Poll: Is it ethical for a home debtor to “walk away” from a mortgage?

Please vote in this poll using the sidebar.
Inspired by the ongoing discussion in the forum thread “My aunt walks away.”

Is it ethical for a home debtor to "walk away" from a mortgage?

  • Yes. (38%, 97 Votes)
  • No. (40%, 100 Votes)
  • Sometimes. (19%, 48 Votes)
  • Not Sure. (3%, 8 Votes)

Total Voters: 252

This poll will be active and displayed on the sidebar through 08.30.2008.

0.00 avg. rating (0% score) - 0 votes

About The Tim

Tim Ellis is the founder of Seattle Bubble. His background in engineering and computer / internet technology, a fondness of data-based analysis of problems, and an addiction to spreadsheets all influence his perspective on the Seattle-area real estate market. Tim also hosts the weekly improv comedy sci-fi podcast Dispatches from the Multiverse.


  1. 1
    uwp says:

    It might make the most sense, but I don’t think it’s ethical.

  2. 2
    b says:

    Its a contract and should be treated as such. If you want to break the terms and pay the penalty, go for it. I think its kind of silly to try and apply ‘ethics’ to breaking a contract via straight forward and legal means.

  3. 3
    Ray Pepper says:

    It absolutely IS. Until you live in others shoes don’t judge. Throughout my travels in Reno, Vegas, and California and seeing the foreclosures I offer the opinion that life is too short. They must move on. Attorneys advertise everywhere the proper way to foreclose and NOT short sale.

    Its is ruining families from the stress. I have visited hundreds of homes and talked many that owe 200k or more on a house that has depreciated 50%. They are advised to keep their mtg current, buy the exact same home up the street as a rental on paper, then when it closes to “walkaway” from their current mortage. Lawyers are protecting these walkaway Buyers and the Banks will be suffering these losses for years.

    It takes people a life time to make up for 200-400k. You should see the amount of small builders who try to sell. I visited one last week who had a giant sign in front of his home, his kids were selling lemonade in the garage, and he just said he bought the land at the wrong time and he is thinking of putting his mother in the 499k home. There are just NO buyers in that price range. His break even is 485k. He had it originally listed at 600k 9 months ago.

    I say again. Life is too short. Move-on. Maybe its from being an RN and knowing how caustic stress is on the body and valuing family and life far more then “things”.

    Ethical to move-on Yes. Ethical to buy as a rental only to leave the other home No. Until you MEET the real people and AND HEAR THEIR STORY do NOT judge!

  4. 4
    EconE says:

    Hard to say. Just as much as we are in “uncharted waters” economically, I believe that we are entering into a period that is uncharted with regards to ethics and morality.

    It’s a tough situation and a hard one to judge from our personal “ivory towers”.

    Perhaps we should attempt to understand what it is like to be in these people’s shoes.

  5. 5
    Civil Servant says:

    Was it ethical for McCain to first cheat on then dump his first wife when after her car crash she was not as thin or pretty as she had been and her ongoing health concerns were burdensome? Those who say yes to the homedebtor walkaway should say yes here too, acknowledging that for a lot of people, as situations change and become something they never anticipated when a contract was signed or a commitment made, so too does their idea of right and wrong. The walkaways I am most likely to judge are those who go so far in rationalizing their decision that they want to characterize it as the ethical high ground and suggest that they are righteously sticking it to The Man. You can’t have it both ways.

  6. 6
    Scotsman says:

    CC- apples and oranges on the McCain example. The marriage vows I took said “in sickness and in health.” He can do it, and admit it was wrong. But no one will ever suggest it was acceptable. But we all make mistakes, eh?

    A mortgage is a legal contract with the benefits and costs of all alternative spelled out for both parties. Walking away is acceptable as long as you’re willing to pay the price. Buying the rental, then walking away is probably legal, but skirts the intent of the contract , or so it seems to me.

    As walking away becomes more common, the standards will change with more and more people becoming accepting. But manipulating the system crosses over the line.

  7. 7
    DrShort says:

    No way is it ethical if you can still pay. Walking away just transfers your obligations to the rest of us. Our taxes will go up, our retirement funds will go down, and lots of us will be laid off from our jobs because of people walking away.

    It’s the definition of selfish.

  8. 8
    IMHO says:

    Not only is it ethical, it’s good public policy to allow people to breach contracts if it makes economic sense. That’s why liquidated damages are invalidated in contracts if they look like penalties. It’s called “efficient breach,” and it’s good for the economy.

  9. 9
    TJ_98370 says:

    How ethical is it for investment banks to sell MBS’s based on mark-to-model valuations, especially when same investment bankers know mark-to-model is flawed.
    The banks that process mortgages are big soul-less money making machines in which you, as a person, are just a risk evaluated statistic.

  10. 10
    Mariner22 says:

    Ethical is a relative term. I don’t think it is any more unethica to walk away from a mortgagel than:

    1) A company (i.e. General Motors) declaring bankruptcy to cancel previously negotiated labor contracts

    2) Airlines declaring bankruptcy to dump their pension obligations on the Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation

    3) Bank (i.e. WAMU) offerring above market rates for CDs knowing full well they may not be around long enough to pay them off

    What do ethics have to do with it? It is about survival. If you condemn homeowners for taking advantage of the system you must also argue against companies doing the same thing.

  11. 11
    Lamont says:

    A more apples-to-apples comparison would be walking away from a marriage after you discover your spouse has been cheating the whole time.

    Even if you’ve been telling your friend that their spouse was no good for them the whole time and they made a mistake which you could easily foresee, you’re not going to hold them ethically to their “until death do we part” vows.

    Similarly, a lot of us saw this disaster coming and knew all the mortgages were going to be bad news. That doesn’t mean that the people who took the bad mortgages are behaving unethically because they should have known better.

  12. 12
    davidb says:

    If they walk away from their mortgage their credit will be damaged and they likely won’t be able to buy a house again anytime in the near future. It’s simply a cost of doing business to the lender. The lenders need to do their own due diligence before lending to people who are high credit risks.

    I think we’re going to see more of this practice in the near term.

    I read a story that some people are securing new mortages in places like California at half the price of their existing ones and walking away from their mortgages.

