A patent attorney. A certified public accountant. A physical therapist. A Realtor. A retired utility company worker. A mechanical engineer. A doctor. A nurse practitioner. An elementary school psychologist.
These are just a handful of people I know that have strategically defaulted on an underwater mortgage.
While their backgrounds and occupations are diverse, all are honest, hardworking and well educated. Each of them, up until they made the decision to strategically default, paid their bills on time and had superior credit scores. They all had significant cash reserves and the ability to make payments on their over-inflated mortgage. But it made no sense for them to continue to throw good money after bad.
U.S. companies like American Airlines engage in this sort of business practice all the time. Last November, American filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy even though the company had over $4 billion in cash. American used bankruptcy to trim their debt load and get out of burdensome union contracts.
So why aren’t more Americans walking away from their underwater mortgages? For starters, lenders have a vested interest in making us believe that it is somehow immoral to purposely default on a mortgage. If you read my post from last week you’ll find a comment from a lender who claims this course of action is fraudulent.
That is not true.
What is true is that if you elect to walk away from your underwater mortgage you’ll lose the money you put down to purchase the home, any money you spent upgrading the home and your sparkling credit score. The latter is the other main reason most homeowners continue to pay even though it doesn’t make financial sense. Most people fear doing a short sale, losing their home to foreclosure, or bankruptcy will destroy their credit score and prevent them from ever buying real estate again.
And that is not true either. Here are the facts, provided to me by Glen Reiley, a mortgage consultant in Phoenix:
For FHA loans: a borrower can obtain financing 2 years from discharge or dismissal of a Chapter 7 bankruptcy, 3 years from completion of a foreclosure and 3 years from completion of a deed-in-lieu of foreclosure, short sale or pre-foreclosure.
For conventional loans: a borrower can obtain financing 4 years from discharge or dismissal of a Chapter 7 bankruptcy, 7 years from completion of a foreclosure, 4 years from completion of a deed-in-lieu of foreclosure, and 2 years after a short sale or pre-foreclosure (with 20% down payment).
Of course, these are traditional bank guidelines. Very few real estate investors I know use traditional banks to purchase fix and flip or buy and hold deals. If you’re looking for funding chances are you’ll need to find private or hard money lenders.
Here’s what I learned after my own strategic default – private money lenders could care less about my credit score. They only care about the purchase price and down payment. I’m currently working with three different private money lenders and I’m about to start doing business with a fourth. Security is what they want and with the right buy price and down payment (20-25%) I can borrow up to $2 million dollars at a time.
Sure, their rates are high (from 9.95% up to 18%). But as long as I’m buying right the profit/cash flow spreads are above average. The irony here is that drowning on an underwater mortgage will not kill you. It could actually help you swim again, farther and faster.
(Legal disclaimer: Deficiency laws vary from state to state; always consult an attorney before you consider a strategic default.)