"My Payment Is Too High and I Can't Make It"

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I found you on the Web after doing some research for my parents regarding short sales and foreclosures. I appreciate your straight talk regarding the whole loan and real estate process which I know they find incredibly intimidating. Right now, they're sort of putting their head in the sand regarding their financial problems. I have been trying to help them stay afloat but it's becoming tight.

My mom received a default letter from the lender last week since she was two months behind. She sent one payment last week and I wrote a check to her lender for this month's mortgage to bring her current. I told her I couldn't do this again. She wants to walk away from the house, I told her "bad idea." My parents can't make the payments anymore and I am wondering if they should sell or refi. Here are the stats:

They've got a 7% fixed for three years which they are about a year and a half into. The payment is plus or minus $3100. The mortgage is $468,000 with a $12,000 pre-payment penalty. I don't know how they got into this mess but seeing her struggle and cry each month is something I can't watch anymore. My father and she (they're in their early 60s) have 2 pensions and 2 Social Security payments they receive each month. They make enough to make their house payment but not enough to cover all the other bills. My mom's logic is - "If I didn't have the house payment I could pay my bills." I tell her that her home is more important, and looking at your articles it seems to me the consequence of not making your mortgage if far worse then not paying credit card and car loan debt. Their credit is good but they don't want the house because the mortgage is so high. They talk of renting but I am afraid if they walk away from the house-the consequences will be dire.

In your experience is their hope? I've offered to refinance with them, the three of us, but would that help? I already own a home with my husband - I imagine there are occupancy restrictions? I have good credit. If they sell, it would be short with the pre-payment penalty. Are their agents that would sell the house? I can't imagine they'd want to since there would be no money for a commission.


Here's the real crux of the matter: These folks owe $468,000 and have a payment of about $3115 at a seven percent interest rate. Those are cold hard facts. As of this writing, there just aren't any loans out there that will help them enough to be worth paying that pre-payment penalty. Oh, someone could do a negative amortization loan that makes it appear as if they can afford the loan for a while - with even more dire long term consequences. Someone could boost their interest rate by maybe a quarter of a percent in order to cut their payment slightly with an interest only payment - but then the hole would stay just as deep as it is, and all interest only payments eventually start to amortize. The longer it is before this happens, the worse the payment shock when it happens. Most interest only loans adjust upwards on the rate at the same time. Sudden forty percent increases are nothing out of the ordinary. Even a longer amortization isn't going to help very much - even assuming the interest rate doesn't change, by the time you add that prepayment penalty in there, you've got a payment of $2982, even assuming no loan costs or fees get rolled in.

The point I'm trying to make is that I can't see a way for them to really be able to afford this property. Matter of fact, I have a very hard time believing that the agent and loan officer who sold them on this situation didn't do something both illegal and unethical along the way, and your parents should consult a real estate attorney about that. Nor is refinancing with you on the loan likely to help. As of right now (July 2007), there just aren't any loans enough better than what they already have to be worth paying both the pre-payment penalty and the cost involved. Not to mention the fact that the appraisal is going to be problematic. Sure, there are appraisers willing to say that property is worth $500,000 when it isn't, but they're going to become a lot fewer very soon. And if you can't afford to make their payment as well as your own, putting yourself on their mortgage is a good way to sink your credit as well as theirs. Then you have problems down the line with your own property.

I sympathize with these folks and you, but the only way they're likely to get rid of unaffordable mortgage payments is to get rid of the property. Unless, of course, they've got enough cash sitting around somewhere to pay their mortgage down enough to make it affordable. However, if they could do that, why didn't they put the money in as a down payment? I'd need more information to be certain, but I strongly suspect that it's time to own up to the truth, which is that they have purchased too much house and they cannot afford it.

With that said, "walking away" is just about the worst thing you can do in most situations. Now the lender has to go through the whole dreary process of foreclosure, with is going to effectively kill their credit for seven to ten years, and might cause the interest rate on any other debt they have to rise. They need a lawyer to advise them on their situation. Anyone in this situation needs a lawyer, and I'm not a lawyer. With that said, the following options are usually better:

You can talk to the lender about the situation. They don't want to foreclose. They don't make money when they foreclose. In fact, they lose it by the railroad carload. If it'll keep them out of foreclosure, chances are good that the lender will agree to a temporary modification of the note while your parents sell the property. They may or may not agree to accept a short payoff as well. It'll depend upon the listing agent and the lawyer. And yes, banks will usually agree to allow agent commissions in short payoff situations - it gets the property sold, which means they lose less money than if it goes all the way through foreclosure and they have to hire an agent anyway.

Another option that can be worth exploring is the Deed in Lieu of Foreclosure. This is where you sign the property over to them in satisfaction of the debt. It has the advantage that it stops future hits to credit. Although Deed in Lieu is itself one of the deadly sins according to mortgage providers, it's not as bad as a Trustee's Sale in most cases, and you don't have all the individual derogatory reports of the late (non-existent!) payments between now and whenever the Trustee's Sale happens.

One thing to warn of is that all of this, except perhaps for the Trustee's Sale, is the cause for a 1099 to be issued for income through debt forgiveness. Your parents will probably owe taxes on this money, so I strongly advise them to consult a tax professional as well (As best I recall, it's ordinary income, the same as if they had earned it working). In some cases, there may be a deficiency judgment as well, while in others there may not be. Nonetheless, this money is likely to be for a much smaller amount than $468,000, so they can probably dig themselves out, given time, and without living completely poverty stricken and without completely torpedoing whatever financial future they may have.

I know you wrote to the loan officer, but with the rates and loans available right now - especially considering the late payments on the mortgage - there's nothing the loan officer can do that actually helps, although there are a lot of loan officers out there who would say they'd help. If they were sitting in my office, it would be time to put on my Realtor hat and talk about selling that property. I wouldn't be happy about it, but the universe doesn't particularly care about making me happy, and it's the best way I see out of a bad situation.

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This page contains a single entry by Dan Melson published on July 18, 2007 10:00 AM.

You Must Be Willing To Act in Real Estate was the previous entry in this blog.

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