When the owners of high-end homes fall way behind on their mortgage payments, foreclosure is not a foregone conclusion.
Lenders can be more willing to craft a new payment plan to make high-dollar homes more affordable. Paperwork and procedures are also often delayed, keeping homeowners in some states in their homes for two or more years after they’ve stopped making mortgage payments. And in some cases, lenders are offering homeowners tens of thousands of dollars in cash in exchange for their agreeing to a short sale, in which a home is sold for less than the borrower owes on the mortgage.
Repossession rates show the difference. Last year, roughly 85% of homes worth up to $1 million that received default notices were eventually repossessed, according to RealtyTrac, which tracks real-estate data. For homes worth more than $1 million, about 28%, or around 1,400 homes, were repossessed.
For lenders, it’s worth the extra effort to avert foreclosure on luxury properties. They incur substantial expenses holding these homes, including paying property taxes, maintenance costs and, often, homeowners’ fees. The homes are also more difficult to sell, since fewer buyers can afford to purchase them. And when lenders eventually unload them, it’s often at a loss. “Lenders have more of an incentive to work out payment plans for these borrowers than with the ones [whose homes] may move quickly,” says Jon Maddux, co-founder of YouWalkAway.com, which helps borrowers, including luxury homeowners, in default or foreclosure.
Separately, some lenders will encourage owners to consider a short sale. Armando Tiongson Jr. of Rockaway, N.J., says Bank of America recently offered him and his wife up to $30,000 in cash to sell their 4,100-square-foot home, which they purchased for roughly $1 million in 2006, in a short sale. Tiongson, an IT program manager, says he and his wife haven’t paid their mortgage in 18 months after the monthly payments on their loan, which initially required just interest payments, spiked. By offering this cash in exchange for a short sale, Bank of America says it can reduce the losses that would kick in if the loan goes to foreclosure. (The bank adds that it has been making such cash offers to homeowners of all loan levels since last year.)
The Tiongsons are going to take the bank up on its offer and sell. “We are going in for the short sale mainly to avoid foreclosure,” Tiongson says. “The cash option is really just a benefit.”