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Negative equity and foreclosure: theory and evidence

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

Millions of Americans have negative housing equity, meaning that the outstanding balance on their mortgage exceeds their home’s current market value. Our data show that the overwhelming majority of these households will not lose their homes. Our finding is consistent with historical evidence: we examine more than 100,000 homeowners in Massachusetts who had negative equity during the early 1990s and find that fewer than 10 percent of these owners eventually lost their home to foreclosure. This result is also, contrary to popular belief, completely consistent with economic theory, which predicts that from the borrower’s perspective, negative equity is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for foreclosure. Our findings imply that lenders and policymakers face a serious information problem in trying to help borrowers with negative equity, because it is difficult to determine which borrowers actually require help in order to prevent the loss of their homes to foreclosure.

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Paper provided by Federal Reserve Bank of Boston in its series Public Policy Discussion Paper with number 08-3.

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Date of creation: 2008
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Handle: RePEc:fip:fedbpp:08-3
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  1. Kau, James B. & Keenan, Donald C. & Muller, Walter III & Epperson, James F., 1987. "The valuation and securitization of commercial and multifamily mortgages," Journal of Banking & Finance, Elsevier, vol. 11(3), pages 525-546, September.
  2. Paul S. Willen & Adam Hale Shapiro & Kristopher Gerardi, 2008. "Subprime Outcomes: Risky Mortgages, Homeownership Experiences, and Foreclosures," 2008 Meeting Papers 345, Society for Economic Dynamics.
  3. Souphala Chomsisengphet & Anthony Pennington-Cross, 2006. "The evolution of the subprime mortgage market," Review, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, issue Jan, pages 31-56.
  4. Titman, Sheridan D & Torous, Walter N, 1989. " Valuing Commercial Mortgages: An Empirical Investigation of the Contingent-Claims Approach to Pricing Risky Debt," Journal of Finance, American Finance Association, vol. 44(2), pages 345-73, June.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. Anthony Pennington-Cross & Giang Ho, 2010. "The Termination of Subprime Hybrid and Fixed-Rate Mortgages," Real Estate Economics, American Real Estate and Urban Economics Association, vol. 38(3), pages 399-426.
  8. Christopher L. Foote & Kristopher Gerardi & Lorenz Goette & Paul S. Willen, 2008. "Subprime facts: what (we think) we know about the subprime crisis and what we don’t," Public Policy Discussion Paper 08-2, Federal Reserve Bank of Boston.
  9. Deng, Yongheng & Gabriel, Stuart, 2006. "Risk-Based Pricing and the Enhancement of Mortgage Credit Availability among Underserved and Higher Credit-Risk Populations," Journal of Money, Credit and Banking, Blackwell Publishing, vol. 38(6), pages 1431-1460, September.
  10. Stanton, Richard, 1995. "Rational Prepayment and the Valuation Mortgage-Backed Securities," Review of Financial Studies, Society for Financial Studies, vol. 8(3), pages 677-708.
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