  13. 13
    frede says:

    Walking away from a mortgage is as ethical as the mortgage was originally.

    If the mortgage was entered into because the realities of homedebting were miscommunicated or misrepresented, if the mortgage was approved due to unscrupulous home-selling practices, if the terms of the mortgage were predatory and bait-and-switch and dishonest, then.. the question of “is walking away ethical” isn’t complete without answering “was the mortgage ethical”. If the mortgage was unethical, walking away is ethical.

    If the social contract was on paper, these people would have free homes now, because the agents and brokers and banks all violated the social contract.

  14. 14

    If you buy a home with the intent of walking away from your mortgage, I’d call that unethical.
    But I think the vast majority of people who have walked away from their mortgages have done so out of desperation, and felt that they were doing what they had to do.
    I’m not sure that whether something is ethical or not comes to mind when you are faced with doing something out of desperation. If you’re hungry and can’t get a job, is it ethical to steal a loaf of bread from Wal-Mart? I think it’s a fair analogy. Neither Wal-Mart nor Countrywide are companies that many people feel compassion for.

  15. 15
    Eleua says:

    Damn straight! It is the bank’s problem. If they had done their DD and written the contracts in such a fashion that would have protected them, people wouldn’t be able to buy and bail with the ease that they now do.

    The contract stated that people can leave and give the house back. The banks wrote a “put” on the price of the house and now they pay for it.

    You ink it, you eat it.

  16. 16
    DrShort says:

    “It is the bank’s problem. ”

    No, it’s everyone’s problem. The vast majority of the cost of this situation will be picked up by you and me. The implications of a bad mortgage go far beyond just the lender. If you pay taxes, have any sort of investments, or have employment that is linked to the financial sector in any way, you will be hurt by people walking away.

  17. 17
    hzg says:

    Non recourse mortgages protect the borrower from a presumably more sophisticated lender. That is the intent of the arrangement. When sanity holds sway, the lender hedges risk by requiring a modest loan to value. It’s entirely the lenders responsibility to gauge the future market.

    It’s much like an option in stock trading. Too suggest that walking away is unethical is like suggesting that allowing a call option to expire is unethical….as if the call option buyer should honor the strike price even though they could buy the stock at a cheaper price on the open market upon expiry.

    Let the option expire…..walk away….same same.

    Of course it’s ethical, it’s part of the deal.

  18. 18
    Ben says:

    The deal you make with an asset backed loan is that you lose the asset if you stop making payments. Sometimes it works in the banks’ favor, sometimes it does not. I don’t see a moral issue here at all.

  19. 19

    As they say in sports: “its not personal, its business”…you need to look out for yourself because no one else is. If it makes sense to walk away for you, I have no problem with it.

  20. 20
    Harley Lever says:

    I think it is quite interesting to see the responses and especially from whom they are coming from… it says a lot and provides great insight into their ethics.

    No one forced a home owner to first seek and then buy a home. No one made them sign the mortgage documents. The terms and conditions are clearly written on a document. Even if the lender was shady, you still have an opportunity to read the documents and protect yourself. After all, home buying is the biggest purchase of your life you may want to scrutinize the document. These people are victims of their own actions and/or ignorance and nothing more.

    With the exception of health-related tragedies or other circumstances beyond a person’s control there are very few incidents where I can see it would be justifiable.

    Generally, there are no victims, just greedy people and/or poor decision makers. Regardless, if they walk away, they should be held fully accountable for their actions.

  21. 21
    hzg says:


    Next time you get a mortgage, strike out all of the non-recourse text and initial it.

    Replace it with “I’m good for it, no matter what”

    The lender won’t stop you.

  22. 22
    Ray Pepper says:

    ” I think we are going to see more of this practice in the near term”

    The understatement of the year. I actually must agree with Ben. Great statement. I will use that when talking with “sad” clients.

    “they wont be able to buy a house again in the near furture”

    Wrong ! I know 3 clients who already bought. Owner contract from seller. All in Nevada. These will become more and more popular in the near term.

  23. 23
    david losh says:

    Let me add that we are in very special times. There are thousands of people who own property today who were not ready or prepared. People thought if times got tough they could sell, if not for a profit, they would be able to get out.
    Lenders created loans where there was nothing to lend on. There was no income, or property value to support the loan. I think property value is getting a very close look. If the borrower defaults then the property should be able to sell for close to value, right?
    No, this is very much a lender created time we live in. They lent money as if there was no tomorrow. The lender made the loan. I realise it’s a hard concept, but I think the lender is the one who should be held to a higher standard.

  24. 24
    patient says:

    The “HOPE” advert that run on tv makes me sick to the stomach. The little girl playing with the doll house among the moving boxes when mom ask her to come since they have to foreclose. First because it highlights the totally innocent victims of the greed and carelessness from both buyers and bankers and secondly since it uses the child to make it look like they care about her. WRONG, they care about getting the money to the bank. It’s probably much better for the kid to move and be able to grow up in a financial sound home without the stress and hardship that comes with living beyong your means with a to big of a mortgage. Ethical to walk away, hell yeah! The bank determines the risk at time of purchase by assessing the home value and sets the terms for downpayment and evaluates credit worthyness. If it goes south they made a faulty judgement and needs to pay the piper.

  25. 25
    TheMightyQuinn says:

    It’s legal, but I don’t think it’s ethical.

  26. 26
    Harley Lever says:


    I think there is culpability on both sides. The idea that the home owners are the victims is absurd. Saying “I didn’t realize my ARM would reset at a higher rate” is a cop out. Many were trying to flip the house and got burnt. Too bad. People get wiped out on margin calls every day.

    At the end of the day greed got the best of both parties.

  27. 27
    Harley Lever says:


    You talk as if home buyers are mindless people who are being taken advantage of. They are greedy people who over leveraged themselves and got burnt. Their child would be best served by parents who lived within their means and made financially responsible decisions.

    The child could then learn “I am not going to be as stupid as mommy and daddy and enter into an agreement that has the potential to have us thrown out on the street”. Do you feel bad for gamblers in Vegas too?

  28. 28
    shane says:


    Don’t disagree with you at all. Lots of greed to go around in this mess. Still think it is ethical to walk away though. Regardless of how much emotion realtors try to throw into the transaction, it’s still just a business arrangement. If they stop making their payments they need to be held accountable, for that they lose their home and take a hit to their credit score.

