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A neighborhood in Maricopa, Ariz. circa February 2009.
On today's Planet Money:
We hear from Mary Kinsley, a lawyer in Phoenix who works at a legal help-line for people with real estate questions. She says her unit gets around 100 calls a day, almost all from people asking about foreclosure.
Mary says that starting last year, the questions changed dramatically. In 2007 and 2008, callers couldn't pay their mortgages but wanted to Mary to help them find a way to keep their houses. Now most callers aren't trying to avoid foreclosure, instead they want Mary to help them bring it on as fast as possible. It's called strategic default, where the borrower owes so much more than the house is worth, that it makes more sense to just give the keys back to the bank.
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