The Next Foreclosure Crisis Is On Its Way

Twin stories today in The Washington Post and The New York Times detail two different reasons that the foreclosure crisis, and most likely the economic troubles we’ve had for more than a year now, is far from over.

First, the Post reports on an expected coming wave coming wave of defaults by homeowners with so-called option adjustable rate mortgages:

The housing market faces the prospect of a new round of foreclosures as hundreds of thousands of risky home loans known as option adjustable-rate mortgages reset to significantly higher payments that could force borrowers to fall behind, according to a report released Tuesday by Fitch Ratings.

About 70 percent of the $189 billion in outstanding option ARMs will reset by 2011, the report said, which would be another setback to a teetering housing market still struggling to recover from the mortgage meltdown that precipitated the financial crisis.

Option ARMs make up only 1.3 percent of percent of outstanding mortgages and were used by a far smaller segment of the population than subprime mortgages, according to First American CoreLogic, so the fallout from the resets should not be as devastating. But the unraveling of the option ARMs could be felt for years.

“It does tell you there’s going to be continued front-page news about high levels of foreclosures as these loans continue to struggle,” said Paul Miller, an analyst at FBR Capital Markets.

Option ARMs, also called pick-a-pay loans, allow borrowers to choose how much to pay each month. Nearly all the borrowers who took out this type of loan from 2004 to 2007 chose to pay less than the interest due. Sometimes they paid as little as 1 percent interest. But the loans eventually require the borrowers to start paying the principal and full interest rate, so the payments shoot up.

“It’s a ticking time bomb for some people,” said Brian Bethune, an economist at IHS Global Insight, who said banks have already written off about $500 billion of these loans and other risky mortgages. Consequently, foreclosures have substantially reduced the number of outstanding option arms.

In its report, Fitch estimates that $134 billion in option ARMs will reset in the next two years. It expects monthly payments to jump 63 percent on average, or $1,053 a month, for loans adjusting this year and next, prompting a rise in defaults and foreclosures.

One surprise is that many option ARMs have gone bad even before adjusting, suggesting that some of these borrowers didn’t stand a chance, said Sam Khater, a senior economist at First American CoreLogic. As of April, more than 35 percent of option ARMs were at least two months late even though they had not reset.

Meanwhile, the Times reports that we’re also about 2-3 years away from trouble with Interest-only loans:

Edward and Maria Moller are worried about losing their house — not now, but in 2013.

That is when the suburban San Diego schoolteachers will see their mortgage payments jump, most likely beyond their ability to pay.

Like millions of buyers during the boom, the Mollers leveraged their way into a house they could not otherwise afford by taking out a loan that required them to make only interest payments at first, putting off payments on the principal for several years.

It was a “buy now, pay later” strategy on a grand scale, meant for a market where home prices went only up, and now the bill is starting to come due.

With many of these homes under water — worth less than the loans against them — many interest-only mortgages will soon become unaffordable, as the homeowners have to actually start paying principal. Monthly payments can jump by as much as 75 percent.

The Mollers owe so much more than their house is worth, and have so few options, that they are already anticipating doom.

“I’m praying for another boom,” said Mr. Moller, 34. “Otherwise, we’ll have to walk.”

Keith Gumbinger, an analyst with HSH Associates, said: “This is going to be the source of tomorrow’s troubles. The borrowers might have thought these were safe loans, but it turns out they bet the house.”

After three brutal years, evidence is growing that the housing market has turned a corner. Sales in July were the highest in a year, and August gives signs of having been even better. In nearly all major cities, home prices are now rising.

Celebration, however, might be premature. The plight of the Mollers and many others in a similar position is likely to weigh on any possible recovery for years to come.

Experts predict a steady drumbeat of defaults over much of the next decade as these interest-only loans mature. Auctioned off at low prices, those foreclosed houses could help brake any revival in home prices.

(…)

interest-only loans represent an especially large problem. An analysis for The New York Times by the real estate information company First American CoreLogic shows there are 2.8 million active interest-only home loans worth a combined total of $908 billion.

The interest-only periods, which put off the principal payments for five, seven or 10 years, are now beginning to expire. In the next 12 months, $71 billion of interest-only loans will reset. The year after, another $100 billion will reset. After mid-2011, another $400 billion will reset.

John Karevoll, a longtime senior analyst for MDA DataQuick, sees the plight of interest-only owners this way: “You’re heading straight for a big wall and you can’t put the brakes on.”

Yea, I think that applies to all of us.


The views and opinions expressed by individual authors are not necessarily those of other authors, advertisers, developers or editors at United Liberty.