Since the financial crisis and the bursting of the housing bubble in 2008, whatever grudging help has come from the financial sector for struggling homeowners has largely focused on those behind on their mortgages and headed for foreclosure. People stuck in their houses because their houses won't sell for anywhere near what they owe have been mostly out of luck. But that's about to change. Mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac say in certain cases they will start forgiving the remaining mortgage debt on short sales, where the home is sold for less than the outstanding debt. It's about time.
Starting in March, nondelinquent borrowers who can show they have to move due to a job change, illness or other reason can apply to Fannie and Freddie for a so-called deed-in-lieu transaction. If approved, any shortfall between what the property is worth and what is owed on the mortgage will be discharged. The lenders won't come after the borrowers for the shortfall.
The program won't just enhance the mobility of homeowners with job opportunities elsewhere. It will prevent foreclosures for people who can no longer afford their homes. And when foreclosures drop, everyone benefits. Property is not abandoned. Neighborhoods aren't destabilized. Courts aren't clogged with cases. And lenders are not left homes in deteriorated condition.
This change is coming about just as the housing market is starting to rebound. There are about 7 million properties now underwater, down from 11 million in 2011. This kind of helping hand should have been extended well before now.