Underwater pp 173-188 | Cite as

Advice from an Economist

Rob Wassmer
  • Chris Lauer


Dr. Rob Wassmer is chairperson and professor in the Department of Public Policy and Administration at California State University, Sacramento (Sacramento State). Professor Wassmer is also the Director of Sacramento State’s Master’s Program in Urban Land Development. In addition, he teaches courses in applied microeconomics and public policy, urban economics and public policy; benefit/cost analysis; regression analysis; and state and local public finance.


Real Estate Information Asymmetry Home Ownership Real Estate Market Credit Score 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

Dr. Rob Wassmer is chairperson and professor in the Department of Public Policy and Administration at California State University, Sacramento (Sacramento State). Professor Wassmer is also the Director of Sacramento State’s Master’s Program in Urban Land Development. In addition, he teaches courses in applied microeconomics and public policy, urban economics and public policy; benefit/cost analysis; regression analysis; and state and local public finance.1

As an economist, Wassmer said that there are many things that people with underwater mortgages should consider when they look at the state of their finances. For example, if you are you are looking at a mortgage that is $50,000 under water, try to stay focused on the big picture. One way to do that is to stop worrying so much about your “sunk costs” as you try to get a grip on your real estate situation.

Ignore Sunk Costs

What is a sunk cost? This is a cost that has already been incurred by a homeowner and can no longer be recovered. This is something for which has been paid in the past. It will never come back. Said Wassmer:

You paid a quarter-million dollars for this home, and now it’s only worth $200,000. And now you are lamenting that $50,000 that you paid. That’s a sunk cost. Economists and businesspeople say you need to ignore those. You’re looking to the future. . . . Some people will say, ‘Well, I’ve got this quarter-million-dollar asset, and I’m going to have to stay here, and if I just wait long enough, I think it’s going to come back.’ I think that’s not the attitude to have. You have to take the realistic expectation in regard to what the property is worth now and what the appreciation is going to be over time.

Here are three questions Wassmer said homeowners should ask to get an economist’s perspective of their underwater home:
  1. 1.

    How many years do you have to stay to get back to that quarter-million dollars?

  2. 2.

    Are you going to be there that long?

  3. 3.

    What are your other options?


I think . . . you have to explore some of these federal or state programs that are available that a lot that people still don’t know about. . . . I think before you talk to your bank about renegotiating your mortgage, explore those [programs] and see what’s available and see what your legal options are. And then I think you’ve really got to go and talk to your bank. Talk to a real person about what the options are and do not be afraid to talk about maybe renegotiating the terms of your mortgage.


Don’t be afraid. Fear can force people to make irrational decisions. Think clearly and calmly about your next steps. Talk to people you can trust who have experience in this area. You are not the first person to go through this process. Get some professional people on your side and explore your options rationally and calmly. Take time, but work to make steady progress.


Many urban areas have organizations that offer homeowners who are facing mortgage delinquency free default counseling and foreclosure prevention and intervention counseling. They can also help homeowners identify and avoid predatory lending practices and mortgage refinancing scams. Professionally trained housing counselors at these agencies often conduct free group or individual counseling sessions on many of the concerns faced by homeowners including mortgage foreclosure prevention, rights and responsibilities of homeowners, and financial assistance programs.

For example, in Philadelphia, the city’s Office of Housing and Community Development offers a page on its web site that lists more than 25 housing counseling agencies that are available to homeowners. Some of these agencies have eligibility requirements.2

The best way to find an agency in your area is to do an online search for free housing counseling agencies in or near your closest city. Another place to start is your local office of community development.

You can also get advice on housing issues by calling U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s interactive voice system at (800) 569-4287 and asking about housing counseling agencies in your region.3

These programs are usually free and services are often available in a number of language options.

Ethical Considerations Will Arise

A decision to abandon a property or pursue a short sale will not be based on financial considerations alone.

