A growing number of home owners in Arizona, California, Florida, and Nevada—where prices have fallen the most—are walking away from their properties.
They are leaving the deal behind not because they can’t pay but because they don’t want to. A study by researchers at Northwestern University and the University of Chicago concludes that as many as 25 percent of defaults are driven by strategy, not necessity.
If many other people follow suit, “It’s going to be really difficult to prevent a cascade effect,” says Paola Sapienza, a professor of finance at Northwestern.
Brent White, an associate law professor at the University of Arizona, points to actions by banks themselves to avoid staying in bad business deals as an example of why homeowners should make a decision “unclouded by unnecessary guilt or shame.”
For instance, on Thursday, financial services firm Morgan Stanley announced that it is turning five San Francisco office buildings back over to its lender two years after it purchased them when the market was at its priciest. The buildings are estimated to be worth about half of what Morgan Stanley paid.
“This isn’t a default or foreclosure situation,” spokeswoman Alyson Barnes told Bloomberg News. “We are going to give them the properties to get out of the loan obligation.”
Morgan Stanley is apparently current on the loan, so this is what is known as a “strategic default.”
Some might ask: If strategic defaults are OK for banks, why aren’t they OK for ordinary homeowners?
Source: The Wall Street Journal, James R. Hagerty and Nick Timiraos 12/17/2009 and Bloomberg, Emily Friedlander 12/17/2009