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Reducing Foreclosures: No Easy Answers

  • Christopher Foote
  • Kristopher Gerardi
  • Lorenz Goette
  • Paul Willen

This paper takes a skeptical look at a leading argument about what is causing the foreclosure crisis and distills some potential lessons for policy. 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 the extension of temporary help to borrowers suffering adverse life events like job loss could prevent more foreclosures than a policy that makes mortgages more "affordable" on a long-term basis.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 15063.

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Date of creation: Jun 2009
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Publication status: published as Acemoglu, Daron, Kenneth Rogoff, and Michael Woodford (eds.) NBER Macroeconomics Annual 2009, Volume 24. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:15063
Note: EFG
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  1. C. Lowell Harriss, 1951. "History and Policies of the Home Owners' Loan Corporation," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number harr51-1, October.
  2. Carl F. Behrens, 1952. "Commercial Bank Activities in Urban Mortgage Financing," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number behr52-1, October.
  3. James M. Poterba, 1983. "Tax Subsidies to Owner-occupied Housing: An Asset Market Approach," Working papers 339, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Department of Economics.
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  5. 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.
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  7. Deng, Yongheng & Quigley, John M. & Van Order, Robert, 1999. "Mortgage Terminations, Heterogeneity, and the Exercise of Mortgage Options," Berkeley Program on Housing and Urban Policy, Working Paper Series qt96r560pg, Berkeley Program on Housing and Urban Policy.
  8. Atif Mian & Amir Sufi, 2009. "The Consequences of Mortgage Credit Expansion: Evidence from the U.S. Mortgage Default Crisis," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 124(4), pages 1449-1496, November.
  9. Kristopher S. Gerardi & Paul S. Willen, 2008. "Subprime mortgages, foreclosures, and urban neighborhoods," Public Policy Discussion Paper 08-6, Federal Reserve Bank of Boston.
  10. 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.
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  12. Kristopher 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.
  13. 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.
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  15. 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.).
  16. 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.
  17. 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.
  18. Larry Cordell & Karen Dynan & Andreas Lehnert & 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.).
  19. 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.
  20. Danis, Michelle A. & Pennington-Cross, Anthony, 2008. "The delinquency of subprime mortgages," Journal of Economics and Business, Elsevier, vol. 60(1-2), pages 67-90.
  21. 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.
  22. J. E. Morton, 1956. "Urban Mortgage Lending: Comparative Markets and Experience," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number mort56-1, October.
  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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