Economist Rob Wassmer reminded homeowners that there are some deeper implications to abandoning a mortgage. “There’s kind of an ethical issue here,” he said. “You’ve made a commitment to this property: Do you walk away from it?” Looking at the issue from an ethical perspective, many homeowners will want to balance their own actions with the allegedly unethical practices of predatory lenders and other agents who sold people homes they could not afford. If these issues bog you down, a good lawyer can tell you whether there are legal implications that ride along with your ethical decisions.

“A lot of people are walking away from their homes even if they can afford to make their mortgage payments,” Wassmer said. “They stop making them because it would cut back too much on the rest of their lifestyle.” There’s a trade-off, of course. Your credit score will often become too low to purchase another home for 5 to 7 years. When you think like an economist, however, you can look into the future and see the light at the end of the credit score tunnel. “After the 5 or 7 years, it [the score] comes back,” Wassmer pointed out.

The real ethical issues that can have deeper legal ramifications arise when the owner of an underwater home continues to live in the house after it has been foreclosed and does not take care of the home. “They take appliances out or take fixtures out and destroy the house. That’s really a double whammy” and is unethical behavior.

Some people might say that a person who lives in a house for years while it is going through the foreclosure process is unethical, but this choice may be mitigated by the homes’ occupants remaining responsible stewards of that property. This might be seen as an ethical decision that actually benefits the lender who will eventually take ownership of the property.


Be a good homeowner. Even if you continue to live in a foreclosed home, keeping the house in good shape for the next owner will be seen as a better sign of “good faith” than creating thousands of dollars of repairs for the next owner.

Rob Wassmer said he believes states should create policies that promote more responsible home stewardship. Why? “Because you [are] really taking care of it for the bank so they can find another owner for it.”

He added:

That’s kind of what a short sale does at the same time too, right? Both parties realize that the mortgage is too high for what it’s worth now, and we’re going to try to sell it at a lower rate. It’s advantageous to both sides if you let the person live in there until the short sale can occur. Banks have to become realistic about what it’s worth, too.

Do Not Cheat the System

Wassmer said he also believes that homeowners should not be able to cheat the system when they get a break from their mortgage debts from government programs that help people with underwater mortgages.

He explained:

When a homeowner who owes $250,000 on a mortgage for a house that is currently appraised to be worth only $200,000, what you really need to do is renegotiate the terms of the loan and bring it down to $200,000 or $225,000. If the bank does that, or the government has some program that subsidizes the doing of that, I don’t think the homeowner then should be able to take advantage of that, say if the property goes up to $275,000 while the homeowner is still living there. If they only had it for $225,000, that $50,000 should go back to the government or go back to the bank who negotiated that lower mortgage.

Why is it often so difficult for many homeowners to get loan modifications? Wassmer said it’s probably because lenders are not making these kinds of arrangements—getting more money back from the borrower if the value of the home goes up when it is sold. “The banks are taking the hit of cutting back on the payments they are receiving, but then the homeowner’s going to get the equity back,” Wassmer said. More loan modifications might get done if the banks reduced the principal but regained some of it if the property is ultimately sold for more than it was worth at the renegotiation.


Many borrowers are skipping their mortgage payments even though they’re able to pay the bills. This is a phenomenon commonly known as “strategic default.” So said a July 2009 study titled “Moral and Social Constraints to Strategic Default on Mortgages” by Luigi Guiso from the European University Institute, Paola Sapienza from Northwestern University, and Luigi Zingales from the University of Chicago.4

According to their report, 26 percent of the defaults at that time were strategic. The researchers also found that homeowners did not choose the option of strategic default if their equity shortfall was less than 10 percent of the value of the house.

On the other hand, the researchers reported that 17 percent of the households they studied said they would default, even if they could afford to make their mortgage payments, when the equity shortfall reached 50 percent of the value of their house. (In other words, if their LTV was 150 percent or higher.)

Why would they do this? Many homeowners cited relocation costs as the primary reason they would choose to default strategically. The next most popular reasons were “moral and social considerations.” The researchers explained that “people who consider it immoral to default are 77 percent less likely to declare their intention to do so, while people who know someone who defaulted are 82 percent more likely to declare their intention to do so.”

