Today Mish published an email from a reader who ended up walking away from his mortgage. The email is long but straightforward and detailed.
I bought a house back in 2004, having moved halfway across the country for a new job. It was a house I could comfortably afford – I made a little over $70,000 as a senior manager for a newspaper, and my mortgage was a little under $900 a month (including taxes and insurance), fixed at 5.25% for 30 years with Wells Fargo. In spite of the pressure put on me by a broker when I was buying, I avoided the no money down variable option because I wanted to do what I thought was the responsible thing to lock in my payments at a decent rate I knew I could afford and avoid the reset lotto.
In April of 2008, I was notified that the job I had moved across the country for was set to be eliminated, along with the entire staff of my department. The company I worked for was highly levered in an environment where revenues were shrinking, and ‘consolidations’ were being made across the company. The day I found out that I was going to be out of work, I called Wells Fargo to see if it would be possible to make some alternate payment arrangements until I found work, and was told precisely what the article you reference noted – that they couldn’t even discuss the matter with me until I was 30 days in arrears. I was mortified, knowing that being 30 days in arrears would leave me with the dreaded ‘mortgage late’ on what had been a pristine 800 credit score. I had been prudent and saved a fair sum of money, so I decided to try and keep the plates spinning while I looked for work.
I applied myself to the job hunt, but with nearly 50 positions eliminate from my company and a few hundred at other domestic newspapers who shared my area of specialty, it was a tough task finding work.
Then in August, Gannett, the biggest newspaper company in the world, announced that they would be laying off 1000 workers, and my sources inside Gannett told me that they were going the ‘consolidation’ route, meaning that in the course of 3 months nearly a third of the total positions in my field had gone *poof*. My prospects for finding work in the industry where I had experience had just gone from tough to Quixotic.
I again called Wells Fargo to see if there was anything they could help me with that didn’t involve damaging my credit – I still had a sizable amount of savings to negotiate with – but the answer was the same: 30 days late or no discussion. I decided I’d have to take them up on the offer.
When 30 days had elapsed, I contacted them once again, only to now be told that they couldn’t work out any arrangements until I had found work. I was angry, as one might imagine. I decided that they had received the last payment they were going to receive from me. Fourteen months later, I have kept the vow.
I’m not proud of walking away from my ‘responsibility’, but in light of the situation – nearly 18 months without finding work – it seems that it was the best thing that could have happened. If I had kept paying all along, I’d have depleted a good deal of my savings, and I’d still be facing losing the unemployment benefits that are keeping the other bills paid. As it stands, I’ve still got that nest egg to see my family through the rough days that lie ahead.
I’ve been to the housing counselors the state has set up, and the best they were able to do for me was that I could pay off the back payments, penalties and interest, and resume making payments.
My house is set to be sold at auction next week, and due to the rules in the state, the minimum price will be well in excess of what I suppose the market price would be. I expect that the bank will be the buyer by default.
If my experience is representative, walking away might be the best option.
From Wells Fargo’s perspective, this was an avoidable situation. I called them when I found out about my joblessness, and I did everything I could to avoid a default. All I wanted was some recognition that I was willing to work with them if they would work with me – maybe only paying interest until I was able to find something.
However, once I felt double-crossed, having been told to let it go into arrears so that they could work with me, and then to be told they still couldn’t work with me, I did what I thought was prudent. I decided to see how long I could live rent free. As of today, it’s been almost 14 months.
Assuming that the house sells next week and I get an order to vacate the next, I’ll be here through the end of January (it takes a minimum of 60 days to affect an eviction here). More likely, I won’t get the order to vacate until the bank sells my house as part of a package foreclosure deal for about 20 cents on the dollar. I might get to live here rent-free for a good spell longer. I could have, and probably would have, paid them nearly 50% of the house’s value as a cash settlement 14 months ago if they’d been willing to have a conversation.
The question I have is this: given that the borrower would have been forced to default on his loan in any case, having lost a job and having only limited savings, what things would an honorable person have done differently?