December 3, 2016 at 1:30 pm EST | by Valerie Blake
Mortgage déjà vu

The Big Short, gay news, Washington Blade, mortgage loans

The movie ‘The Big Short’ has given us insight into the role of the financial institutions in the housing crash.

Remember back in the early to mid-2000s when interest rates were low, financing was creative and mortgage loans were given out like candy by some unscrupulous lenders?

Properties were appreciating so quickly that homeowners were often encouraged to refinance and use the rising equity in their homes for debt consolidation, home improvements, college tuition and vacations.

Back then, borrowing money was easy. A person could state his income and verify his assets (SIVA loan), state both her income and her assets (SISA loan), or obtain a no income, no asset loan (NINA) just by having a stellar credit rating and paying a higher interest rate.

And remember those adjustable rate mortgages known as “Option ARMs,” where the borrower could choose each month to make a fully amortized payment, an interest-only payment, or an even lower payment based on an initial “teaser” rate? The initial rate was so low that the principal and interest you didn’t pay on a monthly basis would be added to the loan amount and when it came time to pay off the loan, you owed more than you did when you initially got it.

The assumption in the lending community was that rapid appreciation would overtake the additional debt and result in a profit on sale despite your having added to your initial loan amount. Nice work if you can get it and, like a Ponzi scheme, it worked for a while.

A Home Equity Line of Credit (HELOC) was also a popular option. You didn’t need to refinance; just get a new appraisal substantiating a higher value and have an instant line of credit of up to 100 percent of the newly appraised value. Easy peasy.

Then the economy took a downward turn and the money that had flowed so freely dried up.  Many homeowners simply put their heads in the sand, refusing to believe that third notice from the mortgage company containing the dreaded word, “foreclosure.”

Years later, I would tell my clients who had to bring additional funds to closing to be able to sell their homes that they did not lose their equity but simply spent it in advance. One could only hope to rob Peter to pay Paul for so long until Peter demanded payment as well.

But sometimes Peter agreed to accept less than owed and the concept of the short sale re-integrated itself into the housing market. It grew so exponentially that our tax laws were changed to eliminate penalties for debt forgiven by financial institutions.

The movie “The Big Short” has given us insight into the role of the financial institutions in the housing crash, but consumers were not entirely blameless. Some most certainly must share responsibility for their own fate by not seeking to understand their loan documents and by being mesmerized by the shiny object before them – a home they knew they could not really afford.

There are still areas of the country where people have not crawled out of the mortgage abyss so imagine my surprise the other day when I heard a television commercial for a lender that used the tag line: “Your home is your bank.”

To quote Yogi Berra, it was “like déjà vu all over again.”

Let me be clear: When I bought my first house, the interest rate was 11.75 percent. I also remember earlier conversations around the dinner table where my parents discussed rates as high as 18-21 percent, so I’m all for creative mortgage loan programs that make homeownership more affordable.

The problem with the home-as-bank theory, however, is that it presupposes that the borrower a) has equity in the home, b) has the income to handle higher payments, and c) understands any terms, conditions and limitations of the loan product.

With interest rates beginning to rise since the election, the promise of a 2.99 percent rate with “no closing costs” may seem enticing but remember, folks, there’s no such thing as that proverbial free lunch. The interest rate will have conditions and those closing costs are hidden in there somewhere, either in the amount of the loan or incorporated into the interest rate.

So, when deciding on a suitable type of mortgage for your purchase or refinance, remember that your home is not an ATM. Think of it instead as your personal sanctuary and a potential long-term investment in your future. Your financial solvency may depend on it.

Valerie M. Blake can be reached at 202-246-8602 or Each Keller Williams Realty office is independently owned and operated. Equal Housing Opportunity.

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