Subprime was just the beginning. Wait until California’s prime borrowers start handing their keys to the bank.

Slate is writing Here Comes the Next Mortgage Crisis.

Riverside County, outside Los Angeles, may be the foreclosure capital of the country, with a rate close to six times the national average. And housing prices are in freefall.

California should be the poster child for a mortgage-loan bailout. In few other places have so many taken on such onerous debts with so little equity. Unfortunately, the crisis in California is going to get much worse, and there is no bailout that will solve it. Why? Because if the first stage of the foreclosure crisis was about people who could not afford their mortgages, the next stage will be about people who have every reason not even to try to pay their mortgages.

Over the next several months, we’re going to be subjected to a chorus of hand-wringing about the moral turpitude of people who walk away from their mortgages and pronouncements like last month’s warning from Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson that people should honor their mortgage obligations. The problem with finger-wagging on what you “should” or “ought” to do is that, when it comes to money, you’re usually given the lecture only when it’s in your interest to do the opposite.

Certainly, that’s the case for all the California homeowners who in the next year or two are going to find themselves with the choice of whether, faced with a huge new wave of interest resets and a historic decline in the value of their homes, they will simply walk away.

My Comment: Paulson does not want you to do what is in your best interest he wants you to do what is in the lender’s best interest. If walking away makes sense, just do it. Inquiring minds may wish to review the Moral Obligations Of Walking Away and
Businesses Advised To Walk Away.

Just two banks, Washington Mutual and Countrywide, wrote more than $300 billion worth of option ARMs in the three years from 2005 to 2007, concentrated in California. Others—IndyMac, Golden West (the creator of the option ARM, and now a part of Wachovia)—wrote many billions more. The really amazing thing is that the meltdown in California is already happening and virtually none of these loans have yet reset.

My Comment: This mirrors what I said in Closer Look At The ARMs Reset Problem.

Looking ahead to 2010-2011 I see a different set of problems. Those problems are Alt-A and Pay Option ARMS. And that is where the liar loans (no-doc loans) are hidden. Liar loans are likely to blow up long before we get to 2011. I discussed a particular Alt-A pool in WaMu Alt-A Pool Revisited and WaMu Alt-A Pool Deteriorates Further

The subprime rate reset in and of itself is not so much an issue as the fact that those borrowers are now underwater, and have every temptation to walk away. Slate continues…

When those dominoes start falling next year, we may or may not have a subprime bailout plan, and the discussion will start about how to bail out this next tranche of borrowers. The bailout plans on the table now, such as the one put forward by Barney Frank (one of Congress’ genuinely cogent financial minds), are reasonably based on the principle of bringing payments down to a point that homeowners can afford.

But where prices fall 40 percent to 60 percent, all that goes out the window. Why? Because in expensive locales like San Diego, tens of thousands of people with 100 percent loan-to-value mortgages and option ARMs are living in homes in which they have no equity and on which they owe a lot more than the house is worth.

Bet on this: Whatever moral qualms are being urged on borrowers to keep them from walking away from their mortgages, they’ll count for a lot less than the economic reality facing borrowers whose homes have fallen in value by half. Lenders had no reservations about selling borrowers loans with rising payments that would be poisonous in a rising market. Now it seems borrowers have no reservations about leaving those lenders with the risks they begged to take.

Foreclosures Jump 57% as Homeowners Walk Away

Bloomberg is reporting U.S. Foreclosures Jump 57% as Homeowners Walk Away.

U.S. foreclosure filings jumped 57 percent and bank repossessions more than doubled in March from a year earlier as adjustable mortgages increased and more owners lost their homes to lenders.

More than 234,000 properties were in some stage of foreclosure, or one in every 538 U.S. households, Irvine, California-based RealtyTrac Inc., a seller of default data, said today in a statement. Nevada, California and Florida had the highest foreclosure rates. Filings rose 5 percent from February.

My Comment: Record Home Price Drop In Southern California are clearly tempting many home owners to walk away.