The researchers concluded:

That moral attitudes toward default do not change with the percentage of foreclosures in the area suggests that the correlation between willingness to default and percentage of foreclosures is likely to derive from a contagion effect that reduces the social stigma associated with default as defaults become more common.

Ask: How Much Am I Under Water?

The real question that many people need to answer to decide their next step is, How much am I under water? Again, going online to determine your LTV can easily provide you with that answer:


Then, look around and see how much your area is rising out of the real estate doldrums, if at all. If it is recovering, figure out how fast it is rising: 1 percent each year? 5 percent each year? 10 percent? Talk to real estate agents in your area. How much are home prices rebounding in your neighborhood? Are they going up or staying flat? Knowing the numbers can help you figure out how long you will need to wait before seeing some real equity in your home.


Hold tight. Although your largest financial investment is under water, hang on! If you are 10 percent or less under water, hanging on through these tough economic times for the real estate market may pay off in the long run. Take a long-term perspective and start enjoying your investment for what it really offers you: a place to live happily and comfortably. When the real estate market rises back up, “all boats rise with the tide,” and you will see your equity rise with it. Spend more time enjoying your investment than fretting over the money it entails. Help is on the way, although it may still be a few years away from gathering the strength to rebound completely.

“It’s just a matter of magnitude—how much are they under water?” Wassmer asked. Much of the economy is slowly recovering from the recent deep economic downturn. “Actually, the recession is over,” he pointed out, “so we just have to plan economic growth after that—it’s different over different metropolitan areas. So I think if you are in a $250,000 home, if you are $50,000 under water in California as compared to North Carolina, you have to look and see where the projections are for home values. I think in California it is more flat than in a place like North Carolina, where they are coming back.”

There are several crucial questions that Wassmer said homeowners should ask themselves once they have looked at their local market and the speed at which home prices will likely rise:
  • How long will it take to recoup the value until it goes back to where I am above water on my home?

  • How long do I plan on staying here?

He added, “And then you just work out some type of rational calculation in regard to whether you should [sell] it or not.” This calculation should also include the following questions:
  • How will a short sale, deed in lieu of foreclosure, foreclosure, strategic default, or bankruptcy affect my credit score? Strategic default means choosing not to pay your mortgage even if you could, perhaps choosing to continue to live in the home for several years before foreclosure or eviction. Deed in lieu is making a nicer exchange with the bank instead of foreclosing. This will also help you avoid an auction or public sale, and hopefully soften the impact on your credit score.

  • Do I want to take that risk? This is an important personal choice. This answer will depend on what you can rationally, ethically, emotionally, and financially handle. Once again, research will help you learn which way the wind is blowing in your area when figuring out how much risk is involved. Searching values of local homes is a great place to start looking for real numbers.

One place you can go online to determine the state of the real estate market in your area is the commercial web site for RealtyTrac: www.realtytrac.com/trendcenter/

Other organizations regularly offer their projections for the next year for the nation or specific areas. An online search, and some free help from a local realtor or stockbroker, can help you get a better grip on your market’s outlook.

Projecting Future Home Values

What kinds of projections should you seek? As Wassmer said:

How much have property values, median home values changed from 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010? Then, just look for a trend and where it’s going. There are people out there who are even prognosticating, using those numbers and looking at basic economic fundamentals in that area. Is that going to continue or not? I think you can just do a linear trend yourself, and go back and look over the last 5 years, what’s been happening. Then you can try to find some experts who are making some predictions. I think Google searches can give you that stuff pretty easily.


Google search your future. Although nobody can perfectly predict the future of the housing market, a solid Internet search can reveal many facts, figures, and expert opinions that can tell you if your local real estate market is on a solid rebound, is flattening, or is even going downward. Try entering “Real Estate Market Trends + [your zip code].” Use this information to learn whether you have time to wait for your underwater property to recover, or if the waiting game will simply take too long for you to see any equity in your home in the time you plan to live there. Chart the trends yourself, or look for the work of others. These simple graphs can tell you approximately where your equity may be several years down the road.