    It’d also be nice if guys like you would take some responsibility for this mess. Years of denial from the people that Tim have been debating sure didn’t help. Personally I think it is far more unethical for all the industry insiders (realtors, brokers, house photographers, bankers, wall street, NAR “economists”) who had skin in the game to constantly go out of their way to avoid the obvious reality of what has been happening over the last several years.

  29. 29
    Alan says:

    No one forced a home owner to first seek and then buy a home. No one made them sign the mortgage documents.

    No one forced the banks to lend them the money.

  30. 30

    I agree with Harley that there is culpability on both sides. People need to take responsibility for their actions. But over the last few years there has been a level of fraud in the real estate industry unseen since the 1920’s.
    Agents were in collusion with lenders who were in collusion with appraisers.
    So, yes, the people buying houses should have been better educated and sought out more impartial information, but the agents and lenders were just sitting there like the wolf in grandma’s house waiting for Little Red Riding Hood to arrive.

  31. 31
    Ben says:

    I don’t know why people are feeling sorry for the banks. The banks should have lent people money in a way that made them not want to walk away from the house.

    If you make somebody put 20% of their own money down (not some wierd gifting crap either, out of their own pocket) then they are far less likely to walk away when times get tough. This percentage was found over history.

    Banks wanted to bet that they could lend people with a history of nonpayment (low credit) the money for a house without putting their own money down, and that this would make them money. This was obviously a bad bet.

    Like Alan said, nobody told the banks that they had to lend this money. They did not do it out of the good of their heart, they did it to try and make money.

    I should point out to folks that borrowing money from your parents / friends and borrowing from the bank are a very different affair. Walking away on your family or friends is not cool.

    Are we going to claim that it is not ethical to fast forward through commercials or negotiate discounts for cars as well?

  32. 32
    jonness says:

    I think it’s unethical, but no more unethical than what banks do to their customers. For instance, I once had Washington Mutual steal $300 from my checking account. I called up and threatened to sue them, and was told by one of their managers, “We’ve already worked this issue out ahead of time with our lawyers. You can’t win.” I was infuriated, and it wasn’t until I heard the Feds were thinking of investigating WaMu for fraudulent lending that the truth about the banking industry really sunk into me. Up until that point, I had been brainwashed to have a fuzzy, warm, little feeling about my bank.

    The television commercials make it out like banks are your friends, but what do you expect them to tell you, the truth? If that were the case, you would never deposit your money.

    If a bank can profit on it’s customers’ misfortunes, they’ll do it in a heartbeat. It’s not about ethical or unethical; it’s about which behaviors make the most profit. So why shouldn’t clients of banks wear the same brand of tennis shoes as the bank managers? It’s fair play. Neither side appears to have made wise decisions in the housing game, thus both sides should be, and are being, held accountable for their poor decisions. Whether Joe Schmoe or the bank happens to come out a little further ahead than the other is of complete non-consequence.

    If you were to wake up in the middle of the night and realize you were engaged in a life or death fight with the devil, would you fight ethically and fairly, or would you fight to stay alive? I don’t have a mortgage or home at risk, but I tell you, if I did, I’d fight to stay alive.

    On another note: I made an indicator that predicts foreclosure pressure in Washington vs. California. I’m not sure if its entirely useful yet:


  33. 33
    patient says:

    Harley, if you read my comment you would see that I said that both buyers and bankers are to blame for greed and carelessness. The innocent victims are the kids to to the buyers. That the value of the house ends-up below the mortgage is fully the responsibility of the lender to anticipate and not the buyer. With proper risk assessment including property appraisals baded on real value and unbiased market analysis and predictions coupled with good downpayments to hedge they wouldn’t be in this mess, period. Now they need to pay the piper as they should.

  34. 34
    Harley Lever says:


    I take complete responsibility for all of my actions, especially by paying my mortgage and not lying to myself or the bank about whether or not I can pay for my house.

    I also do this by not trying to live beyond my means.

    Lastly, I would never try to blame someone else for a position I put myself in. Conversely, I will never take responsibility for the actions of another thinking adult.

    Should I blame you for the obesity of other people because you like soft drinks even though the doctors tells everyone they are bad for you? You do not make the other person drink copious amounts of soft drinks even though you like to drink your one.

    It’s about time we as thinking and capable adults stand up and take responsibility for our actions. We are not victims.

  35. 35
    Harley Lever says:

    You said “That the value of the house ends-up below the mortgage is fully the responsibility of the lender to anticipate and not the buyer.”

    That is a complete cop out. What banks guarantees the future value of a house? House are appraised at current values. Does your financial adviser guarantee your stock investments? As an investor have you ever witnessed a market go up and down?


  36. 36

    Re: soft drinks and obesity..The last few years it’s been more like soft drink salesmen in doctor’s uniforms telling people that drinking soda was healthy.
    People could have dug a little and seen that the guy in the doctor’s uniform wasn’t a real doctor, and that the name ” Pepsi Cola, MD” did seem a little strange, but he was so sincere and so convincing.

  37. 37
    shane says:

    Your analogy is flawed. No one thinks soft drinks are good for you. The experts don’t preach on a daily basis how wonderful soft drinks are for you and to continue drinking them. There are not experts out there ridiculing people who question the sustainability of over indulging on soft drinks by calling them “doom and gloomers” or other such non sense names. The propaganda has been relentless during this decade. This rotten industry has been lying to the consumers in this country for too long, now we have to clean up a mess.

    These “homebuyers” absolutely made poor choices during the last few years. They should not be bailed out by any misguided government programs. They lose their house and move on. The home debtor has to deal with his consequences and the banks with theirs. Unfortunately it seems like the government wants to pander to both of them.

  38. 38
    Mike2 says:

    If there’s no recourse on the loan excpet taking a depreciated house and auctioning it off, the down payment should reflect this.

    Banks making low down payment loans in non-recourse states was pure speculation on their part.

  39. 39
    Harley Lever says:

    Yes Ira,

    And I see people touting Coral Calcium, Amway, Viagra, and Detox Foot Pads. In the end I pick up the phone, I order the product, and I give them my credit card number.

