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More Home Owners Walk Away

by Mick Marsden

A growing number of home owners in Arizona, California, Florida, and Nevada—where prices have fallen the most—are walking away from their properties. 

They are leaving the deal behind not because they can’t pay but because they don’t want to. A study by researchers at Northwestern University and the University of Chicago concludes that as many as 25 percent of defaults are driven by strategy, not necessity.

If many other people follow suit, “It’s going to be really difficult to prevent a cascade effect," says Paola Sapienza, a professor of finance at Northwestern.

Brent White, an associate law professor at the University of Arizona, points to actions by banks themselves to avoid staying in bad business deals as an example of why homeowners should make a decision "unclouded by unnecessary guilt or shame." 

For instance, on Thursday, financial services firm Morgan Stanley announced that it is turning five San Francisco office buildings back over to its lender two years after it purchased them when the market was at its priciest. The buildings are estimated to be worth about half of what Morgan Stanley paid.

“This isn’t a default or foreclosure situation,” spokeswoman Alyson Barnes told Bloomberg News. “We are going to give them the properties to get out of the loan obligation.”

Morgan Stanley is apparently current on the loan, so this is what is known as a “strategic default.” 

Some might ask: If strategic defaults are OK for banks, why aren’t they OK for ordinary homeowners?

Source: The Wall Street Journal, James R. Hagerty and Nick Timiraos (12/17/2009) and Bloomberg, Emily Friedlander (12/17/2009)

Nine Consecutive Gains for Pending Home Sales

by Mick Marsden
 
Pending home sales have risen for nine months in a row, a first for the series of the index since its inception in 2001, according to the latest survey. The Pending Home Sales Index increased 3.7 percent to 114.1 from 110.0 in September, and is 31.8 percent above October 2008 when it was 86.6. The rise from a year ago is the biggest annual increase ever recorded for the index, which is at the highest level since March 2006 when it was 115.2. Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, said home sales are experiencing a pendulum swing. “Keep in mind that housing had been underperforming over most of the past year. Based on the demographics of our growing population, existing-home sales should be in the range of 5.5 million to 6.0 million annually, but we were well below the 5-million mark before the home buyer tax credit stimulus,” he said. “This means the tax credit is helping unleash a pent-up demand from a large pool of financially qualified renters, much more than borrowing sales from the future."

Forecast for 2010
In all, says NAR Chief Economist Lawrence Yun, 4.4 million Americans look to take advantage of the home buyer tax credit before it expires by the middle of next year. From the enactment in February of this year through October, NAR estimates 1.8 million households would have qualified to claim the first-time home buyer tax credit. Now with the tax credit deadline extended till the end of June 2010 (for closings, with contracts signed by the end of April, 2010) and also available to many move-up buyers, an additional 2.6 million families would likely claim the home buyer tax credit. 

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