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The percentage of foreclosures that were perceived to be strategic was 31 percent in March 2010, compared to 22 percent in March 2009.

Strategic Defaults Outpace HAMP Modifications

Last quarter, more homeowners voluntarily defaulted on their mortgages and chose to walk away from their homes than the total number of mortgages permanently modified to date under the Administration’s year-old Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP).

According to new data from the team of researchers at the University of Chicago and Northwestern University that first identified the scope of “strategic default” behavior last year, the number of homeowners willing to default when the value of a mortgage exceeds the value of their house, even if they can afford to pay their mortgage, has dramatically increased compared to just a year ago.

The percentage of foreclosures that were perceived to be strategic was 31 percent in March 2010, compared to 22 percent in March 2009. RealtyTrac reported foreclosure filings on 932,234 properties in the first quarter, a 7 percent increase from the previous quarter and a 16 percent increase from the first quarter of 2009.

Some 288,992 foreclosures per quarter are strategic defaults. Under the Home Affordable Modification Program, through March, 227,922 mortgages had been permanently modified since the program began March 4, 2009.

The researchers found that the number of homeowners willing to default when the value of a mortgage exceeds the value of their house, even if they can afford to pay their mortgage, dramatically increased compared to just a year ago. The percentage of foreclosures that were perceived to be strategic was 31 percent in March 2010, compared to 22 percent in March 2009.

One likely reason for this growing trend is the increasing perception that lenders are not going after borrowers who walk away. In December 2009, the average homeowners surveyed said the probability that a lender will go after a borrower is 56 percent, as compared to 54 percent reported in March 2010.

“With more and more homeowners believing that lenders are failing to pursue those who default on their mortgages, there is a risk that a growing number of homeowners will walk away from their homes even if they can afford monthly payments.” said Sapienza.

The growing importance of strategic defaults is in line with the recent Obama administration’s new set of housing initiatives.

The results also indicate that the likelihood of strategic default increases by 23 percent when homeowners learn that their neighbor with negative equity has received a partial loan for forgiveness. Additionally, strategic default increases by 29 percent if homeowners are able to find an alternate way to finance a new home.

The researchers found that the number of homeowners willing to default when the value of a mortgage exceeds the value of their house, even if they can afford to pay their mortgage, dramatically increased compared to just a year ago. The percentage of foreclosures that were perceived to be strategic was 31 percent in March 2010, compared to 22 percent in March 2009.

“With more and more homeowners believing that lenders are failing to pursue those who default on their mortgages, there is a risk that a growing number of homeowners will walk away from their homes even if they can afford monthly payments.” said Paola Sapienza, a finance professor at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management who conducted the study with Luigi Zingales, a professor at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business.

“A key deterrent to strategic default is the fear of losing a good credit score,” said Zingales. “Approximately 74 percent of homeowners in our survey believe it is very important to maintain good credit and this can be a factor in encouraging them not to walk away.”

One likely reason for this growing trend is the increasing perception that lenders are not going after borrowers who walk away. In December 2009, the average homeowners surveyed said the probability that a lender will go after a borrower is 56 percent, as compared to 54 percent reported in March 2010.

The growing importance of strategic defaults is in line with the recent Obama administration’s new set of housing initiatives.

The results also indicate that the likelihood of strategic default increases by 23 percent when homeowners learn that their neighbor with negative equity has received a partial loan for forgiveness. Additionally, strategic default increases by 29 percent if homeowners are able to find an alternate way to finance a new home.

“A key deterrent to strategic default is the fear of losing a good credit score,” said Zingales. “Approximately 74 percent of homeowners in our survey believe it is very important to maintain good credit and this can be a factor in encouraging them not to walk away.”

These findings build upon a paper the researchers released in June 2009 entitled “Moral and Social Restraints to Strategic Default on Mortgages,” which looked at American homeowners’ propensity to strategically default. The paper was the first to analyze and quantify the extent of strategic default during the current recession.

See Why They Walk Away…for our coverage of that study.

5 comments

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