Español | 中文
> More search options
> Fewer search options
Author(s): Davis, Morris A.
Publication Date: July 2010
7 pages; Inventory ID LLA100702; English
Both figures 2 and 3 suggest that foreclosures are associated with two “triggers”—falling house prices and rising unemployment rates. The double-trigger theory of foreclosures posits that the potential for a foreclosure is highest when (1) a homeowner is “under water,” meaning the house is worth less than the outstanding loan balance of the mortgage (plus any applicable fees); and (2) the homeowner experiences a significant disruption to income, such as unemployment, divorce, or a health event. In addition to the aggregated state-level and nationwide data shown here, the double-trigger theory of foreclosures has been shown to fit foreclosure patterns in loan-level data sets as well (Foote, Gerardi, and Willen 2010).
The double-trigger theory suggests that being under water is a necessary condition for a foreclosure, because it means the homeowner cannot sell the house unless he or she is willing to write the mortgage holder a check at closing to make up the difference of the value of the house and the outstanding loan balance of the mortgage. Recent estimates by the First American Core Logic company suggest that more than 10.5 million properties—20 percent of all residential properties with mortgages—are currently under water; many of them were purchased between 2005 and 2007.
Figure 4 shows that house prices have declined by 40 percent in nominal terms (50 percent after accounting for overall consumer price inflation) from the peak of the housing market in 2006:Q2 through the end of 2009. Standard underwriting calls for a homeowner to make a 20 percent down payment on a house. Given the decline in house prices, homeowners who bought at the peak of the market using a standard down payment are still approximately 33 percent under water. For example, if a homeowner buys a house for $100,000 with an $80,000 mortgage at origination and it then loses 40 percent of value, it is worth only $60,000. The house is now 33 percent under water ($80,000 - $60,000) / $60,000.
Most economists believe that being under water is not a sufficient condition to lead to a foreclosure, although there is some debate on this issue (Goodman et al. 2009; Foote et al. 2010). As long as the house value is not too far below the outstanding loan balance of the mortgage, there is a nontrivial probability that the house will appreciate such that its price will be greater than the mortgage in a reasonable amount of time, and this probability has value called “option value.” Given this value, and given that foreclosure is costly for homeowners, economic theory suggests that many homeowners who are under water should not “optimally” default on their mortgage. In many cases, the available data support this prediction.
Once a homeowner is under water, however, the data suggest that an additional shock to a homeowner’s income strongly increases the odds of foreclosure. Consider the experience of a homeowner who is under water and suddenly loses his or her main source of income due to unemployment or illness. In this case, the house is worth less than the mortgage, so the owner cannot sell or pull equity from the house. Furthermore, the homeowner has reduced income, so after depleting savings cannot make the mortgage payment in full.
To illustrate the quantitative relevance of this point, table 2 shows state-level maximum unemployment benefits (UI) and average mortgage payments for the set of ten states shown in table 1. In many states, UI benefits are not large enough for a one-income family to make a full mortgage payment. In all states, the average mortgage payment consumes a sizeable percentage of monthly UI benefits, leaving little income for food, transportation, clothing, health care, and other essentials.
Go to Page 1 2 3 4