Default can spur revenge desire…

Maybe they are staying there for free because they are jobless…and the government that keeps bailing out the CROOKS …probably don’t give a “hoot” what happens to these families. For Mr. Sanchez…you should be ashamed for yourself!

You got that right…WE ARE PISSED OFF… YES!!

TAMPA, Fla. – April 6, 2010 – The mortgage crisis is causing more than just heartburn for homeowners. It’s changing their moral compass.

Homeowners are walking away – even when they can afford their payments. Some loot on the way out the door, carting off light fixtures, appliances, anything of value.

Others trash the home to ruin the bank’s chances of selling it. They pour cement down the drains, flood the house or punch holes in the walls.

A few years ago, such behavior would have been considered reprehensible.

But today’s homeowners are tired of watching the lenders who triggered the financial meltdown get bailed out while they suffer. They want revenge.

They feel entitled.

“It went from being a shame to being behind on your mortgage to feeling like it’s a big joke,” said Jim Kelly, a Tampa homeowner who said numerous neighbors have stopped paying. “The big talk at cocktail parties is how underwater is your house and how long have you lived there for free.”

Homeowners’ attitudes are changing as they realize their home values have dropped below what they owe. Nearly one-quarter of U.S. mortgages are underwater.

In some neighborhoods, experts say, it could take a decade or longer for prices to catch up. Some people blame lenders for steering them into a bad loan. Even homeowners who have faithfully paid their bills are angry. With so many of their neighbors defaulting, more people are giving in to the temptation.

“The social norms are changing,” said Luigi Zingales, a professor at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business. “The more people hear about their neighbors doing these things, the more acceptable it is.”

About 36 percent of the nation’s defaults in December were what Zingales calls “strategic defaults,” meaning homeowners deliberately let the home go into foreclosure. That’s up from 25 percent in March 2009, according to research Zingales conducted with colleagues at Northwestern University’s School of Business.

“People are afraid to walk away if they don’t know what will happen to them,” Zingales said. “Once they learn it’s not that bad, they’re more likely to do it.”

Consider Lutz’s Shawn Aaron, a friend of Kelly’s.

Expensive paintings and flat-screen TVs line the walls of his 5,800-square-foot home in the Cheval community. A Corvette sits in his garage. He paid $1.3 million for the home in November 2004.

More than two years ago, he stopped paying his mortgage and thinks a lot of other homeowners should follow his example. The way Aaron sees it, after the lender to which he agreed to make payments sold his mortgage, he doesn’t have a contract with the loan’s new owner. That lender, he says, has filed for foreclosure but has yet to prove it owns his loan.

“No one has answered my questions about my mortgage,” Aaron said. “I hope I win the case and stay here long term.”

Aaron said he also has stopped paying the mortgage on an investment property.

Aaron has such intense feelings about the housing crisis that he started a company, US Lender Audit, to help homeowners fight banks. The company reviews mortgages and finds what it thinks are problems with loans. Attorneys then use the report to fight for their clients in foreclosure cases.

“People have a right to question their mortgage,” Aaron said.

Aaron’s rationalization puts Kelly in an uncomfortable spot. The two are good friends, but have conflicting views on the mortgage crisis. They agree to disagree and don’t let it affect their friendship.

Kelly paid off his mortgage 17 years ago and never tapped his equity, even though he saw the appraised value jump a couple of hundred thousand dollars.

Neighbors of his took a different approach. That couple bought a house 25 years ago for $80,000, took out home-equity loans, and bought furniture and went on exotic trips. They owe $250,000 and stopped paying the mortgage.

“It’s a moral issue,” Kelly said. “You borrowed the money and because of the world credit issues that have nothing to do with your house, you think you’re entitled to something.”

Tampa real estate agent Paul De La Torre said he often sees the entitled attitude. Clients who are trying to sell their homes for less than the mortgage – called a short sale – are increasingly asking to take items with them.

“They want to take the appliances and other things they bought with their equity money,” said De La Torre, of Keller Williams. “I tell people that if you didn’t pay for it with your own money, it should stay with the house. Taking it just makes it more difficult to find a buyer.

“I just sold one house where the guy took the wall plates,” De La Torre said. “Those are like 60 cents at Home Depot.”

De La Torre said he has come across homes for sale that look great on the outside but are destroyed inside. Some people left food in the sink to stink up the house. They ripped out cabinets and toilets.

“Everybody says: Look what the bank did to me,” De La Torre said. “But when people were selling their homes for $100,000 profit, no one complained.”

Alex Sanchez, president and chief executive of the Florida Bankers Association, said people who destroy homes or deliberately stop paying should be ashamed.

“What happened to the American values of pulling yourself up by your bootstraps?” he said. “By the time we get our hands on these homes, they are ruined. People take sledgehammers to them. … It’s something our parents would not be proud of.”

Professor Zingales said his research has shown that the economy is continuing to change homeowners’ perceptions of right and wrong.

“We asked homeowners, ‘Would you walk away if your value dropped $50,000 below what you owe? What about $100,000 or $150,000?’” he said. “Eighty percent said they thought it was immoral to walk away. But that doesn’t mean they won’t.”

That leaves Kelly, who owns his house free and clear, feeling stuck.

“I feel like a jerk in some respects,” Kelly said. “I paid my mortgage and worked hard to pay off my house and send my kids to college. Others lived like champs, and they’ll end up getting their houses for free.”

Copyright © 2010 Tampa Tribune, Fla., Shannon Behnken. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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