Chicago Tribune Article

A short sale’s long journey
Mary Ellen Podmolik Local scene

Chicago Tribune
October 17, 2008

With home values falling and a rough economy denting people’s wallets, it doesn’t take much for a homeowner to get underwater on a mortgage, owing more on the loan than the home is worth. Toss in a personal dilemma or two and the situation can become even more bleak.

During the year’s second quarter (the most recent data available), one in seven homeowners, regardless of when they bought, had negative equity in their homes, according to The statistics were worse for people who bought their homes during the market’s peak in 2006; 45 percent of those homeowners were upside down.

Kenneth Baldwin is one of those statistics, and it took him months to decide that it was better to walk away from his home with his dignity and credit-worthiness relatively intact than to continue struggling to keep it.

In July 2006, with a good credit history but no down payment to make, the then-42-year-old bought a $236,500 three-bedroom, bi-level home in Lake in the Hills for himself and his fiancé. He received an interest-only 80/20 loan. An 80/20 loan is typically two loans—a primary loan for 80 percent of the value of your home, and a secondary loan, sometimes called a piggybank loan, in lieu of a down payment that covers the remaining 20 percent at a much higher interest rate than the first.

Then his relationship soured and the terms of the loan reset. Instead of a $1,800 monthly payment covered by two incomes, Baldwin had to fund a monthly payment of $2,200 by himself. He tried to make it work, and found himself stressed when he couldn’t make a payment.

He also went on short-term disability from his job for eight weeks, and his lower income during that time forced him to break into his 401(k) savings to cover the mortgage payment.

“I couldn’t swing it anymore,” Baldwin said. “It got way out of hand. My savings were totally drained. I was working two jobs. It was nuts.”

By the spring, he’d had enough of the stress and decided to sell his home, with his lender’s permission, for less than the amount he owed on it in a short sale.

With that decision, he joined plenty of other delinquent borrowers whose homes are listed for sale at a discount and carry the “lender approval required” caveat. Despite what can be a time-consuming approval process, the transactions have become an increasingly popular option.

“It’s sad to say, but this is where things are going,” said Eric Booth, an agent with Century 21 MB Real Estate in Chicago. “The hardest thing is finding buyers who are patient. I don’t think I’d be able to wait around for two, three, four months and not know [when] it’s going to happen.”

Short sales are being considered by all types of homeowners in all income ranges who either bought their house during the market’s zenith or bought it a decade ago but in recent years pulled out equity from their homes.

“These are people who had the ability to pay for a certain amount of time and are running out of the ability to do it,” said Marc Shudnow, an agent at Re/Max 1st Class, Skokie. “Because the value of the home has gone down, they don’t have the ability to sell. These are people that in an upswing market could have gotten out of their homes. They’ve got to be able to come to the table with a check [to pay off the lender]. If the market was going up, they might be in a position to come up with the funds.”

In May, Baldwin’s lender, IndyMac Bank, agreed to let him sell his house for $214,000, forgiving $49,659.60 of the loan. The transaction still will dent his credit record but nowhere to the extent it would have, had he let the house lapse into foreclosure. After the closing, Baldwin received a $5,000 check as a sort of “thank-you” from the lender.

“I did not feel good about myself,” Baldwin said of having to resort to the short sale. “I do have pride in myself and it made me feel like I was ripping off the bank. After it was all over, it was like this was probably a better thing for the mortgage company than me going to foreclosure and they don’t get any of their money back.”

Baldwin, who still lives in Lake in the Hills but now as a renter, hopes to again own his own home, but the next time he plans to be better prepared.

“I’ve learned a lot from my mistakes,” he said. “I don’t know how I ever was approved in the first place.”
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