Auction notices rose 32 percent from a year ago, a sign that more defaulting homeowners are “simply walking away and deeding their properties back to the foreclosing lender” rather than letting the home be auctioned, RealtyTrac Chief Executive Officer James Saccacio said in the statement.

“We’re not near the bottom of this at all,” said Kenneth Rosen, chairman of Rosen Real Estate Securities LLC, a hedge fund in Berkeley, California and chairman of the Fisher Center for Real Estate at the University of California at Berkeley. “The foreclosure process will accelerate throughout the year.”

My Comment: We are years away from the bottom.

About 2.5 million foreclosed properties will be on the market this year and in 2009, Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. analysts led by Michelle Meyer said in an April 10 report. U.S. home price declines will probably double to a national average of 20 percent by next year, with lower values most likely in metropolitan areas in California, Florida, Arizona and Nevada, mortgage insurer PMI Group Inc. said last week in a report.

My Comment: Anyone remember how 2.0 million foreclosed homes seemed absurd? Well now the number is 2.5 million and rising. 3.5 million might be even more realistic.

“At least 2 million jobs will be lost because of this recession, so we’ll get a cumulative negative spiral,” Rosen said. “A normal recession is 10 months. We think this one may be twice as long.”

My Comment: Good call. A Case for an “L” Shaped Recession has been presented.

Nevada had the highest U.S. foreclosure rate in March at one for every 139 households, almost four times the national rate, RealtyTrac said.

California had the second-highest rate at one filing for every 204 households, and the most filings for the 15th consecutive month at 64,711.

Florida had the third-highest rate, one filing for every 282 households, and ranked second in total filings at 30,254. Foreclosures increased 112 percent from a year earlier and decreased almost 7 percent from February, RealtyTrac said.

Ohio ranked third in filings at 11,273 and had the seventh- highest foreclosure rate, one for every 448 households.

Some borrowers are “hanging on at the margins” in the face of resets, said Mark Goldman, a loan officer at Windsor Capital Mortgage Corp. in San Diego.

“I’ve had people sitting in my office in tears because there are no loans available,” said Goldman. “There are no loans for someone who’s upside down on their house.”

Attempting to “hang on” often makes little sense, except for the lender. That is why we are seeing Misinformation From Fannie and Freddie On Walking Away.

California Attorney Chimes In

I have been in communication with “HCL”, a California attorney over real estate law in California. HCL writes:

As a California real estate attorney I can tell you this:

1) Mortgage debt, whether it’s a first or second loan, is nonrecourse if it is “purchase money”, used initially to purchase the property;

2) Mortgage debt that exists due to a refinancing and/or to second loan taken out after purchase is recourse, but — and it’s a BIG but — only if the lender elects to file a lawsuit for judicial foreclosure rather than going through the usual foreclosure process;

3) Suits for judicial foreclosure are in my experience of 28 years extremely rare, due mostly to the fact that any buyer at a judicial foreclosure sale has to give the foreclosed-upon party a full year to redeem the property. This of course is a complete deal-killer.

An interesting side-note: California’s anti-deficiency law originated during the Depression years, in order to place the burden of properly valuing real property and risk of loss on lenders (who presumably were more sophisticated and able to assess value) rather than buyers. Fast-forward to now, when it turns out that rampant greed prevented lenders from acting rationally in their own self interest. Now they are paying the price with walk-aways and “jingle mail”.

If you can arrange a short sale that is preferable to walking away. But a short sale requires two things: 1) a buyer in hand 2) a lender willing to go along.

Furthermore, the short sale process takes time and there is a huge lack of qualified buyers.

Unsurprisingly, walking Away is picking up steam. California is the poster child. There is little Fannie or Freddie can do about it either.

If you are in agony over a pending decision to walk away, just remember, your moral obligation is not to Paulson or your lender, nor is there any patriotic duty to bankrupt yourself for benefit of others. Please don’t blow your life savings, tap your IRA, or use credit card debt to forestall the inevitable. Your moral obligation is to yourself and your family. If it makes economic sense to walk, then walk.

Mike “Mish” Shedlock
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