Do flippers deserve a helping hand?

A new housing development in Upper Marlboro, Md.


Tess Vigeland: So everyone from consumer advocates to members of Congress and now President Bush want to extend a helping hand to homeowners on the verge of defaulting. But a new study from the Mortgage Bankers Association suggests some of those borrowers might not be so deserving of that help.

It turns out house flippers and real-estate speculators may be driving a huge share of the nation's mortgage woes. Marketplace's Sam Eaton has that story.

Sam Eaton: Investors that drove much of the double-digit gains in some of nation's hottest real-estate markets are now dragging those same markets down.

The Mortgage Bankers Association reports that as many as a third of the defaulted loans in places like Nevada, Arizona and Florida belong not to homeowners, but to speculators.

Nicolas Retsinas directs the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies. He says it's a case where too many people bet on the market — and lost.

Nicolas Retsinas: They very commonly got adjustable-rate mortgages because they only intended to hold the property for a little while. So as the market turned — and turned so dramatically — it's not a surprise that investors are caught at the turn.

The Mortgage Bankers Association says many of those investors are simply walking away. Some put down as little as two to three percent on their properties. But the number of defaulting investors still pales against the ranks of homeowners in trouble.

Retsinas says more than a million people are on the verge of losing their homes. And he says that's who should be singled out for help.

In Los Angeles, I'm Sam Eaton for Marketplace.

About the author

Sam Eaton is an independent radio and television journalist. His reporting on complex environmental issues from climate change to population growth has taken him all over the United States and the world.


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