Foreclosures are up nationwide, and will continue to rise as prices continue to go down in many markets. For some, the problem is painful. Ask the guy down the block from you whose house is in foreclosure.
Some pundits think the rising foreclosures will bankrupt our economy, causing pain for people who lose their business or job as a ripple effect of all these foreclosures. Others think that the rise in foreclosures is a healthy adjustment to the end of a long real estate boom, and is nature's way of taking care of a free-market economic cycle.
Who's right? Time will tell, but it's alarming to see politicians trying to fix this problem. Here are some of their solutions:
Give People Money
Tax the rich, give to the poor. The federal government now wants to fund programs to help people stay in their homes.
A new bill in the Senate proposes giving money to people who can't pay their loans. We taxpayers are confused. If these people are in trouble because they never should have been given such a loan, why should taxpayer money be used to keep them in their homes that they could not otherwise afford?
Maybe someone in Washington has the answer to that question?
Regulate Foreclosure Investors
I have written extensively about the assault on foreclosure investors that have been initiated by consumer advocate groups, resulting in a tsunami of new “Foreclosure Protection” laws across the country.
While protecting innocent homeowners from unethical real estate investors is a good idea, new legislation is not always the answer. Enforcement of existing consumer protection laws and prosecution under existing criminal laws is certainly a better option than creating new laws that limit the options of a seller in foreclosure. The best solution to a foreclosure epidemic is a free market that allows investors to gobble up inventory. By hamstringing investors with complicated, punitive regulations, it will only discourage transactions and result in more properties in lender inventory. More lender inventory forces them to sell at lower prices, which hurts the entire real estate market.
Stop the Foreclosure Process
The Government of the State of Massachusetts recently handed the State Banking Division the authority to put up to a two month delay on any lender foreclosure. All a homeowner has to do is file a complaint with that office.
It is not year clear on how many lenders this will affect, but certainly this move is troubling. If the government's action is based on a consumer complaint, what kind of complaint deserves the kind of government involvement that stops a lender from collecting on its debt?
Certainly, any homeowner whose legal rights have been violated under state or federal law can stop or delay a foreclosure with a court order. Opponents, of course, will argue that since these people in foreclosure can't afford lawyers, they won't have the means to seek this remedy. Such is life, that people who are in debt can't afford lawyers to protect their legal rights. Do people in $1,000,000 homes deserve the same protection as people in $100,000 homes? Do lenders and their shareholders have the right to foreclose and get their collateral back?
And, think about the next logical step… will the government stop allowing landlords to evict if the problem gets bad enough?
Stop the Lenders from Lending
Nobody can seriously deny that lenders got sloppy in how they lent mortgage money over the last 10 years. As a result, many people got into loans they couldn't pay back, and we now see the consequences.
Conversely, with the exception of gross overreaching by mortgage brokers, it's hard to deny that most people didn't understand the risk involved in borrowing money they couldn't pay back. If you buy a house with no money down and a negative amortizing loan, you are gambling that you will make more money in the future and/or the price of your home will increase. If you are wrong, you lose your home. That's the gamble. It's like Vegas, except for one thing — the house doesn't win when the customer loses. Everybody loses, except the attorneys who get paid to foreclose.
Should the government stop lenders from offering “risky” loans? The answer, I believe, is emphatically “NO”. If lenders go too far, they suffer financially. Thus, the market will take care of itself, in that lenders who lose profits will tighten up loan regulations, and Wall Street will downgrade or reject portfolios of risky loans.
Before you get too excited by this last paragraph, I do believe that some regulation is appropriate to protect the consumers and shareholders from getting duped in the process. Additional disclosures to both homeowners and Wall Street investors are appropriate considering the large number of defaulting subprime loans. However, if people want to borrow money under risky terms and lenders want to lend under a high risk of loss, why should the government stop them? Pawn shops, check-cashing stores and used car lots all operate on a high-level of risk.
Step Up Enforcement of Existing Laws
Instead of stopping the business, I believe the government should throw money at enforcement. Prosecute the bad people and leave the options open for people who want to do business under their own terms. There are enough existing laws that give the state and federal prosecutors plenty of room to go after bad operators, and many of them already have.
The government can put Band-Aids on it, but only the market can solve it the foreclosure problem. When demand exceeds supply in a given market, prices will go back up, and people will have enough equity to sell their homes. Somehow, I don't imagine people will learn their lesson and, thus will continue the same cycle in the future. But, most Americans believe it is not the government's job to stop people from willingly doing stupid things.
When it comes to your financial decisions, be responsible, read the fine print, and remember…”buyer beware”.