Monday, September 12, 2011

Solving the Foreclosure Crisis: Should We Use the Band-aid Principle?

The foreclosure crisis – the record-breaking glut of foreclosed homes that began in 2006-2007 – has rocked the nation’s economy and littered entire city blocks with vacant and/or abandoned homes due to delinquent home loans. These foreclosures act like a black hole on the surrounding property values of nearby properties, further contributing to financial hardship and blighting entire communities.

Now, four years after the crisis kicked off, we are still dealing with a foreclosure market that is far from fading.

News released recently revealed that approximately 31% of all home sales in the second quarter of 2011 were foreclosures or short sales. Year over year, that represents a 7% increase. Additionally, the average loan in foreclosure has been delinquent for a mind-numbing 599 days. Factor in the well-documented trend of lenders putting a screeching halt to their foreclosure processes due to nasty legal fights that still aren’t over and you have a troubling foundation for the housing market.

This leads some to ask the question: Do we invoke the “Band-aid Principle”?

Solving the Foreclosure Crisis Slowly Vs. Quickly

We all know the analogy. If you have a Band-aid on a wound, do you pull it off slowly, or do you rip it off quickly and limit the pain to just a second or two?

Each philosophy has its advocates for the foreclosure crisis. Proponents of the first approach – keeping as many foreclosures from entering the market as possible through loan modification programs like HAMP and loan programs like EHLP while creating tough, anti-foreclosure legislation – point to the sheer number of underwater homes on the market and say that any solution needs to slow the impact of so many foreclosures so the fragile market doesn’t collapse further.

Opponents of this approach disagree, stating that it is far more important to get it over with quickly by processing foreclosures as rapidly as reasonably possible and remove these unproductive and burdensome properties from bank ledgers – so that banks, in turn, can resume residential lending to qualified applicants. The faster foreclosures are sold, they argue, the faster home prices can stabilize.

Where to Go From Here

The argument over solving the foreclosure crisis is more complicated than just whether or not to rip the Band-aid off. Even if loan modification programs work – and many believe they don’t – you still have 4.1 million loans either in foreclosure or seriously delinquent that you have to resolve.

One solution is to aggressively push serious principal loan modifications that essentially “reset”, to an extent, the value of a mortgage loan by cutting the principal owed on the balance. That plan has its merits – some kind of loan modification has to occur – but there is nothing to suggest that banks will participate unless forced.

What needs to happen is to speed up foreclosure processing so that more foreclosures can be sold as fast as possible – a variation of the Band-aid principle. Home loans valued at pre-bubble values are unsustainable, and as long as they persist, home values will suffer and it will be more difficult for homeowners and lenders alike.

One immediate step we can take to speed up these processes and unclog the blocked foreclosure pipeline is to resolve the foreclosure settlement that is currently mired down in squabbling over legal immunity from further lawsuits against four of the nation’s largest banks. While making sure foreclosures are conducted properly with the correct paperwork is vital – legally and morally – we can’t go to the extreme and believe that foreclosures should never happen.

A healthy market depends on the ability to correct deficiencies, and foreclosure is one tool to do just that. The Band-aid principle may be in effect after all, at least when it comes to dealing with foreclosures that are waiting in line.

This was a guest post by John E. Miller:

Miller is a Real Estate Professional who has spent the last 10 years writing for several magazines and online publications. Miller is a regular contributor to Businessinsider.com as well as being the team leader of Content Acquisition and Analysis of new business development for
Foreclosure Deals, where he also serves as a real estate agent expert.

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