That is one of the reasons I’m sure this “foreclosure crisis” is such a big deal. I can’t speak for other cultures, but in America the idea of taking a man’s home is tantamount to cutting off his manhood (forgive the gender-specific reference but it just works better; taking a woman’s home is bad, too).
But what if that person doesn’t deserve the privilege of home ownership? Heck, The Wife and I don’t “deserve” home ownership in the strictest sense. When people see our house (our current one or our previous one) I am quick with a caveat: We didn’t save, suffer and scrape over many years to gather enough pennies to realize our dream. In truth, we were in debt when my grandma died and left us enough money to pay off the creditors and still make a down payment on a house – for which I am forever grateful.
We do share something in common with the millions of people who have been foreclosed on, but there is also a big difference. The similarity is that we have seen firsthand the lengths to which lenders will go to finance a house without giving a damn about the buyer’s ability to pay. When we bought our house in Reno, a nice lender told many a lie on our behalf to get us the financing because our house in California had not yet sold. So he very nicely made it look like we were raking in big bucks so that some stranger with a rubber stamp and a calculator would give us a loan that we couldn’t afford until our other house sold.
The difference for us is luck – at least partially. After the man with the stamp and the calculator approved our loan on the house in Reno, our house in California sold just a few weeks later and saved us trying to figure out how to make two mortgage payments. That was the luck part. The other difference is that we knew going into our risky loan that the risk hinged on one extenuating factor. Once that factor was removed, we were fine. In almost four years of cumulative home ownership, we have never missed a payment for general lack of funds. We have always known when we bought a house that we could make the payments.
Many people want to blame the banks for predatory lending and I agree that some of their practices have been irresponsible. Just visit any college campus and you’ll see how anybody, regardless of ability to pay, can get a ridiculous amount of credit. But I’d say the same thing to people buying house they can’t afford as I’d say to the college students signing up for too many credit cards: If you know you can’t afford it and you do it anyway, it’s your own fault. Assuming your lender doesn’t lie up front, you know the terms of your credit card or your mortgage, and you know your income. If you’ve gotten to adulthood and don’t have that level of math skill, then you have bigger problems.
Sure, we live in a culture of excess, but I know what things cost and I know what I earn. People who can’t reconcile these things, well, maybe it’s a new form of natural selection.
There has been a lot of talk about enacting new laws to curb predatory lending practices. First of all, it makes me sad to think there aren’t already laws in place against illegal lending practices. If there aren’t let’s get them on the books. If there are, let’s get some laws in place to stop stupid borrowing practices.
This whole thing came to my mind a week ago when The Wife and I gathered our paperwork to have our taxes done. We needed the property tax information on our old house in California, and it turns out you can pull up such information online. We typed in our old address and there was the info on our former residence. Unfortunately the info was on the new owners so it didn’t help with our taxes, but it did show us that the folks who did us the favor of buying our house are delinquent on their property taxes. Looks like foreclosure might in their future.
It serves them right for what they did to our old house. We drove by it last summer just a few months after we moved out and they had killed my lawn, mangled my trees and painted the trim a terrible, nail polish red color. Maybe that’s how we stop irresponsible home ownership. Before signing the mounds of pointless mortgage paperwork, potential buyers need to sign an affidavit stating their aesthetic intentions. Certain paint colors or a proven lack of a green thumb are automatic disqualifiers.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go mail my mortgage check.
Nathan Orme is the editor of the Sparks Tribune. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.