Tuesday, February 24, 2009

A profile of homeowners facing the pinch; their case is not good one to support Obama rescue

The Wall Street Journal features a profile of one set of homeowners in one of the worst hit place in America for home foreclosures -- Maricopa, AZ, a city north of Phoenix.

The profile is telling of how a wife and husband made a choice on buying a home that was beyond their means that included a swimming pool in the back. The couple put down $50,000, which helped bring down the monthly payments for the $250,000 house.

But the husband's job and income certainly were not enough to support such a large house. The profile reinforces the rant of CNBC's Rick Santelli, who last week touched off a national movement against the Obama administration plan bailing out bad behavior fueling home foreclosures.

The couple was sold on the idea of the house rising in value to help make the deal affordable. They could move back home to California in a few years with a nice profit.

But home values didn't rise as expected. No good thing ever does.

Now the home is worth half of what they paid.

The couple ultimately gambled and lost. And there are millions of couples like them across the country.

Do they deserve to be rescued in exchange for saddling our children and grandchildren with an economic depressing debt?

The argument of saving their home to keep up neighborhood property values doesn't fly in their case. Homes on three sides of them are already vacant. One more is not going to matter.

Perhaps the argument can be made that the county needs the couple to keep paying property taxes to support community services, and the bank needs a good asset on its books to stay float. The now defrocked Alan Greenspan says that the housing mess must be resolved before the banking one can.

But do we want $275 billion in our tax money spent for these factors? Once we get into these messes, the cost is sure to rise, double or triple.

You make the call. Santelli has.

Here is an excerpt from the WSJ story:

Builders rushed into this one-time agricultural crossroads during the housing boom. They put up beige stucco houses on winding streets, with names like Heavenly Place and Good Vibrations Lane.

They lured young people who couldn't afford homes in nearby Phoenix or its costly suburbs. The population soared to 37,000 last year from 1,400 a decade ago, making Maricopa one of the nation's fastest-growing towns.

Now, it's become a dead end for some of those people.

"We're trapped," says Tracy Campbell, as she watches her 2-year-old daughter romp on a playground.

In 2005, her husband, Zachary Campbell, accepted a transfer from San Diego to Phoenix to manage a recreational-vehicle store. For the first time, the Campbells figured, they could afford their own home, though that meant moving to Maricopa, about 20 miles from Mr. Campbell's store. They scraped together a $50,000 down payment to buy a new four-bedroom home in Maricopa, for $250,000. It came with black granite countertops, cherry kitchen cabinets and a pool in back.

Today, Ms. Campbell figures, the home is worth perhaps half what they paid in 2005.

Even that might be optimistic. Along a nearby highway, young men hired by a local real estate brokerage wave red signs touting "Homes From $69.9 K."

The Campbells planned to sell their house for a profit after a few years and move back to San Diego before their daughter starts kindergarten. Today, they couldn't hope to sell the house for enough to pay off the mortgage. They fear the down payment they made on the house is money they won't see again.

Some people in the neighborhood are simply walking away from their houses, leaving them for the lenders to foreclose. "We're surrounded by empty houses on three sides," Ms. Campbell says. But she and her husband have kept up on their payments, and want to keep their credit record clean.

If misery loves company, the Campbells are in good shape: Zillow.com, a real-estate information provider, estimates that 75% of all homeowners in Maricopa, including those with no mortgage debt, owe more on their mortgages than the current value of their homes. For the nation as a whole, the estimate is 18%.

No comments: