An online poll conducted by real estate website HousingPredictor found that nearly half of of those who responded said that they would walk away from their mortgage obligations if home prices continue to slide. The poll, which drew more than 1,000 responses from visitors to HousingPredictor's forecasting website, is unscientific, but it does seem to reflect changing attitudes toward strategic default.
An identical poll conducted in March 2010 by HousingPredictor found that 32 percent of respondents said that they would pursue strategic default if prices continued to drop. In HousingPredictor's most recent poll that number ticked up to 47 percent, suggesting that a wider swath of beleaguered homeowners -- or at least homeowners who visit HousingPredictor -- are willing to ditch their loans.
In 2009, a national survey conducted by Reecon Advisors found that just one in 10 homeowners would probably choose to default on a home if its mortgage was significantly higher than the home was worth. But attitudes may have changed over the last few years, with strategic default shedding some of its stigma as many homeowners grow frustrated with falling home prices and revelations of bank malfeasance.
"Back in 2008 people were very emotional, very scared, in disbelief or denial," Jon Maddux, co-founder of YouWalkAway, told DailyFinance last fall. "Now they are simply fed up. It's a very calculated, black-and-white business decision. People feel very relieved."
A recent prediction by Fitch Ratings would seem to suggest that such a cynical outlook among borrowers' would be unlikely to change anytime soon. The agency recently released a report that forecasts that home prices will drop another 9.1 percent before leveling out. That would leave even more Americans underwater, and perhaps even more open to pursuing strategic default.
The Price of Walking Away
While walking away from a loan may seem like the best route for a homeowner navigating the rocky terrain of today's economic landscape, homeowners should think twice about choosing the path of strategic default, some experts say.
What's more, in most states banks may sue a delinquent homeowner for the "deficiency," or the amount that the homeowner owes on a loan after the home sells.
If an underwater homeowner is set on getting out from under a loan, the borrower may want to consider opting for a "short sale." While the option may not release a borrower from liability for a deficiency altogether, it reduces a deficiency amount and limits damage to the borrower's credit score.
Taking Inventory: Foreclosure Finds Across the U.S.
Strategic Default: Would Half of Homeowners Walk Away?
Location: Trenton, N.J.
Average Foreclosure Discount: 67.8 percent
Sq. Ft.: N/A
Trenton ranks No. 1 on RealtyTrac's list of cities with the steepest foreclosure discounts. This single-family, whose price was slashed recently, represents one of the killer deals you can find in the city.
Dating back to the 1960s, this Cape Cod-style home offers three bedrooms and two baths. Judging by the average foreclosure discount of New Jersey, the home could be running as much as $150,000 below market value.
Average Foreclosure Discount: 49.67 percent
Price: $3.75 million
Sq. Ft.: 22,000
Foreclosed homes in Atlanta are selling for a staggering 50 percent off, according to data from RealtyTrac. This vacant Mediterranean mansion offers a rather excessive four kitchens along with amenities that include a home theater, pool, spa, steam room and elevator.
Average Foreclosure Discount: 48.14 percent
Price: $4.29 million
Sq. Ft.: 12,129
It may be hard to believe that $4.29 million is a below-market price, but given that this stucco Mediterranean is bank-owned and Houston's foreclosure discount approaches 50 percent, odds are that the home could be quite a deal for a well-heeled buyer.
Location: St. Louis
Average Foreclosure Discount: 54.61 percent
Sq. Ft.: 1,342
This brick-built home, which dates back to 1930, probably hit the market at a reduced price to begin with, but now is running even lower, having just undergone a price cut. The home offers stained-glass windows and wood flooring along with a spruced-up kitchen.
Pictured here is the home's updated kitchen. The residence is even more of a deal if you factor in its purported HomePath Mortgage status. That means if you've got the right credit, you could snatch it for as little as 3 percent down.
Location: Lansing, Mich.
Average Foreclosure Discount: 44.31 percent
Sq. Ft.: 2,228
Squeezed into a condo community, this historic home stands out in the neighborhood because of its stately portico. The home has a long residential tradition, but could go commercial if the buyer so chooses: The house can serve as an office, according to the listing.
Location: Grand Rapids, Mich.
Average Foreclosure Discount: 43.45 percent
Sq. Ft.: 4,339
You get a lot of bang for your buck if you buy this four-bedroom contemporary. Located on a cul-de-sac, the home spans a generous 4,339 feet and offers a three-car garage. At under $300,000, that makes it an affordable luxury residence.
Location: Flint, Mich.
Average Foreclosure Discount: 21.55 percent
Sq. Ft.: N/A
Purchase a foreclosed home in Flint and you're likely to enjoy the benefit of more than 20 percent off. While the city's foreclosure inventory doesn't offer deals quite as striking as those found in some other cities wracked by the housing crisis, the town's average foreclosed-home price still falls far, far below the national median (which hovers above $200,000). Flint's average foreclosed-home price is just $60,578. This well-landscaped home demonstrates how far just $110,000 gets you.
Location: Easton, Pa.
Average Foreclosure Discount: 41.17 percent
Sq. Ft.: 1,556
Alright! A listing description that levels with you. "This is a property that needs some work," it states. The home is not without its virtues, however: It offers ample space, three bedrooms and an attic. Furthermore, buyers can acquire 3 percent buyer's assistance if they make an offer by the 31st of this month.
One thing buyers should watch out for if they think about shelling out for these digs is that, as with many other foreclosures, there is no seller disclosure for buyers interested in this home. That means, unless you pay for a thorough inspection, you could discover hidden flaws after purchasing the place.
Pictured here is the home's open dining-kitchen area. The place seems to be in pretty good shape for a foreclosed home. Many fall into poor condition, succumbing to insect infestations or other symptoms of neglect.