Wednesday, December 06, 2006

As Loans Reset, Georgia Defaults Double

The Atlanta Journal Constitution reports from Florida. "Hundreds of Georgians lost their homes Tuesday. The houses, taken from debt-laden homeowners, were sold to bidders on courthouse steps statewide. Foreclosures in Georgia are up a stunning 99 percent in the past year."

"The state now has the nation's third-highest rate of foreclosures: One in every 449 households. In October, that meant 6,895 properties were in the foreclosure process."

"The taking of homes has always been brisk here because state laws are written for speed. Georgia is one of three states in which lenders can foreclose on houses in as few as 37 days. Foreclosures ramped up in recent months as once-low introductory interest rates on adjustable mortgages edged up, making monthly payments unaffordable for some homeowners."

"'We really haven't had any letup," said Ralph Goldberg, a Decatur attorney whose clients include many distressed homeowners. 'We know, toward the end of the month, people are going to be coming in. The Friday and Monday before [monthly] Foreclosure Day are always busy.'"

"The danger for the overall economy is that a rising pool of foreclosures will overflow into other segments of an already troubled real estate market. Most critically, foreclosures add to the number of homes for sale. They offer bargains to buyers, but dampen the prices other sellers might get."

"The surge of foreclosures is, in some ways, the backwash of the five-year housing wave that began washing out last year. Homeownership, construction and sales reached unprecedented levels, partly because lenders tried so hard to get people into houses. By standards of the past, many first-time purchasers were marginally qualified, with modest incomes and little in savings."

"But with creative mortgage arrangements, the buyers often were able at least to start off paying interest rates dramatically below market levels. They often avoided a down payment entirely. Atlanta has been among the nation's leaders in the percentage of borrowers taking adjustable rate or interest-only mortgages."

"'They get qualified at the teaser rate,' said attorney William J. Brennan Jr., director of the Home Defense Program Atlanta Legal Aid Society. 'Of course, they can't afford to pay when the rate goes up.'"

"Most foreclosures happen on mortgages held less than five years, according to a study last year by Harvard University's Joint Center for Housing Studies."

"Goldberg said an increase in mortgage payments can be crippling. 'There are a lot of people who seem to have mortgages that are astronomically high, and they are just being eaten up,' he said. 'You look at the money they have, and you look at the mortgage, and you think, 'How did this happen?'"

"Lenders have a powerful incentive to find and qualify borrowers, whatever their income or past. The risks are eliminated for lenders that sell the loans to companies that package thousands of loans together. Those firms figure any defaults will be offset by the vast majority of loans that are profitable."

"Buyers are willing co-conspirators. Buyers often lose their homes because they have no cushion to absorb unexpected expenses. 'We see people with the same issues over and over,' Brennan said. 'There's a death in the family, or someone is losing a job, or someone gets sick.'"

"That can mean trouble even for white-collar professionals. Phillip Newman is a mechanical designer. He bought a home in Lithonia two years ago, obtaining a mortgage that required a monthly payment of $1,260. Four months later, his company was purchased and his job eliminated."

"He was out of work for five months, then found a one-year contract job. When that ended, he scrambled for three months and in July found his current position, where he makes about 25 percent less than he had as a consultant. He fell way behind in his mortgage payments and was scheduled for foreclosure in October."

"He kept talking to the mortgage company and arranged to pay a little more each month to catch up, something that the new job makes possible. 'Hope the car doesn't break down,' he said."

"One sign of how widespread foreclosures have become is the growing willingness of lenders to negotiate with delinquent homeowners, said Herb Heitman, an Atlanta bankruptcy attorney. 'Ten years ago, they never made deals.'"

"In January, the Consumer Credit Counseling Service of Greater Atlanta assisted 450 people with financial troubles, nearly all of them dealing with the threat of foreclosure. In October, the agency counseled more than 1,000, said Susan Hunt, director of the housing program."

"'I have doubled my staff, and we still haven't met the need,' she said."

"Millions of home buyers are just coping with their first big jump in mortgage rates. 'About 40 percent of the people we talk to have a mortgage with an adjustable rate,' Hunt said. 'And that is true across the board. We have people who live in Alpharetta in great big mansions. Their adjustable rate escalates, too.'"

"By Foreclosure Day, it's too late for Consumer Credit to help, Hunt said. 'Someone will call and say, 'I am on the courthouse steps, and my house is next. What can I do?,' she said. 'And we can't do anything then.'"


At 11:44 AM, Blogger Chip said...

Too bad for them, but since Georgia is one of the relocation states I've got my eye on, hopefully I'll be able to help the economy a bit when prices return to reasonable.


Post a Comment

<< Home