During the housing mania, it seemed that the majority of the United States suffered from a mass delusion. They believed their properties would always go up in price, but their mortgage payments wouldn't follow suit.
We have mountains of debt to work through yet. The last bubble was one for the ages. We've all heard stories of one kind or another…
There was the glass cutter who earned $5,000 per month, pretax. WaMu gave him a $615,000 home loan with payments of $3,600 per month.
There was a house – a shack, really – that appraised for $132,000 and got a mortgage of $103,000. The owner hadn't worked in 13 years. Upon foreclosure, a neighbor bought the house and paid $18,000 just to tear the thing down.
And the most eye-popping of all: A house in Fort Myers that sold for $399,600 on Dec. 29, 2005 – only to sell for $589,900 on Dec. 30, 2005.
America, it seems, just went crazy – borrowers, lenders, nearly everybody. These anecdotes and others are told in a new book titled More Mortgage Meltdown by money managers Whitney Tilson and Glenn Tongue.
But what caused the mania and how we got there is less to the point than what happens from here.
“If the problems in the mortgage market were limited to subprime loans, then the carnage would be mostly behind us,” the authors note. Subprime loans were the riskiest mortgage loans. Prime loans were where the borrower made a substantial down payment and had good credit history. Subprime loans, by contrast, were to borrowers of poor credit quality and spotty job histories.
The bigger problem is that the mortgage bubble infected a number of areas beyond just subprime. The subprime crisis was the first to drop, like a marathon dancer that falls to the floor exhausted. But there are still other dancers on the floor ready to topple over too.
Take a look at this next chart, which has gained some currency in the worried circles of financial people. It's worth a bit of study. It shows you the other dancers on the floor.