If we look at all of the solutions currently in place by the government, it's clear that there are indeed a few "winners" in this current situation:
- Many of the banks, who are receiving lots of money and loan guarantees from the government to cover the bad mortgages on their books;
- Many homeowners, who, after refinancing and squeezing all the equity out of their homes that they could (and that the banks would gladly let them have), are simply walking away from their homes, letting the banks keep them.
Another article states that the U.S. is headed for a ten-year backlog in distressed (unsold) houses... that's the kind of thing that's going to provide an emergency brake on any kind of economic growth (almost always fueled by a thriving housing market of less than one year's worth of houses on the market at any given time).
So what's the current plan to manage this? The banks, rather than simply dealing with these houses which have lost sometimes up to half of their "value" (in terms of the mortgage on them), are keeping them on their books at their original inflated values, hoping either for a government bailout, or for prices to come back up closer to those inflated values. This is an example of the government enabling a very unhealthy behavior for everyone. People are walking away from their homes, leaving them empty, not taken care of, and turning them into neighborhood blights, bringing down all the other home values in the neighborhood in a reinforcing downward spiral of home values. This is not a healthy solution.
My solution is much simpler:
- Create a neutral "arbitration panel" in each city, made up of average citizens, like a jury of some kind.
- A homeowner about to walk away from their "under-water" mortage gets a serious audit to find out how much money they and their family have.
- The bank shows up with a few appraisals of what the house is currently worth.
- The arbitration panel's job is to determine the value of a new mortgage on the home that would allow the homeowner to remain in the home, at very favorable interest rates for the first 5 years.
- The panel would take into consideration whether the homeowner has enough assets to pay a down payment or not.
- The bank gets a write-off of the difference between the old and new mortgage, which can be used to offset its tax burden.
- Voila! One less house on the market, one more family able to stay in their homes, and the banks "reset" their toxic assets. We'd probably be out of the woods in a year or two.