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Reducing foreclosures: no easy answers

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

This paper takes a skeptical look at a leading argument about what is causing the foreclosure crisis and what should be done to stop it. We use an economic model to focus on two key decisions: the borrower's choice to default on a mortgage and the lender's subsequent choice whether to renegotiate or modify the loan. The theoretical model and econometric analysis illustrate that unaffordable loans, defined as those with high mortgage payments relative to income at origination, are unlikely to be the main reason that borrowers decide to default. In addition, this paper provides theoretical results and empirical evidence supporting the hypothesis that the efficiency of foreclosure for investors is a more plausible explanation for the low number of modifications to date than contract frictions related to securitization agreements between servicers and investors. While investors might be foreclosing when it would be socially efficient to modify, there is little evidence to suggest they are acting against their own interests when they do so. An important implication of our analysis is that policies designed to reduce foreclosures should focus on ameliorating the immediate effects of job loss and other adverse life events rather than modifying loans to make them more affordable on a long-term basis.

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Paper provided by Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta in its series FRB Atlanta Working Paper with number 2009-15.

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Date of creation: 2009
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Handle: RePEc:fip:fedawp:2009-15
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  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. Carl F. Behrens, 1952. "Appendices and Index to "Commercial Bank Activities in Urban Mortgage Financing"," NBER Chapters, in: Commercial Bank Activities in Urban Mortgage Financing, pages 85-125 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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  5. Giovanni Dell’Ariccia & Deniz Igan & Luc Laeven, 2012. "Credit Booms and Lending Standards: Evidence from the Subprime Mortgage Market," Journal of Money, Credit and Banking, Blackwell Publishing, vol. 44, pages 367-384, 03.
  6. Carl F. Behrens, 1952. "Introduction to "Commercial Bank Activities in Urban Mortgage Financing"," NBER Chapters, in: Commercial Bank Activities in Urban Mortgage Financing, pages 1-13 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  7. 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.
  8. Yongheng Deng & John M. Quigley & Robert Van Order, 2000. "Mortgage Terminations, Heterogeneity and the Exercise of Mortgage Options," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 68(2), pages 275-308, March.
  9. Atif Mian & Amir Sufi, 2009. "The Consequences of Mortgage Credit Expansion: Evidence from the U.S. Mortgage Default Crisis," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 124(4), pages 1449-1496.
  10. Charles Himmelberg & Christopher Mayer & Todd Sinai, 2005. "Assessing High House Prices: Bubbles, Fundamentals and Misperceptions," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 19(4), pages 67-92, Fall.
  11. 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.
  12. Carl F. Behrens, 1952. "Commercial Bank Activities in Urban Mortgage Financing," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number behr52-1.
  13. J. E. Morton, 1956. "Urban Mortgage Lending: Comparative Markets and Experience," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number mort56-1.
  14. Shane M. Sherlund, 2008. "The past, present, and future of subprime mortgages," Finance and Economics Discussion Series 2008-63, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.).
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  17. 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.
  18. C. Lowell Harriss, 1951. "History and Policies of the Home Owners' Loan Corporation," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number harr51-1.
  19. Kau James B. & Keenan Donald C. & Kim Taewon, 1994. "Default Probabilities for Mortgages," Journal of Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 35(3), pages 278-296, May.
  20. Lawrence R. Cordell & Karen E. Dynan & Andreas Lehnert & J. Nellie Liang & Eileen Mauskopf, 2008. "The incentives of mortgage servicers: myths and realities," Finance and Economics Discussion Series 2008-46, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.).
  21. James M. Poterba, 1984. "Tax Subsidies to Owner-Occupied Housing: An Asset-Market Approach," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 99(4), pages 729-752.
  22. Vikrant Vig & Amit Seru & Tomasz Piskorski, 2009. "Securitization and Distressed Loan Renegotiation: Evidence from the Subprime Mortgage Crisis," 2009 Meeting Papers 1169, Society for Economic Dynamics.
  23. J. E. Morton, 1956. "Introduction to "Urban Mortgage Lending: Comparative Markets and Experience"," NBER Chapters, in: Urban Mortgage Lending: Comparative Markets and Experience, pages 1-13 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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