Options for Deeply Underwater Condo

If you have a condo or home that is deeply underwater, you have some options including paying off your mortgage, short sale or foreclosure.

Q: With all the creative geniuses in the U.S., like Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, and the Google guys, why is there not even one innovative, out-of-the-box genius to help people like me in this real estate crisis?

I am a homeowner who has an exceptional work history, 800+ FICO score, cash for 20 percent down payment, and low consumer debt.

The problem is my current home value has fallen dramatically and I am deeply underwater (plus I have what appears to be the new c-word: Condo). I had no plans to remain in my current home long-term, and I have a big desire to move on to a more desirable home that I could not afford pre-2007, but can now afford due to the decrease in home prices. 

A refinance is not at all what I’m interested in doing, and I don’t have extra money to pay my current mortgage company tens of thousands of dollars to get out of my mortgage.

Why can’t just one person in America help me?  I want to help stimulate the economy!

A: It’s clear that you bought into the idea that home prices only go in one direction – up! Unfortunately, as we’ve all seen, that is far from the case. Not only do housing prices go down, but they dropped an average of more than 33 percent nationwide, and far more than that in Atlanta, where you live.

In Atlanta, as well as Las Vegas, Phoenix, Miami, parts of California and what seems like the entire state of Michigan, home prices have dropped as much as 60 percent from the highs of the real estate bubble in 2005 to 2006, which is when it appears you bought your property.

It wouldn’t surprise us if your condo is worth just 25 to 35 percent of what you paid for it back then. We’ve heard from other residents in the Greater Atlanta metropolitan area whose homes have fallen as much as 75 percent in value, simply because they live in an area with high numbers of foreclosures.

What does that look like? A condo purchased for $150,000 that is now worth $40,000 to $55,000. Or, a condo purchased for $125,000 that was recently sold for $20,000.

For sellers who want to move on, this kind of home price depreciation poses a tough question: What should you do? You have several options, none of them particularly good.

First, you can scramble together the cash to pay off your mortgage at closing. That means you’d have to come up with the difference between the sales price and what you owe on the loan. While you hate to come up with the cash, if you have it and don’t want to part with it, the lender may not approve your short sale.

For many sellers, however, that simply isn’t feasible. If you can’t afford to do that, you can do a short sale, where you sell your home and the bank agrees to accept whatever cash you do get from the transaction. You can also do a deed-in-lieu of foreclosure, where you hand over the keys to the property and the bank forgives your debt. Or, you can let the home fall into foreclosure.

For any of these options other than paying off the home in full, your credit will take a dive. It’s not magic – it’s just that you agreed to pay the mortgage in full and on time and if you don’t, for whatever reason, that will be reported to the credit reporting bureaus.

I appreciate that all you want to do is to exchange your smaller home for a larger one. And, I suppose all the new stuff that you buy for that home will contribute in a small way toward stimulating the economy.

But the truth is you made a bad deal and now you want someone else to bail you out. I don’t think that’s going to happen, especially not if you’re making good money.

The one thing you have on your side is timing. If you can afford to purchase another home, you should do so. At that point, you can list your condo for sale and figure out whether anyone will buy it for an amount that will come acceptably close to the amount you owe. If not, you can look into doing a short sale, deed-in-lieu of foreclosure, or a true foreclosure.

What you need to do now is speak with a real estate attorney who can help you understand what your options are and what might happen depending on which of these options you select.

Emotionally, we can tell you’re frustrated with the situation and feel stuck. This wasn’t part of your grand master plan and now it feels as though staying is the only option available to you. But that isn’t the case. When you feel stuck, the best thing you can do is take a step in any direction. While it might turn out to be the wrong direction, at least you’re moving again and that in itself is a win.

Good luck, and let us know what happens.


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