    Your conspiracy theory encompasses everyone from Alan Greenspan, to home builders, to banks, real estate agents, construction workers, Home Depot, appraisers, all of the media, and every investor in the mortgage backed securities. However the buyer is the victim… why not sue the home seller they are part of it too.

  40. 40
    Scotsman says:

    Harley, I tend to agree with you that we should all be responsible for our actions, But the reality is that in our current society some are more prepared for this level or responsibility than others. While you may understand the real estate market and some basic financial principles, not all do. The situation is akin to asking if you should be as responsible as your doctor when it comes to deciding the best treatment protocol for a specif type of cancer. Sure, you can read up on the subject, but it’s unlikely you’ll ever have the same level of understanding as your doctor. In the same way, many without education or specific knowledge have come to rely on the advice of Realtors, bankers, appraisers, etc. for honest, unbiased information about buying their home. Those involved on the selling side took advantage of their position and superior knowledge to profit in unethical ways. If such is the case, why should buyers be held responsible for a bad purchase decision any more than you should be held responsible for a bad cancer treatment plan?

  41. 41
    Eleua says:

    My point is that if the banks had been doing their homework, we would not be in this situation. They didn’t, so here we are.

    Yes, Skeletor is raiding the US Treasury to keep our rancid banks afloat, but the end game is already certain. The only things that are outstanding are:

    Who gets the bill.
    When they get the bill.
    How big the bill will be.

    I don’t feel like going through this, but for those that are interested, I went into this question in some detail on another blog. Believe it or not, I was asked to give my opinion on a “pro-real estate” blog.


  42. 42
    Harley Lever says:


    My analogy speaks more to easy credit. Who among us did not realize when you get a 2.9% option ARM that resets after two years you had a great risk of resetting at a higher rate and would likely need to refinance. Versus having a 30 year fixed mortgage.

    The issue is with people who tried to buy more house than they ever could afford with a fixed loan. Yes it is tempting to over indulge and buy a million dollar home because it only costs $3,000/month today. These people were betting they could sell the house for a profit and lost the bet.

    Let us not play dumb. At least have enough integrity to say I made a bet and lost rather than “I”M A VICTIM”.

  43. 43
    Scotsman says:

    Who gets the bill.
    When they get the bill.
    How big the bill will be.

    Isn’t that the truth. But can’t we just “fast forward” to get to the good parts?

  44. 44

    I’m not suggesting a grand conspiracy, or that all realtors and lenders and appraisers were all involved in a conspiracy to rook home buyers. but it’s a fact that there has been a vast increase in real estate related fraud in the last few years..Most appraisers will tell you that they’ve been pressured by lenders to arrive at certain values…BTW, I’ve got some coral calcium for sale. It even cures obesity caused by soft drinks.

  45. 45
    Harley Lever says:


    Everyone was doing great and loved the game for 3 – 6 years until they got burnt. Many people from home sellers to home flippers made tons of money. They were not victims until they got stuck.

    How many TV shows were dedicated to flipping houses, appraisals, and other real estate related shows. This was ingrained in our culture it was not a select few industry insiders. It was historically low rates with no money down. From a 30-year fixed perspective this was great for me. I bought my homes knowing full well I could easily pay for them. The greedy option ARM home buyers who over leveraged everything knew they were lying to the bank and tried to take advantage of the situation.

    Like they say with most doctors, you should get a second opinion.

    Should we then have an intelligence test to see if you are smart enough to buy a house? Perhaps we should have mandatory courses and a licensing process to buy a home.

  46. 46
    Ray Pepper says:

    Great responses..One of the best blogs I have read. I took notes on a few to pass on to my Reno/Sacramento and how they can “feel better” about their dilemma.

    We are definitely in uncharted waters for my lifetime being 42. But, in reading CraigsList ads in Reno I find it amazing how all these beautiful NEW homes you can just walk right into with Rent to Own. Many of the ads say “Bad credit we understand–No credit checks” They know that in these areas many are walkers from other homes with jobs. They just need a body to fill the home.

    Just sooo many homes and not enough bodies. Foreclose on your home and live in a brand new one the next day. Amazing! Life and family first because this to will pass.

  47. 47
    rose-colored-coolaid says:


    No one forced a home ownerlender to first seek and then buylend to a homezero down borrower using teaser rates. No one made them signwrite the mortgage documents and run them past their legal department. The terms and conditions are clearly written on a document.

    Harley, fixed that for you.

  48. 48
    Eleua says:

    @ Rose-Colored coolaid,

    Nice edit.

  49. 49
    Scotsman says:

    Harley, that’s the problem. Many didn’t understand it was a “game”, a ponzi scheme that would someday come to an end. The social pressure to own was/is significant, the equity gains all of your friends were getting often equal to a familie’s annual earned income. Those who couldn’t see the underlying causes, or didn’t understand the eventual consequences are less liable in my mind. If they want to walk, so be it. It doesn’t make them less ethical than those who supported and played “the game.”

    A banker with an MBA beats a heavy equipment operator who didn’t finish high school, but thought he had a chance to do something for his family. Who’s really the guilty party?

    In the end, I think justice prevails. The banks have the most to lose, and will lose it. Those who bought what they couldn’t afford didn’t really have any skin in the game to start, and simply end up back where they started. Those who acted responsibly, like you, are neither harmed nor benefited in the long run. Fair is fair.

  50. 50
    cheapseats says:

    I believe that as a borrower you are responsible to repay debt you incur to the best of your ability. Not just stop when you want to. Gone are the days of the handshake and look someone in the eye, now too the days are gone of personal responsibility.

    I do find it interesting (yet unsurprising) the polarity here on where the regulars are coming down on this issue. Homeowners = unethical to walk, bubblers = ethical to walk. I know that is a generalization, especially because I am a bubbler.

  51. 51
    Richie says:

    Read the fine print of your mortgage contract. Lenders can seek after one’s other assets and garnish one’s wage if they cannot recover their losses from foreclosure sales. The only way out is to file Chapter 7. Ethicalness or not is not an issue. If people can pay, they will pay.


  52. 52
    patient says:

    Harley said:

    You said

    “That the value of the house ends-up below the mortgage is fully the responsibility of the lender to anticipate and not the buyer.”