Why Did Economists Fail toSound the Alarm Before theReal Estate Bubble Burst?

Economist Rob Wassmer said he saw the bubble growing in Sacramento as home prices grew steadily for years. “I remember Sacramento was a real boom metropolitan area where the median home value had risen close to $300,000, close to $400,000, and the median income was only $70,000 or $80,000.” People were wondering how that could continue.

“In hindsight people recognize it, but I think it’s 20/20 [hindsight], as they say,” Wassmer explained. He added that many people who should have noticed the impending crisis did not recognize it for the catastrophe it would become. “There were a few people out there, they were saying this wasn’t sustainable, but others were not, including Greenspan, the chairman of the Federal Reserve. He’s been quoted as saying that he didn’t see this coming at all.”

A Perfect Storm

Nonetheless, most experts missed the convergence of economic forces that forced the real estate market into crisis mode in record time. Wassmer added, “It was kind of the perfect storm in many ways, with things coming together.”

On the brighter side, one positive thing that came out of the collapse of the real estate market is that it opened the eyes of individual investors about the risks involved in real estate investing. Banking on your home is not a sure thing. Wassmer agreed: “I think people are more aware of this reality now, and perhaps they even erred more on the other side, thinking that this is the new norm, where there is going to be flat housing growth.”

Where does the real estate market stand now? Wassmer said it is not simply a wildly growing bubble, nor is it a flat line with no growth potential. He explained, “I think it’s probably somewhere in between the two.”

What should an individual homeowner do? He added, “I don’t think it’s good advice to never buy a home, but depending upon your situation and where you live, it might be wise to sit it out for a while.”


Seriously consider whether to buy. Things to consider include the stability of the local job market, whether house prices are going up or down, and whether renting may be a better option. Get as much advice as possible from professionals in your area before jumping into any real estate market.

Irrational Exuberance Vs. Irrational Pessimism

Before the bubble burst, irrational exuberance clouded the judgment of many professionals, including economists and real estate experts around the country. Today, Wassmer said there is another problem that has a detrimental effect on the market:

Irrational pessimism [is a problem], at this point. That is what’s keeping the economy back. Businesses have a lot of money that they are sitting on. Individuals have a lot of money they are sitting on. In fact, a lot of private investors are putting money back into homes, and buying these foreclosed or short sale homes, which isn’t really doing a lot for the economy, in regard to building new ones.

One thing to remember when listening to any expert in any market is that they often simplify concepts to make them easier for the average person to understand. Wassmer said that economists make errors of judgment just like everyone else, so it was not surprising that most of them missed predicting the collapse of the real estate market in 2006 and 2007. “Nobody really has a crystal ball and can gaze into the future, but economists always err on the side of being too pessimistic or too optimistic.” Wassmer explained. He added that it is easy to make firm statements about the past, but very difficult to guess what is coming next, especially when it involves the real estate market, which is influenced by so many variables. “You never can really predict where it turns,” he added.


Don’t believe the hype. Scrutinize expert opinions. People like to get excited, even when very little is happening. Use your own power of reason to decide what is the truth and what is hyperbole. And if it sounds too good, it probably is.

Today, the real estate market is in the middle of a fundamental rebalancing act. Some will say it is going better than predicted, others will say it is stagnating worse:

Many people have been hit pretty hard. The home is the typical American major source of wealth. If the equity in your home is being preserved or it’s growing, you’re going to feel more confident to go out and buy a car or to buy appliances or even to buy a second home and take vacations. Americans can borrow against their equity to do those types of things. And with the housing market flat, I think that people aren’t doing that anymore.

Wassmer said that this was the cause of the Great Recession and continues to be the reason people continue to be afraid of spending their money in the same ways they did in the past. “There’s kind of a doom that sits over us from the severe downturn,” he added, and this continues to influence what people choose to do with their homes.

