From the New York Times:
THE Bush administration’s mortgage rescue plan will worsen, not alleviate, the problems in the housing market.
We are suffering from a home value crisis, not simply a credit crisis. If home prices were still rising, defaults would be low, investment returns would be high, borrowers would still be cashing out equity, and lenders would be showering credit on home buyers.
Falling prices reverse this dynamic. A recent study by the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston found that most foreclosures result from falling home prices, not from the resetting of mortgage rates.
And if rates are frozen for some subprime mortgages, standards for most new loans will become increasingly strict. Lenders will have to factor in the added risk of having their contracts rewritten when borrowers default. Higher down payments, mortgage rates and required credit scores — along with lower loan-to-income ratios and perhaps the death of adjustable-rate loans altogether — will further push down home prices.
Whether or not their payment levels are frozen, borrowers with loans that are greater than the values of their homes will have few incentives to keep paying their mortgages or to maintain their properties. Why spend more on a home in which they have no equity and which they may lose to foreclosure anyway?
Having put nothing down or having extracted equity in previous refinances, most subprime borrowers will lose nothing financially from foreclosure. In some cases the low teaser rates allowed them to pay less than what they might otherwise have paid in rent. The real losses are borne by the lenders.
Proponents suggest that a rate freeze will buttress home prices by keeping foreclosed homes off the market. But that is a stay of execution, not a pardon. Most homes temporarily saved from foreclosure will continue to depreciate as new buyers fail to qualify for loans. Lenders will be on the hook for even more losses than if the foreclosures had taken place sooner.
Everyone seems to agree that a return to traditional lending standards is a good idea, but no one seems willing to accept a return to rational prices as a consequence.