    That is a complete cop out. What banks guarantees the future value of a house? House are appraised at current values. Does your financial adviser guarantee your stock investments? As an investor have you ever witnessed a market go up and down?”

    Harley you get it wrong again. I didn;’ say the lender should gurantee the value. I said that the it’s lenders reponsibility to assess the risk for the money the lend. They could anticipate for example a 50% deline in an enormous bubble as the one we have. Then they need to protect themselves by requesting 50% down. That’s not guranteeing the buyer any value, it’s protecting themselves towards the kind of losses they now experience. It has nothing to do with guaranteeing the borrower anything. Though it does give the buyer a better idea of the risk involved but that’s a side effect.

  53. 53

    I don’t know where I fit in your generalization. I voted ethical to walk, but I’m a home owner. And couldn’t I be a home owner, a bubbler, and a real estate agent all at the same time? (” Yes, and a nut job.”…I can hear that muttering.)

  54. 54
    Harley Lever says:

    So does the same logic work with credit cards too?

    You were given a low introductory rate when you singed up. You spent money like crazy and soon racked up 10k in credit card debt. Soon the crredit card interest started going up and those small monthly payments couldn’t cover the costs. I don’t want to pay for my flatscreen, my Maui vacation, wine of the month club, and coral calcium. I am just going to not pay it.

    I guess then why pay anything back? Remember, you are a victim!

  55. 55
    jonness says:

    You make a decision; it turns out to be a good decision. You get rewarded. You make a decision; it turns out to be a poor decision. You get punished. As humans, we are much like dogs seeking reward and avoiding punishment. The tough part, is owning up to the responsibility of your actions. So it’s natural to seek a “magic button” that reverses your liability for your poor decisions.

    “I think this whole housing bailout BS is due to little kids who never completely let go of Santa Clause or the concept of “parental forgiveness.” Once they became adults and left their parents’ homes, they realized that they needed government to shield them from the responsibility of their actions just as their parents had done when they lived under their roofs. Faced with a choice, the new adults realized if they embraced government, they would never have to think for themselves or perceive what it is like to live within the outward bounds of reality. That in turn, calmed their fear and allowed them to seek unimpeded id gratification which comes to them in the form of informed consent.

    So the crooked govt. tells the people what they want to hear, and steals from them behind their backs. “Ahem, I’m going to borrow 9.5 trillion in your name, but don’t worry, I’m giving you 200 billion back as a tax break, so really you are saving money. Trust me, it’s a good deal even after I take another 50 trillion out of the social security and Medicare trust funds.” “BTW, we need to spend a few more trillion on this war because this evil man in the middle east has oil…er I mean weapons of mass destruction that can hurt your children.” “Did I tell you I’m against abortion and support Mother’s Against Drunk Driver’s? Yeah, I’m religious and go to church every Sunday just like you. Praise God!” “Vote for me, and I promise to kill all the terrorists. Look, you want to save money don’t you?”

    But that’s what the people want. So is it unethical? It works out for everybody but the minority who see through the game. And in the grand scheme of things, in a democracy, those people have no say. Thus, they should simply be ignored.

    Who are you voting for, Obama or McCain? Each candidate suits the mass agenda equally well, so I suppose it makes little difference who gets elected. Life is not about ethics. It’s about convincing others to think emotionally so you can profit from their sense of integrity. Corporations buy the politicians; thus, they own the world and all the people in it. So be a good slave and do all that you’re told. It’s the ethical way to live. And when you’re old and bitter laying on your deathbed without social security or Medicare and the truth comes to you. Be sure and remind yourself that it was all worth it because you acted ethically as opposed to logically and creatively. And don’t worry, cause right about that time, Santa’s gonna greet you in the sky.

  56. 56

    Can I nominate that last post for post of the day? Pretty hilarious.

  57. 57
    Eleua says:


    Correct me if I am wrong, but in Washington, we are a non-recourse state. As long as you do not refi the loan, the house is the recourse for default. If you refi-ed your loan, then the lender can come after you for the balance of the short sale.

    I’m not clear on this, but am fairly certain.

  58. 58
    Markor says:

    jonness said: If a bank can profit on it’s customers’ misfortunes, they’ll do it in a heartbeat. It’s not about ethical or unethical; it’s about which behaviors make the most profit. So why shouldn’t clients of banks wear the same brand of tennis shoes as the bank managers? It’s fair play.

    Exactly. Big business screws the masses at every turn, esp. with fine print. Turnabout is fair play indeed.

  59. 59
    Markor says:

    Can I nominate that last post for post of the day? Pretty hilarious.

    I second that!

  60. 60
    Scotsman says:

    Here’s a thought. When most people buy a new car with anything less than 15% down, they are upside down in their loan the moment they drive off the lot, and for several years after. Yet we almost never hear of people walking away from a car loan, and most here would never think it’s OK to do so. It’s interesting that many see the current housing situation differently.

  61. 61
    Markor says:

    cheapseats: Gone are the days of the handshake and look someone in the eye, now too the days are gone of personal responsibility.

    Those days never really existed. During the Great Depression, for example, the masses lost the money they had in banks, when the banks closed their doors because they had invested the depositors’ money in the stock market that crashed. Then those people widely defaulted on their “look in the eyes” lines of credit they took out at small businesses in their communities.

  62. 62
    Markor says:

    Scotsman, I wouldn’t be so sure about that. I have no problem with people walking away from a car loan too, provided they pay the legal & contractual consequences they should have understood up front.

  63. 63
    Markor says:

    Harley Lever: So does the same logic work with credit cards too?

    Yep. That’s why I have no credit card debt. Too many borrowers taking advantage, driving up the rates.

  64. 64
    Ben says:


    If you owned a credit card company, would you give a credit card to somebody with bad credit?

    The whole reason that you build a credit history is to get access to lower rates. Not skipping on payments will mean that you are a good credit risk.

    Given how this country works I am surprised that I am seeing Americans claim that following civil contracts are an ethical issue.

    It is really simple. The bank says:

    “Here is $500k for you to buy your house. Pay me back $2500 a month for 30 years. If you don’t, I will take the house. If you do, you keep the house”.

