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Does Hernando County Realtor have the best bailout plan?

Who else but Gary Schraut?

Who else is audacious enough to think that, as a Brooksville Realtor, he might set the course of one of the most expensive undertakings in U.S. history, the trillion-dollar-plus fight against financial collapse?

Well, nobody I know of. And, maybe he won't get too far. Up to now, he hasn't been able to persuade U.S. Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite to agree with him or U.S. Sens. Mel Martinez or Bill Nelson to return his calls.

But that doesn't mean he's not worth listening to. For one thing, he has what seems like a good idea, especially in a county where more than 200 houses fall into foreclosure every month.

Also, anything seems better than dumping tons of taxpayer cash into banks' reserves and then hearing answers like this to an Associated Press reporter who, in December, asked 31 financial institutions how they had spent their bailout money:

"We have not disclosed that to the public. We're declining to,'' said a spokesman for JPMorgan Chase, which received $25 billion.

"We have to make banks work for their money,'' Schraut said.

This is his idea, which is one of several plans that Realtors are pushing nationwide to lower mortgage rates:

Financial institutions receiving government funds would be required to cut the rates of expensive, sub-prime mortgages carried by homeowners who are on the verge of foreclosure.

Dropping the rate from 7 percent to 4.25 percent would reduce monthly payments from $1,164 to $860.

If the buyer still can't make the payments, the government pays the lender $10,000 (plus $2,000 for reworking the mortgage) to bring the rate to 3.25 percent, cutting the monthly payment another $100.

Yes, there are some disadvantages. Unlike the $5.6 million the county received through the federal Neighborhood Stabilization Program, it does nothing for houses already in foreclosure (3,256 in Hernando last year).

And it basically means taxpayers who are making their house payments would be subsidizing ones who aren't.

But it could keep families in homes and prevent the decline in property values that comes when neighborhoods are littered with vacant, neglected foreclosed houses.

And though not all banks like the idea, it could work out in their favor. In the current market, they are taking huge losses reselling foreclosed homes, said Morris Porton, senior vice president/Hernando County executive of Florida Traditions Bank.

"Every time a bank forecloses, everybody loses,'' he said.

A funny thing happened as I was reporting this column. The general idea of paying banks to lower mortgages seemed to be gathering steam.

I heard about an obscure, unsuccessful program called Hope for Homeowners, created last year to help as many as 400,000 homeowners swap risky loans for traditional 30-year mortgages; as of last week, it had crushed the hopes of 426 out of the 451 homeowners who had applied.

I read in an AP story that U.S. Rep Barney Frank, D-Mass., proposed revamping the program and that President Obama wanted to spend $100 billion of the new financial stimulus package to do so.

All I could think was: They must be listening to Schraut.

Does Hernando County Realtor have the best bailout plan? 02/07/09 [Last modified: Saturday, February 7, 2009 1:22pm]
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