STEVE INSKEEP, host:
Lets look a little bit more closely on home foreclosures in the United States. We have a study here from the state that leads the nation in home repossessions, that is Nevada. The study shows that almost one in four homeowners who could have afforded to make their mortgage payments deliberately chose to walk away. In other words, some people who accept home foreclosures could have avoided them. That's one finding of a study commissioned by the Nevada Association of Realtors.
The lead author is Joel Searby. His research firm, SGS, interviewed a thousand people for the report.
Mr. JOEL SEARBY (Executive Vice President, Strategic Guidance Systems): Its a financial decision that these folks are making for their family, their best interest. They look at the value of their home and what they owe on it and they say this just doesn't make sense for me. Certainly, there are secondary factors and one of the most important in my opinion is that the stigma has been lifted as it relates to walking away from a mortgage whereas, 20 years ago this may have been something that would be considered shameful. Many people now are not only okay embracing it but they're actually being facilitated by outside folks.
Mr. SEARBY: Yeah. You have websites like YouWalkAway.com and lawyers and others who are engaging in a practice of actually helping peoples decide to walk away and then walking them through the steps to do that.
INSKEEP: What are some of the situations do you encountered where people said it was better for them to walk away from the house even though they could pay and even though they were going to wreck their credit?
Mr. SEARBY: Let me share a story of one lady who was in her 60s. She was recently divorced and as she looked at the rest of her life in a large home by herself that she could never sell for what it was worth, she simply said this does not make sense to me. And so she was not concerned about being able to buy another home, she could rent. She wasnt concerned about having a car, she already had a nice car. She wasn't concerned about getting credit, she had plenty of income, and she simply said I'm going to walk away.
Mr. SEARBY: Did you hear that woman in a focus group?
Mr. SEARBY: Yes, I spoke with her personally in the focus group.
INSKEEP: What did other people in the room say when she told that story?
Mr. SEARBY: Most of them were nodding their heads. These folks understand the same kind of situation that she was facing. Another man who was sitting next to her was actually a former homebuilder but his entire financial situation added up to it made more sense for him to walk away than it did for him to stay in that home.
INSKEEP: Who wasn't exactly among the various kinds homeowners you had who did walk away?
Mr. SEARBY: Well, we found that a much larger proportion of those who walked away were the older homeowners, which was very interesting to us, because we assumed that older homeowners would have a much longer stigma culturally against walking away from their mortgage, when in fact it was the opposite. They were looking at the end of their life and their last 15 or 20 years and saying this doesn't make sense for me to continue to pay this mortgage and that was really a surprising finding.
The younger folks were actually in my opinion quite a bit more tenacious in trying to reach out to these lenders and find out more information, whereas some of these older folks just simply said I don't have the energy or the time to deal with this, in addition to the fact that the finances didn't make sense and they walked away.
INSKEEP: I feel like one of the lessons of this is how difficult it is to generalize. You were telling us that there are people who deliberately walk away from their mortgages, which is not what you would assume. But even in that subculture of people who walk away its sounds like there are people who do it for good reason and people who do it for not so good reasons.
Mr. SEARBY: Theres no doubt that many of these folks have gut-wrenching decisions to make and while the general public may look at that and say how could they walk away from their mortgage, these folks are facing very, very tough times in their personal lives. Many of them had unexpected bills. Twelve percent of those we surveyed had a death in the family within the six months before the foreclosure. That's a significant amount of people dealing with significant life events.
INSKEEP: You said the stigma has been lifted. Has the news been a factor in that? And by that I mean it seems that there are a lot of - you could argue that there are a lot of bankers, for example, who got bailed out, people who are accused of having walked away with fortunes from this whole financial mess.
Mr. SEARBY: Well, theres no doubt that those who have been through foreclosure personally, the number one entity that they blame are banks and lenders. And so there definitely is a situation where you have homeowners pitting themselves against the lending institutions and absolutely, the news that they here is these banks are being bailed out and why would I continue to pay when theyre getting bailed out? I'm not getting bailed out.
INSKEEP: Joel Searby, thanks very much.
Mr. SEARBY: Thank you very much, Steve.
INSKEEP: Hes with the research firm SGS.