Mortgage crisis affects home equity lines

April 3, 2008 12:00:00 AM PDT
We've been hearing a lot about the mortgage crisis but there is a little known side effect that's changing a lot of lives.

The Bay Area isn't used to seeing home values go down, but that's what's happening.

Now it's affecting a whole new group of consumers -- people who aren't even buying or selling a house. Two Bay Area families came to me saying they never thought it would happen to them.

The wedding of Ken and Charlotte Weissenborn daughter everything came off perfectly.

You'd never know they had a near disaster the day before.

"I just literally went into a panic mode," said Charlotte Weissenborn of Fremont.

And that panic was related to -- of all things -- the nationwide housing slump.

Here's why: the day before the wedding, the Weissenborns checked the balance on their home equity line of credit. They were shocked to find it had been reduced by $15,000 dollars.

"I was down to zero. I was literally down to zero," said Charlotte Weissenborn.

Now they had no money to pay for two of the most important things in the wedding -- the flowers and the food.

"It was like, oh no! We have this wedding it was like Friday morning that I called and the wedding was on Saturday," said Charlotte Weissenborn.

Just down the road, David Lawrence of Santa Clara was going through a similar panic.

"I said this can't be true, I mean I'm a good client. I have a good credit rating," said David Lawrence of Santa Clara.

National City Bank of Ohio had just revoked his entire $100,000 line of credit.

"I said oh this is a mistake a crossing of the wires. So I called National City they said no this isn't a mistake," said Lawrence.

So, what's going on?

It's the latest ripple effect of the housing crisis. Plummeting home values means less equity in your homes and less available spending money.

"The value of homes has gone down so much that lenders are not as eager to extend home equity lines of credit," said Dan Parrish from the Consumer Credit Counseling Services of San Francisco.

That's Dan Parrish of Consumer Credit Counseling Services. He says consumers have been tapping into home equity for years to pay for things like weddings and college tuition.

Now those easy loans are harder to come by.

"The value of their property has gone down so much that there's nothing to borrow on," said Parrish.

Average Bay Area home prices dropped 11 point six percent in the past year. The hardest hit counties were Alameda, Contra Costa, Solano and Sonoma.

Sure enough, Washington Mutual told the Weissenborns their credit line went down because the value of their Fremont home went down.

David's bank said he had one late payment so his entire credit line was revoked.

Certified public accountant Sandy Collins says it shows lenders are skittish.

"Banks are still being very cautious about lending, so people aren't used to it. People don't know how to act," said certified public accountant Sandy Collins.

It sure did surprise ken and charlotte. They've lived here 33 years, never missed a payment, watched home values climb and now they just want to warn others.

"These are changing economic times and people have to know," said Ken Weissenborn.

David says his bank overreacted.

"You can understand their policies but you can't' understand their panic. There is a panic," said David Lawrence.

"There's often been things that have come up in our lives that we've thought maybe we should call Michael Finney," said Ken Weissenborn.

So we talked to the banks. Washington Mutual said: "it has increased efforts to reduce select credit lines as a result of declining home values.''

National City said: "it will continue looking at market conditions to make appropriate decisions on lending."

David did find a new lender, and the Weissenborns did find money for the caterers. But Charlotte had to skip some pre-wedding festivities.

"I missed the manicure that everybody was having and I missed the pedicure because I was on the phone," said Lawrence

"At least I didn't miss the wedding you know?" said Ken Weissenborn.

So it's a heads up if you have a home equity line of credit, there's probably a clause allowing the bank to automatically reduce your credit line if your home value drops.


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