Missing details in NPR’s coverage of military families with underwater mortgages

In one of my first posts on this blog — Homebuyer tax credits: A post mortem — I wrote about a particular military couple that had bought a home at too high a price who are now underwater on their mortgage. Plus they’ve been transferred. They’re now renting the unit for less than their monthly note. If they tried to sell it, they’d be lucky to get $70,000 less than they paid.

Of course, for many military families, my post was mislabeled. Since the homebuyer tax credit for deployed soldiers was extended by a year, many could still get cash back — plus a 100% loan — until recently.

Since this is an issue I’ve been concerned about (even though I don’t think I’ve ever written about it so specifically), I was particularly interested to hear the report today on National Public Radio’s All Things Considered: Home-Buying Regrets: Two Military Families’ Sagas. A few details:

“Especially during this time of year, when we are in the peak moving season, military families call us in a panic talking about how they are not able to sell their homes, they have orders to move, and their house is underwater, and they just don’t know what they’re going to do,” says Katie Savant with the National Military Family Association, an advocacy group.

There aren’t solid numbers on exactly how many people have been affected. But for a time, the Department of Defense had a program to help military families who have to move in a down housing market. Some 10,000 homeowners applied for the program, which has cost about $1 billion. But it isn’t likely to be renewed, which means that for those moving now, there aren’t a lot of good choices.

“Big sigh. I mean, it’s to the point where we’re about to drown,” says Mindy Nichols. She and her husband are desperately trying to sell the townhouse they bought back in 2005 before he enlisted in the Army.

“We were a young family,” she says. “We didn’t want to live in a two-bedroom apartment, so we ended up buying a fairly humble home.”

The house is in Pennsylvania. She and her husband and their three daughters live in Fort Campbell, Ky. They’re actually about to move again. For a couple of years now, they’ve been paying the mortgage on that empty house in Pennsylvania. They just decided to let the house go into default, though they are still hoping to sell it.

The report is well worth a read — or a listen — but I’m disappointed by the obvious omissions:

  • There are no details about what the families in the piece actually paid. Did they put ANY money down? Have they paid down any principal or have they taken out home equity loans?
  • There is no mention of the yearlong extension of the tax credit for deployed soldiers. That tax credit no doubt seemed and still seems like a benefit for many of those purchases, but it no doubt drew many buyers into the market too early and at too high a price.
  • There is no mention of other programs to support military homebuyers, such as 100% loans through the V.A.

It’s a great human interest piece, but sadly lacking in details that would allow listeners to understand how various financial incentives actually made the problem worse.

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