It’s been seven years since the epic collapse of the US housing market, and there’s never been a better time to buy your first home. In Denmark for instance, the bank will tax depositors in order to pay you to take out a home loan. But before you move to a European country operating in NIRP-dom, consider Florida and New Jersey first because as Susan Rudolfi recently discovered, you can actually get a house for free by simply not making your mortgage payments. Here’s more via NY Times:
She is like a ghost of the housing market’s painful past, one of thousands of Americans who have skipped years of mortgage payments and are still living in their homes.
Now a legal quirk could bring a surreal ending to her foreclosure case and many others around the country: They may get to keep their homes without ever having to pay another dime.
The reason, lawyers for homeowners argue, is that the cases have dragged on too long.
There are tens of thousands of homeowners who have missed more than five years of mortgage payments, many of them clustered in states like Florida, New Jersey and New York, where lenders must get judges to sign off on foreclosures.
However, in a growing number of foreclosure cases filed when home prices collapsed during the financial crisis, lenders may never be able to seize the homes because the state statutes of limitations have been exceeded, according to interviews with housing lawyers and a review of state and federal court decisions.
It should come as no surprise that the free house legal loophole comes courtesy of the always dangerous and extraordinarily unpredictable combination of government ineptitude and TBTF inefficiency, and thanks to the fact that the Fed-sponsored, investment bank securitization-fee-fueled real estate bubble was allowed to inflate to the point where it swallowed the entire US economy, tens of thousands of borrowers may ultimately become owners by virtue of remaining resolute when it comes to not making payments:
It is difficult to know for sure how many foreclosure cases are still grinding through the court systems since the financial crisis. It is even harder to say how many of those borrowers are still living in their homes.
Bank of America, for example, has initiated the foreclosure process on roughly 20,000 mortgages that have not been paid in at least five years. The bank estimates that 90 percent of those homes are still occupied.
The courts are not the only source of delay. Over the years, the federal government has made 69 changes to its mortgage modification programs, forcing lenders repeatedly to scrap previous offers to homeowners and extend new terms.
Of course, the banks have also dragged out this reckoning through shoddy paperwork, botched modifications and general dysfunction as they struggled to cope with a flood of soured mortgages. Many cases were passed among lawyers like hot potatoes and lay dormant on court dockets.
This arrangement works out particularly well if the property you now own (because it’s cheaper to pay a lawyer than it is to pay the mortgage) can be used to generate rental income:
[Rudolfi’s] working-class neighborhood is a short drive from Coconut Grove, a wealthy waterfront enclave of Miami. Her bedroom opens up onto a pool, shaded by palm trees. Outside her house, she parks a small motorboat she named Mermaid. The property includes an adjoining house that she rents out…
In November 2009, her mortgage servicer at the time, Aurora Loan Services, a unit of the now-defunct Lehman Brothers, filed to foreclose on her house.
Instead of making her roughly $1,300 monthly mortgage payment, she pays her lawyer $500 a month to represent her in court.
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So a bit of poetic justice we suppose for an investment banking community and a complicit Federal Reserve who facilitated the creation of a modern day tulip mania which lined Wall Street’s pockets even as it put Main Street (which was itself all too eager to finance a McMansion and a Hummer) on a path to ruin. But in the end, the Susan Rudolfis of the world ask: "What are you gonna do?"...
“I screwed up and they screwed up, so now what?” she said.