Thursday, August 10, 2006

Correcting Prices and the Interest Only Mortgage

There's been quite a bit of talk over the exotic loans and their affects on homeowners' equity lately. The more "leveling" we see in home values and prices over the next few years will have a great impact on how the loans will affect the borrower, and their ability to pay off the mortgage. Combine the "correcting" home values with the lack of payments toward the principal amount, factor in the borrowers' stretched incomes, and you have a recipe for disaster.

The interest only or I/O loan was originally set up and geared towards someone who is financially set and well prepared for the purchase of a home. However, many borrowers "stretched their buying power" with the interest loan, using the bulk of their monthly income to pay the mortgage payments. People who would not otherwise have qualified for a loan - instantly became qualified. The changes and adjustments that the rates may bring, added to the fact that many of these loans are in areas with inflated housing prices, may cause many homeowners to lose their homes and walk away with nothing due to lack of equity built up during the I/O period.

I watched a home go from $250K skyrocket to a range of $450k to $500k in just two years, then "corrected" back down to $350,000 in just a few months. If during that time a buyer "stretched" their buying limits to afford the home at $450k, in less than six months they are owing $100,000 more than the home can sell for, and with rising rates - possibly a mortgage they are no longer comfortable with. Of course, don't forget - there's relatively no equity built up in the first few years, and none for the first 10 years if the borrower obtained an interest only mortgage. Just a hypothetical - yet very real example.

Monday, August 7, 2006

Using Home Equity to Pay Off Credit Debt

Many homeowners around the world are turning to home equity loans, and home equity lines of credit, and even their IRAs and 401(K) funds to decrease or eliminate their credit card debt. Partly fueled by the recent growth in home equity and home values, partially due to lower interest rates on home loans, thousands of people per day are shifting their debt from their cards to their homes. While in some cases this can be beneficial, there are some very real hidden dangers to be aware of when chosing an option that involves taking from your home equity.

One thing that many borrowers are not aware of - or are chosing to ignore - is the definite possibility of homes in your area experiencing a "leveling off" of home values. While over the past few years the equity seemed to grow at an unreasonable rate - without much effort on the part of the borrower, that same equity could essentially disappear just as quickly. In addition to leveling home values, most ARMs are scheduled to begin to reset as early as 2007, and many homeowners will find themselves with a much higher monthly mortgage payment. For those who have a large enough monthly income to compensate for the higher payments, the jump in interest rates may not have as severe of an effect. But most borrowers will experience payment shock - even without adding in the credit card debt, and have a hard time with the monthly payments.

If a borrower has a low monthly payment now, and a higher than normal property value - it can cause a false sense of security, and lead to choices that would not otherwise be made based on the equity in the home. One of the most important thing to remember, is that there are collectors paid to collect on the credit card debt, and by not making the monthly payments on the debt - you could have your cards taken away. When you struggle to pay your monthly mortgage payments, the price is much higher - you could eventually lose your home.
Taking the extreme risk of paying off credit card debt may seem like a wise decision due to the difference in interest rates between credit cards and mortgages, but weighing your options as well as the risks may save your home. And the biggest danger of all?? Most Americans who use their home equity to pay off their credit card debt refuse to change their habits and lifestyles, and actually see their zero-balance cards as an invitation to go shopping - perpetuating the cycle. However, in this cycle, there is one detrimental factor - home values will probably not continue to experience the rise, leaving the borrower with very few recovery options for the future.

Tuesday, August 1, 2006

A False Sense of Home Equity

With so many Americans living with a false sense of security (called home equity), it's no wonder that spending has risen to an all time high. If it's not the pressure to take out a home equity loan to pay off credit card debt, there's the pressure of wanting the big kid toys like boats, cars, and oversized electronics. But what has fueled this excess spending? In part - inflated home values - in which homeowners can borrow money against their equity. The problem is, in some areas of the country, the equity in their homes is due to a temporary "bloating" of the value. This equity used to be viewed as security for the retirement years, but more and more individuals are watching their equity dwindle away while experiencing the rising debt on their home, and payments extending into their golden years. In a world where reality TV is a new form of entertainment, it's like watching a high-stakes game of "reality Monopoly".

Here's just a brief example I was able to witness in my lifetime: A home was purchased around 1970 for a price in the $40k range, and a 30-year mortgage with a monthly payment of around $80. By the mid 90's, the home was nearly paid off, but the car was getting old. The logical solution seemed to be at the time to take out a home equity loan, and buy a new car. Why not - it was becoming an increasingly popular way of obtaining the things that would otherwise not be affordable. Several years later, another new car, then an expensive sewing machine, and finally - a cruise with friends. Today - the home is valued around $300k, and the total monthly payment is in the range of $700. Not one of the more extreme examples, but a great example of the way homeowners view their home equity as a checking account - rather than a savings account.