable rate mortgage instruments, the economic downturn, and other factors. Here we use public record data to study Southern California borrowers facing foreclosure in late 2006 and 2007. We estimate property values at the time of the scheduled foreclosure sale with the automated valuation model of a major financial institution and then track actual sales prices for those properties that actually sold, either at auction or as later as REO. We find that virtually all of the borrowers had taken large amounts of equity out of the property through refinancing and/or junior lien borrowing with total cash extracted exceeding $300 million. As a result, losses to lenders exceed those of borrowers by a substantial margin, calling into question policies aimed at protecting borrowers.
emphasis added
It may seem unfair that these homeowners receive help from the bank (or from the government), but as far as slowing foreclosures it really doesn't matter why the homeowner is underwater. I think the research from the Boston Fed suggesting the costs of foreclosure are less than the costs of modifications is a stronger argument against many mods.