    So one day you stop paying. The bank takes the house. Simple contract. If the bank loses money on this deal, it means that the bank is stupid. it does not mean that the person walking away is unethical.

  65. 65
    Ben says:

    Cheapseats – you seem to imply in your generalization that people who believe in the bubble are not homeowners. I very much believe that we are in the biggest bubble in history, and I bought a townhouse in 2003!

  66. 66
    cheapseats says:

    Yea I said it was a generalization. I know there are all walks on both sides.

  67. 67
    What goes up must come down says:

    If everyone just went by their word in the first place you wouldn’t need the contract right? So having the contract is in essence an agreement that ethics aren’t involved.

  68. 68
    Ella says:


    1. When I click on the vote button, nothing happens.

    2. Buying a house is a business decision. In business, companies walk away from contracts all the time. In fact most contracts contain clauses that govern breaches and remedies.

    3. A mortgage is a contract.

    4. When was morality/ ethics an issue in business? Perhaps, when it is a contract with a consumer and it only applies to the consumer and not the business. Every notice how responsibility devolves to the lowest rung of the ladder? The only party responsibility for their conduct in a contract is the consumer and not the company.

  69. 69
    Bella says:

    I always thought that historically, a house was an important purchase that banks could afford to lend families money for based on the general rule that it was something that should be priced as such at the time of purchase that, at any given time afterward, should you become unable to pay (sickness, disability, etc) the house should be worth at least what it was to begin with. Therefore, the house secured the mortgage, as the bank could take it back if you couldn’t pay anymore and re-sell it to at least recoup their losses.
    In other words, a home loan is nothing like a credit card, as purchases that you make on credit cards are often intangible (wine club membership) or disposable/consumable (clothing, food) and there is no end product to secure the debt.
    Also, in the past, it doesn’t seem like walking away was a question of ethics, because it wasn’t something that you did because you made a crappy decision to buy an overpriced home and then decided you didn’t want it anymore because it is no longer “worth” what you bought it for, or because you got a bad loan and the payments bloated up to an unmanageable level. You walked away because you didn’t have a choice, and the house secured he loan because it was still worth at least what you paid.
    In this situation people are in now, they let themselves get caught up in this frenzy that overinflated the “value” of real estate. Many people seemed to be so desperate to be part of the cool kids club that they bought houses were way overpriced. They are probably the same people who would pay $1000 for a pair of $100 Nikes if everyone else was buying them.
    So is it ethical to walk away when you bought something that you should have understood might very easily not be able to continue securing your loan?
    Your house is supposed to be the most important thing you own. It doesn’t make sense that it’s gotten so twisted you would just walk away for anything less than the most dire circumstances.

  70. 70


    Google “defaulting on a home loan in Washinton State”. All you get is individual bank loan information….tells me any default penalty may be an individual bank contract stipulation; irrespective, if the bank gets the lower value house back that they approved for loan, thinking it would go up in price forever…what’s their gripe?

    Also, how do you get “blood from a turnip”? Like Ira said, the old home owner is who went default is generally in dire straits. Once a home owner, you don’t want to lose your credit and never qualify for many years….on the other hand those Stockton Ca homes were a a total default joke, the owners had enough money to pay for them, but quick, first bought up a 2nd home next door for half price [while they still had a credit rating] and then lived or rented in the 1st home [the defaulted one] for like a year rent/mortgage free….

    The rich do this all the time and get away with it by the way. Doesn’t make it moral, no not at all.

  71. 71
    david losh says:

    Let me give you a couple of points for the people who played the game and lost. The larger issue for me is that the system has rules that got broken and the consumer doesn’t make the rules.
    Let’s take those credit cards at 30% interest. The clause of the second part in paragraph B states that every second Tuesday your payment will be processed in Industry City California so there will be a delay of seven days in the processing of your payment. Your payment’s late so your interest rate goes up.
    Far fetched, or legalese?
    The lender makes the rules.
    I believe most people are trying to do the right thing and getting through life the best they can. There are scoundrels. What I find more is that in company meetings or corporate board rooms some one comes up with an idea to increase profits for the benefit of the stock holders and a policy is created. These are the places where the true gamblers congregate.
    Policies and procedures are put into place everyday to maximize profits. Many corporations are interrelated. Lenders lend moaney for consumer goods, business development and mortgages. In that process it’s possible to shift debt from one place to another.
    Look at the debt consolidation business.
    I’m just saying that the people I come into contact with are people who got caught up. There isn’t a lot of wine and cheese with the people I meet with. Most are just good people who thought they were being smart or doing the right thing.

  72. 72
    Eleua says:

    @Scotsman #60,

    When most people buy a new car with anything less than 15% down, they are upside down in their loan the moment they drive off the lot, and for several years after. Yet we almost never hear of people walking away from a car loan, and most here would never think it’s OK to do so. It’s interesting that many see the current housing situation differently.

    The auto industry has not marketed automobiles as “investments” and part of the American Dream for the past 40 years. People are treating homes as “investments” with a put option written by the bank.

    Hoisted on their own petard.

  73. 73

    Just thought I’d point out that banks DO have the option to collect a deficiency judgment on a debtor/ mortgagor should they not be able to sell the home for the outstanding loan amount at a foreclosure.

    They simply need to have a Judicial Sale of the property as opposed to the more common non-judicial Trustee Sale.

    Hence, its not unenthical to walk away from your home!! The banks are making a conscious decision to not pursue deficiency judgments.

  74. 74
    Sorin says:

    It was unethical for lenders to provide loans that the loan officers knew these people could not possibly afford. Lenders had no skin in the game, other than grabbing a loan fee. The mortgage itself was packaged up and sold off, so they didn’t care what the default risks were. It was equally unethical or at the very least unwise and greedy on the part of the banks that bought these loans with such absurd terms. The banks of course were being driven by shareholder expectations for growth and profitability (more greed).

    I think it was ignorance more than a lack of ethics on the part of many borrowers. Let’s face it, most people don’t understand home buying and mortgages, and didn’t educate themselves in part because they were being advised that “you could afford this, real estate never goes down, and you don’t want to be priced out forever!” Those borrowers that were educated enough to see the house of cards but play the game anyway – I’d call them unethical if they walking away, but still perfectly legal. Again, just like the lenders, there is a lack of skin in the game.

