Solutions aren't easy for underwater mortgages
The underwater mortgage problem has no easy solution, particularly in places like Michigan, which has shed nearly a million manufacturing jobs in the past decade. Some experts advocate for principal reductions. But that would be seen as "a big giveaway," said Julia Gordon, senior policy counsel for the nonprofit Center for Responsible Lending in Washington, DC. "If there is anything the American public dislikes more than bailing out the bank, it's (bailing out) their neighbor," Gordon said. Still, she said, the problem of underwater mortgages -- where the homeowner owes a lender more than the house is worth -- should concern everyone. "If your neighbor goes into foreclosure, it brings your home value down," she said. Some experts advocate for a federal bailout for underwater mortgages. That would cost about $801bn, more than the original 2008 bank bailout, according to First American CoreLogic, a real estate data firm. In Michigan -- where home prices have dropped more than 35% from their 2005 peak -- home values are expected to fall another 22% statewide over the next five years. In the same period, they're forecast to drop 30% in metro Detroit, according to Dennis Capozza, a University of Michigan finance professor. Capozza also is a principal in University Financial Associates, a mortgage-risk advisory firm in Ann Arbor, which sells quarterly house price forecasts to its clients, including lenders and rating agencies. With such a bleak forecast, experts said finding a fix for the underwater crisis will be difficult. Banks can't afford to bail out homeowners without another bailout from the government. Even if federal help comes -- either for the homeowner directly or for banks -- taxpayers ultimately will be on the hook for the debt. Do nothing and homeowners and communities continue to suffer. One economist said it all boils down to one thing: sharing the pain. "At the end of the day, someone has to pay for this problem -- either the lender, the homeowner or the public pays," said Mark Zandi, chief economist for Moody's Economy.com. "It is really about divvying up the cost, and that is very difficult politically to do."