The other night, over dinner with another couple, the topic of foreclosures came up. Specifically, the latest trend: that people who are underwater but not in financial distress are walking away from their homes.
I had just had a conversation about this that morning. A trusted spiritual adviser confessed he didn’t get it. How people could sign a contract, then decide not to live up to it. People were fickle, he concluded. When things were good, everyone jumped on the bandwagon. But when things went south, they jumped ship and tried to distance themselves from commitments they made. I had agreed wholeheartedly.
That exchange was still fresh in my mind, so I said, “I know. I don’t get that.”
I was surprised when the husband of the other couple defended the practice. He called it “strategic foreclosure.” He asked with all the shenanigans the banks were getting away with, why I wouldn’t do it.
“Why would what the banks do have any bearing on my decision to pay my mortgage?” I asked.
Our friend went on to say that there are experts who advocate walking away as the smartest financial decision. The ding on a person’s credit wasn’t all that bad these days because there were so many people who had foreclosures, he said. He argued that the value of my own home was affected by what the banks did. He wanted me to feel as outraged as he did.
“Why should we feel bad about sticking it to the banks?” he wanted to know.
What I wanted to say is that dishonesty and manipulation work against my recovery. I wanted to tell him about the exercise with the folded paper. How if I put what someone had done to me on one side, and what I had done as a result on the other, then tore the paper in half and threw away the first side, what I would be left with is what I had done. I thought about the amends I would have to make.
I didn’t say this. From my experience, it doesn’t help to talk recovery to someone who doesn’t want what I have.
I agreed that what happened affected everyone, us included. But I pointed out that we paid a fair market price for our house and got a good rate on a 30-year fixed loan. No one took advantage of us. The market had changed, yes. And that sucked. But that was reality. I accepted that.
In truth, we’d like to sell our house and live up at the land. But that just wasn’t in the cards for us right now. I felt fortunate that we weren’t among those who need to sell.
My husband threw in the fact that people walking away from their mortgages would just make the situation worse for everyone.
The more we talked, the more agitated our friend got.
I shrugged and said it just wasn’t something we were going to do. My husband asked about dessert. With relief, we moved on to other topics.
A few days later I saw the wife. She was in bad humor. I asked what was wrong.
“I just have some decisions to make,” she said.
I said I was sorry and to let me know if there was anything I could do.
Eventually, it came out. She said that she and her husband had their house appraised and it was worth half of what they paid for it. I took from it that they were considering a “strategic foreclosure.”
“Why is that a problem for you?” I asked.
She looked at me as if I were crazy. “It will never be worth what I owe,” she said.
“Of course it will,” I said.
“Not as soon as people are saying,” she answered. “Not for years.”
I admitted that the situation sucked for people who had to sell their houses in this market, and I was grateful I wasn’t one of them.
“Are you planning to leave?” I asked.
She just looked at me glumly. I dropped it.
Then her phone rang. I heard her say that their massage therapist was coming over that night. She said they got in-home massages once a month, which cost them no more than they would pay for a dinner out and a nice bottle of wine.
Listening to her, I began feeling judgmental and self-righteous. And I realized that works against my recovery, every bit as much as dishonesty and manipulation.
So I decided to think about this couple differently. Instead, of judging them, I decided to view them with compassion. I decided to feel compassion for their distress they felt and for the consequences they may face for the choices that were theirs to make.
At the same time, I felt grateful that I have a program that teaches me to accept what is. That my husband and I can still afford to pay our mortgage and choose to do so. That we will not have to sustain a diminished credit rating or make an amends in the future. I felt grateful for a home I love, regardless of whether any appraiser sees the value in it or not.