Will More Homeowners Ditch to Avoid Debt?

April 11, 2012 at 4:35 PM

Nearly half of lenders participating in a recent FICO survey expect more homeowners to elect to default on their mortgages this year than last.

A plurality of respondents (46 percent) participating in a recent FICO survey of bank risk professionals expect the volume of strategic defaults in 2012 to surpass 2011 levels.

"After five years of a brutal housing market, many people now view their homes more objectively and with less sentimentality," said Dr. Andrew Jennings, chief analytics officer at FICO and head of FICO Labs. "Regardless of legal or ethical issues around strategic defaults, lenders must account for this risk when they evaluate mortgage applications in declining markets. Many homeowners who find themselves upside down on mortgages in the future are likely to consider strategic default as an acceptable exit strategy."

Only 29 percent of lenders said the current generation of homeowners considers their mortgage to be their most important credit obligation and 49 percent said is not.

Otherwise, the survey had some good news for the housing economy. More respondents (26 percent) expect delinquencies on mortgages to decline in the coming months than at any previous time in the two years FICO has been conducting this survey. Furthermore, 53 percent of respondents said the housing market would improve by the end of 2012, compared to 24 percent who said the market would deteriorate.

"Lenders seem to believe the housing market is starting to stabilize," said Jennings. "Defaults, whether strategic or not, continue to be problematic. However, a gradually improving job market could begin changing the dynamics in housing. If job creation continues, banks will be more likely to embrace mortgage lending once again. A healthy job market is essential for improving the quality of mortgage applications and reducing default risk."

A majority of survey respondents (56 percent) expected the supply of credit for residential mortgages to fall short of demand over the next six months. A similar majority (53 percent) expected the supply of credit for mortgage refinancing to fall short of demand, indicating that lenders remain cautious about the risks in the real estate market.

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