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The Underwater Homeowner: Strategic Default, Or Feel Like A Chump... Forever

The Florida Collapse: Is This Where We Are Heading? Nowhere is the impact of the collapse in home prices more evident than in Florida. The three counties with the highest percentage of first liens either seriously delinquent or in pre-foreclosure (default) are all located in Florida. According to CoreLogic, the worst county is Miami-Dade with an incredible 25% of all mortgages in serious distress and headed for either foreclosure or short sale. An article posted on the Huffington Post in mid-January 2011 describes the Florida “mortgage meltdown” in grim detail. Written by Floridian Mark Sunshine, it begins by pointing out that 50% of all the residential mortgages currently sitting in private, non-GSE mortgage-backed securities (MBS) were more than 60 days delinquent -- either seriously delinquent, in default, bankruptcy, or already foreclosed by the bank. I checked his source -- the American Securitization Forum -- and the percentage was correct. The author then goes on to discuss a strategic default situation among his friends in Florida. One of them had purchased a condo in early 2007 for $300,000. By mid-2010, it had plunged in value to less than $100,000 and he decided to stop paying the mortgage. When he expressed his concerns about the possible consequences to his buddies -- including an attorney, an accountant, and a doctor -- all expressed the same advice to him. They told him to walk away from the mortgage, save his money, and prepare to move to a rental unit. To them, it seemed like a no-brainer. The author was a little surprised that no one thought there was anything wrong with strategically defaulting. The attorney actually suggested that the defaulter file for bankruptcy to prevent the bank from going after a deficiency judgment for the remaining loan balance after the repossessed property was sold. The conclusion expressed by the author has far-reaching implications. As he saw it, “More and more Floridians who pay their mortgage feel like chumps compared to defaulters; they turn over their disposable income to the bank and know it will take most of their lifetimes to recover.” As prices slide to new lows in metro after metro, will this attitude toward defaulting spread from Florida to more and more of the nation? A May 2010 Money Magazine survey asked readers if they would ever consider walking away from their mortgage. The results were sobering indeed:

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