A cost–benefit analysis can help anyone make a better decision. Wassmer said the way he does this goes back to an idea he attributes to Benjamin Franklin: “You take a piece of paper and you draw a line down the middle of it. On one side you write down the costs of staying in this home. And then on the other side of the piece of paper you write down the benefits.” Some of the items are tangible costs and benefits in regard to mortgages, for example, how long it would take for the house to get above water. Some are intangible, for example, how you feel about having this bankruptcy on your record forever. I think people just have to do that kind of mental calculation . . . and then make a decision.”

A simple diagram like this is a great place to start. If your informal calculations leave you with two perfectly balanced sides that do not help you make your decision, move on to more formal mathematical calculations to really flesh out the finer points of your decision. In addition, an accountant’s opinion will also add some weight and realism to your calculations. A real estate agent can also help you look at your options more realistically by describing your local housing market.


Weigh the pros and cons. Look at both sides carefully before you choose the option that is right for you. Sleep on your decision before you act on it. Be sure of your decision because you will have to live with it for the rest of your life. Once you have made your choice, take action. Move on to the next phase of your life.

Ethical Dilemmas: Part Two

One thing that will also play into your decision about whether to stay or go will include the ethics of the choice. This is the most personal part of the decision and will require you to take a look at your own moral compass, especially if you decide to walk away from the home to which you made a commitment.

While looking for direction, many underwater homeowners sense they are at a disadvantage to their lenders: and they are. Economists and other experts point out that markets favor the most knowledgeable. Banks have vast experience from years of daily transactions. A homeowner often has only one or two experiences from which to learn about selling or buying a home. This “information asymmetry” is naturally advantageous to lenders. Many people were sold homes they really could not afford by lenders who capitalized on that imbalance. It is the same imbalance that people feel when they must decide whether to fall behind on payments, live in a home while making no payments, or abandon a cherished home. Wassmer said:

Some people maybe shouldn’t feel so bad about [what they do] because of information asymmetry. They were kind of hoodwinked. They weren’t given all the information. And we’ve moved into a different state of the world too. Even if they were given all the information, people still expected homes to appreciate 2 or 5 percent each year instead of all of a sudden dropping the 10 or 20 percent they did in a couple of years.


At the end of July 2012, Reuters reported that the latest numbers showed that there have been about 3.7 million foreclosures in the United States since the financial crisis started in September 2008.

CoreLogic’s latest numbers showed that about 1.4 million homes, or 3.4 percent of homes with mortgages, were involved in the foreclosure process in June 2012. That number was lower than the 1.5 million homes, or 3.5 percent of the U.S. market, in June 2011. The number was about the same as the number of foreclosures in May 2012.5

Are we there yet? Has the real estate market completely tanked? That would probably depend on housing prices more than the latest foreclosure report.

According to a recent report on CNNMoney, “Zillow estimates that home values nationwide will fall another 3.7 percent by the end of 2012, and that price will likely bottom out by early 2013.”6

Moral Obligations and Ethical Decisions

In other words, before your guilt pushes you into making a bad decision because you feel it is unethical to default on your mortgage, seriously consider the actions of others that led to your current situation. The playing field was changed mid-game, and promises made on the part of lawmakers (from both parties), lenders, real estate agents, ratings agencies, home appraisers, and many others were not kept. In addition, sometimes the rules of the market were changed without homeowners knowing it until it was too late to recoup their lost equity. Yes, there are ethical questions to ask yourself regarding your decisions to get out of your underwater home, but there are many factors to consider beyond the simplicity of a broken mortgage contract. Is there a moral problem when a homeowner seeks to get out of a contract that was signed while being deceived by predatory organizations? That is something you’ll need to decide for yourself.


Make your own decision. Ethics are personal. Only you know what is right or wrong for yourself. If there is an ethical choice, it is up to you to decide. If there are legal decisions to make, hire an attorney to help you get through it.

Are More Regulations the Answer?

Wassmer said he believes that the lesson for the future that should be learned from the real estate market crisis is to work to equalize the information asymmetry by providing borrowers with more information with which to make real estate decisions: “Let’s try to get away from as much of that deception as possible—and that’s where you get much greater regulation in regard to mortgages.”