    The government regulatory bodies were unethical in allowing this to happen. After all, it was good for the economy while it lasted, and what politician wants to be seen as putting a roadblock on economic prosperity? After all, greed is good!

  75. 75
    jon says:

    “If everyone just went by their word in the first place you wouldn’t need the contract right? So having the contract is in essence an agreement that ethics aren’t involved.”

    The contract is the agreement. The piece of paper is there just to document exactly what the agreement is.

    “Not only is it ethical, it’s good public policy to allow people to breach contracts if it makes economic sense. That’s why liquidated damages are invalidated in contracts if they look like penalties. It’s called “efficient breach,” and it’s good for the economy.”

    I neve heard of that before, but I think you are wrong about that. Efficient breach seems to be a legal theory where people argue whether it is better in a theoretical sense for the party harmed by a breach to be compensated to the extent that they had never been in the contract, or all the way to compensating for all the gain they could have made. Someone walking away from a mortgage comes nowhere close to either of those.

  76. 76
    Locust says:


    WA is a “recourse state” in the sense that the lender could use judicial foreclosure instead of a trustee sale as the method of foreclosure, in which case the lender could obtain a deficiency judgment against the borrower. Lenders are reluctant to use judicial foreclosure because of higher cost and clouded title on the resulting lender owned house, because the borrower has a redemption period for a year to get the house back even after the foreclosure. However, I could see a lender doing judicial foreclosure if there is a large deficiency and a wealthy borrower just taking a walk.

  77. 77
    John says:

    When push comes to shove, family comes first. That’s why we see a lot of ugliness whenever a major disaster hits. It is every man for himself. Ethics? Before you are done talking about it, people would be walking all over your corpse.

  78. 78
    Vicki says:

    Is it ethical to break a lease?

    It is simply a business deal. You pay the extra month’s rent to get out of the contract and move on. It is only unethical if you skip town without meeting your obligations.

    As for a mortgage: The banks made sure they were happy with the terms of the contract before they agreed to the mortgage. They bet on the market not dropping and so were happy to agree to a contract where they got to keep the property if the buyer defaulted on the mortgage. The only unethical part is if the home “owner” decides to take a sledgehammer to their home.

  79. 79
    Eleua says:


    Thanks for that info. I’ll look into it.

    I thought the parties had to choose NJF or JF at the outset of the agreement? I am fairly certain that if the deed was refi-ed then the lender can come after you, but they can’t if you did not.

    Thanks again.

  80. 80
    jon says:

    Ella asks “4. When was morality/ ethics an issue in business? ”

    from http://legal-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/implied+covenant+of+good+faith+and+fair+dealing

    “implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing n. a general assumption of the law of contracts, that people will act in good faith and deal fairly without breaking their word, using shifty means to avoid obligations, or denying what the other party obviously understood. A lawsuit (or one of the causes of action in a lawsuit) based on the breach of this covenant is often brought when the other party has been claiming technical excuses for breaching the contract or using the specific words of the contract to refuse to perform when the surrounding circumstances or apparent understanding of the parties were to the contrary. Example: an employer fires a long-time employee without cause and says it can fire at whim because the employment contract states the employment is “at will.” However, the employee was encouraged to join the company on the basis of retirement plans and other conduct which led him/her to believe the job was permanent barring misconduct or financial downturn. Thus, there could be a breach of the implied covenant, since the surrounding circumstances implied that there would be career-long employment. (See: implied)”

  81. 81
    Mike2 says:

    When was the last time you knew someone that bought a car costing more than 3x their yearly income?

  82. 82
    Silver9 says:

    At the end of the previous thread there were some statements made about what amazing services realtors provide which a competitor like Redfin cannot possibly match.

    Do the realtors involved in these transactions have any ethical liability?

    Realtors are trained and licensed professionals and buyers and sellers both depend on their advice. Moreover the buyers agent is the closest person to a buyer in the process. People really rely on the advice of their realtor.

    If it is obvious that the buyers were paying an inflated price and it was clear that they would not be able to pay the loan off in its entirety (you cannot accept a loan with assumption it will be refinanced), did realtors do anything unethical?

    Realtors want to be respected as professionals and paid like attorneys but I am not sure I hear much about their collective contribution to creating this mess and any moral responsibilities they may have incurred in the process.

  83. 83
    david losh says:

    Yes I think REALTORs and Real Estate agents have the liability of the transaction. They are the experts. They should be held to a higher standard.
    Sue me first if you think I swindled you.
    You will also hear agents say they were directed by the buyer and seller. That is very true. Buyers come in with a list of houses they want to buy. Good agents counselled buyers a lot. Not every deal was a bad deal. It was work to get a buyer streered into a home that made sense for them.
    Yes, I used the term steered because a friend of a friend bought this gorgeous place for a $1500 mortgage payment. How do you talk some one out of that? They read it in the paper, saw it on TV, and thier friend knows somebody who will do the deal for them, maybe even give them a rebate.

  84. 84
    SoCalXplant says:

    What does it matter whether it’s ethical or not? None of the deep pockets parties who made huge profits writing all those bad loans cared one whit about ethics or long-term consequences when they exploited the system to line their own pockets. Why aren’t all of those folks being held accountable for this mess? It’s unfair to only point fingers at the undereducated masses who got conned into thinking they could afford an overvalued house on a dangerous ARM loan. They are receiving tangible consequences in the form of ruined credit that will take them over a decade to repair. Should they also be expected to sacrifice, say, health care and proper nutrition in order to pay a ridiculously high interest rate while the banks and brokers and everyone else whose palms got greased sacrifice nothing?! Once again, the lower class suffers for their ignorance, while the upper class profits from their greed.

    Keep supporting politicians who represent the interests of large corporations and the ultra-rich, and you will get more of these kinds of crises. Re-regulation and practical EDUCATION are the key to preventing such scandals in the future.

    Banks, brokers, and the rest of the RE culprits who started all this justified their lack of “ethics” with increased profits, happy stockholders and big fat pay packages. Home buyers who are “walking away” from their mortgages justify their lack of “ethics” as a necessary evil in order to simply survive.

