Bay Area avoids mortgage meltdown despite pandemic

ByRandall Yip KGO logo
Thursday, September 2, 2021
High housing prices helping struggling homeowners
Concerns about mass evictions and foreclosures spiked almost as quickly as the virus did. Why most think we'll get out of the pandemic without a foreclosure crisis.

ROHNERT PARK, Calif. (KGO) -- Some good news on the home front. Concerns about mass evictions and foreclosures spiked almost as quickly as the virus did, but those fears have eased despite a common complaint about living in the Bay Area.

The high cost of housing ranks among the biggest complaints heard from Bay Area residents.

The median price of a home sold in July topped $1.3 million.

Ironically, those high housing prices may be a key reason why foreclosure filings here are declining.

Rick Sharga of Realty Trac says 70 percent of California homeowners have at least 20 percent equity.

That means many behind in their mortgage can take advantage of that equity by selling their home and paying off their mortgage.

"There's a ready and willing market for homeowners who unfortunately have to sell their homes. They're likely to leave with money in their pocket," he said.

Realty Trac found foreclosure filings fell 26% in July compared to the previous month in the Bay Area, and 8 percent from the year before when there were virtually no foreclosures.

"Those high prices actually become a benefit for homeowners who find themselves in financial distress," Sharga said.

Unfortunately for many homeowners, the monthly mortgage remains stressful.

Reginald Pearson lost his job as a plumber in September of last year. He's nearly depleted all his savings and doesn't know how he's going to pay his mortgage in the near future.

"We have a good mortgage payment. So we're kind of not totally stressed, but it's not comfortable at all," said Pearson.

Maeve Elise Brown of Housing and Economic Rights Advocates says her organization's housing program is getting lots of calls from homeowners worried about keeping up with their payments.

"We see an overrepresentation of African Americans and Latinos," said Brown.

A national foreclosure protection plan gave distressed homeowners a temporary payment holiday even as their debt grew.

Those payments could become due as soon as September 30th when that forbearance program is scheduled to end.

Pearson, who bought his new home right before being laid off, says he hasn't needed a forbearance so far, but wonders how much longer he can hold out.

"Best guess, October, November before things are going to happen. I'm gonna make some other moves," said Pearson.

Brown says it's possible the forbearance program could be extended as it has been numerous times already.

That would be welcomed news to many.

"So the people who were having a real hard time before forbearance rules appeared, are still having a horrendously difficult time," she said.

Brown agrees that we should be able to avert another mortgage meltdown. Pearson says he's confident he'll find a solution to his problem.

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