Strategic Foreclosure 101 – Walking Away From Your Home

Many Americans are wondering how to deal with an underwater mortgage in these tough economic times.  Florida has been hit harder by the housing crisis than any other state in the nation. While some can afford to continue making payments on their home, many across the state have been pushed into foreclosure as home values have decreased anywhere from 15 to 55 percent or more.

Aside from a loan modification, we have all heard the terms foreclosure, short-sale, and deed-in-lieu of foreclosure. Each of these terms spells trouble for the homeowner – loss of home, reduced credit score, and negative social stigma. Although lenders in February filed fewer foreclosure actions in Florida compared to a year earlier, a new strategy is on the horizon, an idea coined “strategic foreclosure.”

If you purchased your home at the peak of the real estate market from 2004 to 2006, your value has substantially dropped. Although irrelevant to some borrowers as they can afford the payment and plan on residing in their home for a decade or more, others have simply stopped paying in the hope of forcing a short-sale or reduction in principal.

Should you walk away from your mortgage even if you can afford to pay? Millions of Americans are asking themselves that same question. Some borrowers feel they have a legal, moral, and ethical obligation to make payments notwithstanding a substantial drop in value. With almost half of the residential mortgages in Florida underwater, a growing number of individuals are contemplating walking away from the place they call home.

If you can resolve yourself to possible litigation and a lower credit score for several years, walking away may be a smart business decision. Right now, only a small percentage of borrowers are contemplating this technique. A recent study, though, found that approximately 32 percent of homeowners nationwide would consider walking away from their mortgage if the value of their home continues to decrease.

While “strategic foreclosure” makes perfect economic sense, many homeowners do not choose this course of action out of shame, guilt and fear. Underwater homeowners continue to stress over their mortgage payments to avoid the consequence of foreclosure and a perceived negative social stigma within the community. This is especially so when a borrower has the financial ability to pay.

Although almost 17.4 million homes nationwide are underwater, one must consider the adverse implications of “strategic foreclosure” before walking away. First, and foremost, is the loss of your home. Have you purchased the home across the street at half the amount of your current mortgage? Do you plan on renting? Are you aware that a “strategic foreclosure” will have the same impact on your credit score as a loan modification, judicial foreclosure, short-sale, or deed-in-lieu of foreclosure? Are you aware that you can be sued for any deficiency balance on your home?

“Borrowers who are underwater on their mortgages would be better off financially if they walked away from their homes,” says Scott Kleiman, a foreclosure defense attorney with Kalis & Kleiman. “They don’t because of their moral and ethical obligation to pay their mortgages.”

Borrowers who had a good credit history before they walk away through “strategic foreclosure” can usually rebuild their good name and reputation within a couple of years. In a recent study commissioned by the global information services company Experian, approximately 588,000 borrowers nationwide simply walked away from their homes in 2008. This is up 128 percent over 2007. From all indications, 2010 will be a banner year as the social stigma of foreclosure and simply walking away from your home will have dissolved amid the mortgage meltdown.

Just like former “Beverly Hills 90210” star Brian Austin Green – who has advanced a “strategic foreclosure” strategy in an effort to short-sale his $2 million Hollywood Hills home – you too can ride the wave of the future.

As a homeowner, you can afford to make your mortgage payments but are underwater to the point of no return. As a borrower, the American dream of owning a home is lost as it will maintain negative equity for a decade or more. “Strategic foreclosure” may be the first step toward a short-sale and walking away from yourhome.

William E. Lewis Jr. & Associates is a solutions based professional consulting firm specializing in the discriminating individual, business or governmental entity. To learn more, tune into “The Credit Report with Bill Lewis,” a daily forum for business and financial news, politics, economic trends, and cutting edge issues on AM 1470 WWNN.