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Friday, February 29, 2008

Ruthless Defaults in the MSM

by Calculated Risk on 2/29/2008 01:35:00 AM

Here are a couple of interesting articles on "walking away", aka jingle mail, or more technically "ruthless defaults".

From Ruth Simon and Scott Patterson at the WSJ: Borrowers Abandon Mortgages as Prices Drop

As home prices plummet, growing numbers of borrowers are winding up owing more on their homes than the homes are worth, raising concerns that a new group of homeowners -- those who can afford to pay their mortgages but have decided not to -- are starting to walk away from their homes.
A rise in the number of people choosing to default on their mortgages would represent a significant departure from past behavior of American homeowners, who during past housing downturns tended to walk away only as a last resort, often because they couldn't afford to pay because of unemployment, illness, divorce or other life-altering changes that reduce income.
What's different now, analysts and economists say, is that home prices have fallen so far so quickly that some homeowners in weak markets are concluding that house prices won't recover anytime soon, and therefore they are throwing good money after bad. Also, many borrowers who bought in recent years have put down little if any equity. "If they haven't lived in [the home] very long and haven't put any cash in it, it's a lot easier to walk away," says Chris Mayer, director of the Milstein Center for Real Estate at Columbia Business School.
From John Leland at the NY Times: Facing Default, Some Walk Out on New Homes
You Walk Away is a small sign of broad changes in the way many Americans look at housing. In an era in which new types of loans allowed many home buyers to move in with little or no down payment, and to cash out any equity by refinancing, the meaning of homeownership and foreclosure have changed, economists and housing experts say.
“I think I could make a case that some borrowers were ‘renting’ (with risk), rather than owning,” Nicolas P. Retsinas, director of the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University, said
“When people don’t have skin in the game, they behave like they don’t have skin in the game,” said Karl E. Case, a professor of economics at Wellesley College
Unfortunately these articles don't really advance the ball. Tanta did an excellent job of suggesting some question the MSM media could ask: Let's Talk about Walking Away
What we have, so far, is a series of industry insiders making a general claim that "ruthless default" is on the rise. What we do not have, so far, is any rigorous quantification of the extent of this problem, or even any really detailed definition of what "a borrower who could afford to pay" is. We have no one offering baseline measures (what, for instance, a lender's analytical models might have predicted is the "normal" level of walking away), and hence no clear sense of the magnitude of the "change" in borrower behavior and attitudes (not to mention much rigor in distinguishing between the two). Hence, we don't yet really know if it's a change in borrower behavior as much as a change in definitions, servicer data collection and interpretation, or media exposure. Or a handful of anecdotes that are being pluralized into "data."