Disappointingly, Wassmer explained, most of the regulations that were proposed to protect consumers from the lending practices that led to the real estate bubble bursting several years ago have been “watered down.” As a result, communities continue to lose the local connections that once made them strong. He added that:

We’re going back to the same type of situation we had before, because there’s money to be made in granting those mortgages and then selling them off someplace else. The bank itself doesn’t even hold onto it anymore. That was part of the issue in the past: A community would lend mortgages, would lend them money for homeownership, but then hold on to those mortgages, and they were much more careful in the mortgages that they gave.

Today, mortgages are often bundled up into a portfolio shortly after they are signed and sold to “some foreign investor,” Wassmer said. “And if things go bad, don’t even worry about it.” Anyone who has taken out a loan recently should expect that mortgage to change hands almost immediately once it is signed. Banks usually make this clear from the beginning, as the practice is now commonplace.

How should lawmakers fix the system so another real estate bubble does not expand too far and burst? Wassmer said regulators should help to level the playing field by giving consumers the information they need to make rational choices. He explained:

As an economist and a strong believer in the market, markets can fail, especially when you have this information asymmetry. . . . I think that’s where we need to move in terms of reform—getting it all out there, and even having mandatory counseling sessions for somebody who’s right on the margin. Even if they say, “I want to do this,” lay it out to them very carefully, and get them to sign a piece of paper that [says], “I’ve heard all this and I understand it.”

He explained that this kind of policy change would indicate people could then be held responsible for the decisions they make when choosing to default on their mortgages.


(for lenders)Create greater transparency. This would help borrowers make more informed decisions about their real estate investments. Mandatory mortgage counseling is an idea with many advocates.


As part of its continuing effort to help families find decent housing and to prevent future foreclosures, in March 2012 HUD announced more than $42 million in housing counseling grants to 468 national, regional, and local organizations. As a result of this funding, HUD reported, “hundreds of thousands of households will have a greater opportunity to find housing or keep their current homes.”

More than $36 million in grant funds have directly supported the housing counseling services provided by 27 national and regional organizations, 6 multistate organizations, 16 State Housing Finance Agencies (SHFAs), and 419 local housing counseling agencies.

In addition, HUD awarded $2 million to 3 national organizations to train counselors and receive the certification necessary to effectively assist families with their housing needs. Counseling agencies will also receive $4 million to help seniors who seek reverse mortgages.7

A list of the organizations that received the funding can be found at: portal.hud.gov/hudportal/documents/huddoc?id=2012HCAwardslist.pdf

Are Homeowners Better Citizens?

Some people believe that home ownership is overrated in the United States. Wassmer pointed out, “I think there is a wakeup call now that home ownership is not all that great financially. And I don’t think that the evidence is all that strong that it really transforms a person either. That’s really kind of shaky evidence.”

Denise DiPasquale of the University of Chicago and Edward L. Glaeser of Harvard University wrote a paper on that very topic: “Incentives and Social Capital: Are Homeowners Better Citizens?” After studying information they found in the U.S. General Social Survey, they attempted to measure the effects of home ownership on citizenship and community. In their conclusion, they wrote, “In the U.S., it appears that a significant fraction of the effect of homeownership occurs because homeownership is associated with longer community tenure.” But, they added, “While it is likely that homeownership generates positive externalities, we have no measure of the size of these externalities. . . . Promoting homeownership also limits mobility, which may impose costs that far exceed any benefits from better citizenship.”8

“A Spurious Correlation”

Wassmer added that simply owning a home does not necessarily equate with being a better person. “It’s kind of a spurious correlation.”

Likewise, offering home ownership to people who cannot afford it can have some very serious consequences. “You can really destroy their lives in many ways,” Wassmer said, “and even destroy the lives of their children.” For example, many children may feel terrible shame when facing friends and neighbors after they are forced to move out of a home their parents could not afford.

