The Collected Works of Author and Blogger Larry Roberts

Archive for August, 2012

Most federal assistance programs are a waste of money. They set up an entrenched bureaucracy that drains taxpayer resources and provide little economic return. There are exceptional government programs that deliver great benefit at little cost to taxpayers, but the foreclosure counseling services are not one of those programs. Most of these borrowers are hopelessly underwater or overextended. The counseling might have done some good before they got into this mess, but at this point, telling them what they should have done differently isn't going to help. Programs like this are created as political cover to deflect criticism that the government is not doing enough. There is little or no hope these programs will have positive outcomes for anyone involved.…[READ MORE]

Despite being an outspoken renter over the last five years (I've actually been a renter since 2001), I still believe there are virtues to home ownership. The emotional benefits are palpable, and there are financial reasons to own. The main financial reason I plan to own again soon is to lock in a cost of ownership lower than the cost of a comparable rental. A secondary reason is to obtain the "forced savings" benefit of a conventionally amortized mortgage. I know a lender would give me a HELOC if I asked, but I have no intention of it. At some point, I want to pay off a mortgage and live truly free. Renting has been good to me, particularly over…[READ MORE]

I believe the low end of the housing market is finding a bottom. Due to the timely processing of subprime foreclosures, prices crashed hard at the low end, and shadow inventory is much less abundant. Low interest rates and lower prices pushed affordability to record highs, and investor interest has helped absorb the visible MLS inventory. As a result, properties priced below the median in most markets is probably not going to go down much from here. The high end is another story. Banks have not foreclosed on it's high-end customers preferring to allow them to squat in luxury. Lenders know the losses here will be huge if they force the air out of the bubble they created, so they…[READ MORE]

One hundred percent of those who lost homes in foreclosure suffered from excessive debt -- 100%. The total amount of debt is important, but the terms of repayment are far more critical. The monthly payment (plus taxes, insurance and other costs) must be a manageable percentage of the borrower's income, otherwise the borrower is likely to default. Historically, this value was 28% or less, then it was expanded to 30%, and now the GSEs underwrite to 31%. Debt-to-income ratios higher than this are proven to have accelerating default rates absent Ponzi borrowing. Thirty-one percent doesn't sound like an onerous percentage of income. But most people forget this is gross income, not net. A 31% debt-to-income ratio is 50% or more…[READ MORE]

Just as buying a home is an emotional decision, defaulting on the mortgage and giving up a home is too. Any borrower who is deeply underwater and making payments in excess of a comparable rental would benefit financially from strategic default. That's the math. However, defying the logic, very few loanowners are actually defaulting. People cloak their reasons with intellectual rationalizations, but it's an emotional decision based on the desire to keep their family home and the ethical considerations that go along with the decision. As with any emotional decision, it may be right, or it may be wrong depending more upon the perceptions of the decision maker rather than some outside measuring stick. Since this is an emotional decision,…[READ MORE]

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