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Just the facts: An initial analysis of subprime's role in the housing crisis


  • Foote, Christopher L.
  • Gerardi, Kristopher
  • Goette, Lorenz
  • Willen, Paul S.


Using two large proprietary datasets from New England, this paper establishes some basic facts about the subprime crisis. First, while unaffordable interest-rate resets are often blamed for setting off this crisis, most subprime borrowers who defaulted did so well in advance of their reset dates. Defaults on subprime adjustable-rate mortgages are more sensitive to declining housing prices than are defaults on fixed-rate loans, however, and the data support a number of alternative explanations for this finding. Second, many borrowers with good credit scores took out subprime loans as the housing boom gathered steam. It is hard to construct a prima facie case that these borrowers were inappropriately steered into the subprime market, however, because the loans that these borrowers took out were too risky for prime treatment. Finally, 70% of Massachusetts homes recently lost to foreclosure were originally purchased with prime mortgages. But subprime refinancing is especially prevalent among owners who were likely to have extracted substantial amounts of equity before they defaulted.

Suggested Citation

  • Foote, Christopher L. & Gerardi, Kristopher & Goette, Lorenz & Willen, Paul S., 2008. "Just the facts: An initial analysis of subprime's role in the housing crisis," Journal of Housing Economics, Elsevier, vol. 17(4), pages 291-305, December.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:jhouse:v:17:y:2008:i:4:p:291-305

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Kristopher S. Gerardi & Adam Hale Shapiro & Paul S. Willen, 2007. "Subprime outcomes: risky mortgages, homeownership experiences, and foreclosures," Working Papers 07-15, Federal Reserve Bank of Boston.
    2. Christopher J. Mayer & Karen M. Pence, 2008. "Subprime mortgages: what, where, and to whom?," Finance and Economics Discussion Series 2008-29, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.).
    3. Foote, Christopher L. & Gerardi, Kristopher & Willen, Paul S., 2008. "Negative equity and foreclosure: Theory and evidence," Journal of Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 64(2), pages 234-245, September.
    4. Christopher J. Mayer & Karen Pence, 2008. "Subprime Mortgages: What, Where, and to Whom?," NBER Working Papers 14083, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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    Cited by:

    1. Rajdeep Sengupta & Geetesh Bhardwaj, 2015. "Credit Scoring and Loan Default," International Review of Finance, International Review of Finance Ltd., vol. 15(2), pages 139-167, June.
    2. Fernando Ferreira & Joseph Gyourko, 2015. "A New Look at the U.S. Foreclosure Crisis: Panel Data Evidence of Prime and Subprime Borrowers from 1997 to 2012," NBER Working Papers 21261, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    3. Blackburn, McKinley L. & Vermilyea, Todd, 2012. "The prevalence and impact of misstated incomes on mortgage loan applications," Journal of Housing Economics, Elsevier, vol. 21(2), pages 151-168.
    4. Geetesh Bhardwaj & Rajdeep Sengupta, 2011. "Credit scoring and loan default," Working Papers 2011-040, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis.
    5. repec:red:issued:15-201 is not listed on IDEAS
    6. Byrne, David & Kelly, Robert & O'Toole, Conor, 2017. "How does monetary policy pass-through affect mortgage default? Evidence from the Irish mortgage market," Research Technical Papers 04/RT/17, Central Bank of Ireland.
    7. Gerardi Kristopher & Willen Paul, 2009. "Subprime Mortgages, Foreclosures, and Urban Neighborhoods," The B.E. Journal of Economic Analysis & Policy, De Gruyter, vol. 9(3), pages 1-37, March.
    8. Hui, Eddie C.M. & Zheng, Xian & Wang, Hui, 2010. "A dynamic mathematical test of international property securities bubbles and crashes," Physica A: Statistical Mechanics and its Applications, Elsevier, vol. 389(7), pages 1445-1454.
    9. Sengupta, Rajdeep & Bhardwaj, Geetesh, 2015. "Credit scoring and loan default," Research Working Paper RWP 15-2, Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City.
    10. Christopher Foote & Kristopher Gerardi & Lorenz Goette & Paul Willen, 2010. "Reducing Foreclosures: No Easy Answers," NBER Chapters,in: NBER Macroeconomics Annual 2009, Volume 24, pages 89-138 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    11. Steven Laufer, . "Equity Extraction and Mortgage Default," Review of Economic Dynamics, Elsevier for the Society for Economic Dynamics.
    12. repec:eee:regeco:v:68:y:2018:i:c:p:73-83 is not listed on IDEAS
    13. W. Scott Frame & Lawrence J. White, 2009. "Technological Change, Financial Innovation, and Diffusion in Banking," Working Papers 09-03, New York University, Leonard N. Stern School of Business, Department of Economics.
    14. Hui, Eddie C.M. & Chen, Jia, 2012. "Investigating the change of causality in emerging property markets during the financial tsunami," Physica A: Statistical Mechanics and its Applications, Elsevier, vol. 391(15), pages 3951-3962.
    15. Berger, Lawrence M. & Collins, J. Michael & Smeeding, Timothy M., 2015. "Exiting or retaining owner-occupied housing in the United States 1999–2009: How do social programs matter?," Children and Youth Services Review, Elsevier, vol. 57(C), pages 112-126.
    16. Christopher L. Foote & Kristopher S. Gerardi & Paul S. Willen, 2012. "Why Did So Many People Make So Many Ex Post Bad Decisions? The Causes of the Foreclosure Crisis," NBER Working Papers 18082, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    17. Swan, Peter L., 2009. "The political economy of the subprime crisis: Why subprime was so attractive to its creators," European Journal of Political Economy, Elsevier, vol. 25(1), pages 124-132, March.
    18. Elaine Fortowsky & Michael LaCour-Little & Eric Rosenblatt & Vincent Yao, 2011. "Housing Tenure and Mortgage Choice," The Journal of Real Estate Finance and Economics, Springer, vol. 42(2), pages 162-180, February.
    19. Eugene Amromin & Anna L. Paulson, 2009. "Comparing patterns of default among prime and subprime mortgages," Economic Perspectives, Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, issue Q II, pages 18-37.
    20. John Gilderbloom & Katrina Anaker & Gregory Squires & Matt Hanka & Joshua Ambrosius, 2011. "Why Foreclosure Rates in African American Neighborhoods are so High: Looking at the Real Reaonss," ERSA conference papers ersa11p1597, European Regional Science Association.
    21. Xue, Yi & He, Yin & Shao, Xinjian, 2012. "Butterfly effect: The US real estate market downturn and the Asian recession," Finance Research Letters, Elsevier, vol. 9(2), pages 92-102.

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