Although it seems that everyone on television and the Internet makes it a point to connect home ownership with all of the great things that are part of the American dream, it is important to look beneath the surface when searching for the truth behind the façade. When comparing the benefits of home ownership to the benefits of renting, don’t forget where all of the propaganda about the joys of home ownership originated. Ask yourself who is paying the bill for all of those advertisements and reports. Wassmer explained, “There is a huge effort to show this correlation between home ownership and all these good things, and most of the research is supported, directly or indirectly, by the real estate industry.”


Follow the money. When you worry that renting is going to be a blow to your dreams of homeownership, remember who paid to keep those dreams at the forefront of your mind throughout your life. Before you take any advice from anyone, ask yourself, “Will this person benefit financially from my choice?” If so, keep that bias in mind if you follow that advice.

Likewise, when making any lifelong decision, look at the connections that are not apparent at first glance. Ask yourself:
  • What is the truth?

  • What is just advertising?

  • What are the long-term repercussions of this decision?

  • Why am I choosing this option over another?

  • What will make me happy and secure?

  • Who do I trust?

  • What is the best option for me and my family?

  • Have I completely thought out this decision?

Answering such questions will not just help you make a decision; it can give you peace of mind. It may also help you realize that renting a home often makes much more sense than owning one.

Put Aside Cynicism of the Government

The Pew Research Center for the People & the Press’s 2011 Political Typology study recently found that a majority (55 percent) of Americans say that government is almost always wasteful and inefficient (compared with 39 percent who think that government often does a better job than people give it credit for).9 Although the majority of people are somewhat cynical about the role of government in their lives, when a person is under water, it might be time to put away that negative attitude, use some of those tax dollars in action, and seek some help from the agencies that are available. Some are government sponsored, others are community based. Either way, get some help.

“I think people are cynical about government,” Wassmer said, but he said that if a homeowner is looking for real estate advice, federal or state programs can be very helpful for people who are under water. “Their vested interests really are not with the real estate industry. Talk to [government agencies] and get some advice beginning there. Even before you go to your bank, look at your options there.”

Like many federal and state programs, those intended to help underwater homeowners are often underutilized. Wassmer added, “Feds have put a bunch of money into those and made options available for a certain number of homeowners, and [the programs] weren’t even being taken advantage of.” States also have underutilized programs, so make contact with them and learn what services are available.


Search out free resources. Too many programs go unused when they could offer many people some help when they need it most. Go online and search for a program near you. If you don’t qualify for the one you find, ask if there would be a better program for you and your situation. Stay online or on the phone until you find somebody who can truly help you. Remember that a Google search is free.

Finally, if you feel that there are not enough people out there to help people like you who are under water, use your power as a citizen and a taxpayer and demand a change in the system. Call your local congressperson or senator. Demand that more of your tax dollars go out to help people in your type of situation.

Wassmer agreed: “If you can’t get in touch with those federal people or there are not enough free programs, you may even use the political process to call for more of that.”


Whereas Dr. Rob Wassmer teaches his students at California State University how to prepare for the future of public policy and urban land development, others are gathering the numbers economists can use when analyzing the current and future real estate situation. One of those economists is Mark Fleming.

Fleming works for an organization that specializes in helping people in the real estate business understand the latest numbers from the market. CoreLogic is world famous for getting to the bottom of the real estate trends that are shaping the nation and the world. In the next chapter, Fleming helps underwater homeowners analyze the latest numbers to learn where they stand now so they can make decisions about the future.


  1. 1.

    All quotes from Rob Wassmer were collected during a personal interview in July 2012.

  2. 2.

    www.phila.gov/ohcd/cslgagencies.htm (Retrieved July 30, 2012).

  3. 3.

    http://portal.hud.gov/hudportal/HUD?src=/i_want_to/talk_to_a_housing_counselor (Retrieved July 30, 2012).

  4. 4.
  5. 5.
  6. 6.
  7. 7.
  8. 8.
  9. 9.

    http://pewresearch.org/databank/dailynumber/?NumberID=1337 (Retrieved August 2, 2012).

Copyright information

© Chris Lauer 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Chris Lauer
    • 1
  1. 1.DEUS

Personalised recommendations