    I’m grateful that my wife and I had the foresight to cash out of the boom in ’04, and enough savvy to realize it could not last and resist buying back in and risk a huge loss. I sympathize with the people who were not as savvy and got bit by the bust, but I can’t honestly say I wouldn’t be walking away myself had we been more ignorant about the market.

    The people who are walking away are learning a very hard lesson from their experience. Those of us who are more savvy who did not get conned into such bad loans and/or who are always current with their payments need to learn a lesson here as well, which is where the brunt of responsibility lies in causing this mess, and it ain’t with the ignorant folks. It’s with the greedy ones. And if you need to point fingers, start pointing them at all those smiling faces cruising around the lakes and sound on all those bigger, shinier new boats :-) scx

  85. 85

    Silver9 made some good points. Too many real estate agents will push clients to buy property, with no thought to whether these clients can afford the property, whether the property is a “good deal”, or whether they should be buying property at all. That said,I don’t see Redfin as any different in that regard. They may charge less, and have a better business model, and have a great website, and provide good information, but I see them as intimately tied to the system they attack, and are not necessarily any more ethical than anybody else.

  86. 86
    jon says:

    “It’s unfair to only point fingers at the undereducated masses who got conned into thinking they could afford an overvalued house on a dangerous ARM loan.”

    So you are saying the masses are too stupid to be morally responsible for their actions? In other words, those losers should be renters?

  87. 87

    “It’s unfair to only point fingers at the undereducated masses who got conned into thinking they could afford an overvalued house on a dangerous ARM loan.”
    “So you are saying the masses are too stupid to be morally responsible for their actions? In other words, those losers should be renters?’

    I don’t that’s what Socalxplant is saying at all. Key word is “only”. Sure, these “undereducated masses’ have some responsibility, but what do they say “watch the money?” Who made out like bandits? Was it these poor uneducated schmucks, or was it CEOs from places like Countrywide?

  88. 88
    What goes up must come down says:

    JON, you totally missed the point:

    “”“If everyone just went by their word in the first place you wouldn’t need the contract right? So having the contract is in essence an agreement that ethics aren’t involved.”

    The contract is the agreement. The piece of paper is there just to document exactly what the agreement is.””

    OF COURSE THE CONTRACT IS THE AGREEMENT — duh, but you wouldn’t need it if everyone was “ethical” to begin with. So again once you need the contract you are in effect establishing the need for RECOURSE think about it.

  89. 89
    Sniglet says:

    Whatever ethics governs a corporation’s decision to cut their losses on a subsidiary, allowing it to go bust withoutt assuming deeper liability, is the same that should apply to an individual consumer deciding whether to walk away from a mortgage.

    If you feel it is unethical for a coporation to allow their subsidiaries to just go bust, and the creditors go penniless, then you should feel it is improper for a home-owner mailing the keys into the bank even thought they can still afford the mortgage payments.

    Somehow, though, I get the distinct impression that socieyty has a double-standard when it comes to “businesses” making hard decisions about cutting losses, but such actions are immoral for individuals.

    Personally, I think that EVERYONE should take more responsibility for their actions, and that includes corporations. I have heard stories of businessmen many decades ago, who would keep making payments to creditors long after the original concern had closed, until they were in a nursing home. There was a code of honour that even businessmen felt compelled to adhere to, which doesn’t seem to exist anymore.

    I am NOT saying that I think people should just cavalierly walk-away from their mortgages when it suits them, but I definitely think we shouldn’t put a greater burden of morality on the individual borrowers than we apply to the business (and the companies that lent the money in the first place) in general.

  90. 90
    economist says:

    Does your financial adviser guarantee your stock investments? As an investor have you ever witnessed a market go up and down?

    You’ve provided the rebuttal to your own argument Harley. Banks know that stocks are volatile and they have something called “margin requirements” that require that far less than 100% of the price of the stock be on loan, not only at the time of purchase, but afterwards as well. If the value of you stock goes down you get a “margin call” which requires you to reduce your LTV.

    Banks pretended that RE would never go down, that was a bad business decision and they are reaping the consequences. Just as walking away from an underwater house is a good business decision for the borrower.

  91. 91
    Andre says:

    The obvious answer to me is : “It depends”

    It depends on the circumstances of the foreclosure. My next-door neighbors foreclosed. We talked to them several times before and after they walked away. They left on a Saturday night, like thieves. They called us months later, to apologize. Their action was highly unethical.

    They bought a house at 171k, and ended up 7 years later with a 262k mortgage, and $2200 monthly payment that they could not afford. At the same time, they had a brand new F150 and Explorer (no offense to Ford, those are great vehicles) in their driveway, a small fishing boat, and a big flat screen TV that I could see from my living room (probably not accidental). When they left their home, they still had all these toys.
    We bought the same kind of home at the same price. Our monthly payments are below $1500, on a 15 years loan.

    Out of the 10 houses in our neighborhood, only 2 have a mortgage lower than the initial value of the home (that includes mine), one has equal (interest-only, I recently convinced the owner to switch to a 30-year fixed) and the 7 remaining have a mortgage higher that the initial value of their home. They all borrowed against their house.

    The two lower mortgages are two single-income family with kids. All the others are dual incomes. My spouse commented to me that in a dual-income family, both adults feel entitled to spent, while in a single income family, both feel compelled to save. Our neighborhood certainly reflects that.

    Walking away from a mortgage is unethical. As unethical is an ARM as offered by the lenders to uneducated buyers. I see a sign on a bank, with a picture of a house, that says “Tap in the money”. That’s unethical advertisement, as if the money was free. On the blame game, the government’s policies are probably the most unethical, and triggered this mess. Leaving the interest rates so low for so long let the level of debt of this Nation (I am talking about the people, not Washington) skyrocket. This is one of the precursors to depression.

    The financial policies of this government have been horrible, for 8 years. Here is the result. High government debt, high people debt. Very, very bad sign. You can sanction with your vote.

    Sorry to get political, but by looking for a responsible to this, I can see no other than the government. They set the rules, even if it means no rule at all.

    You can sanction!


  92. 92
    sunsplint says:

    The question does not ask if there is an ethical standard to bear for both parties in the contract. Is it ethical for a mortagage company to negotiate terms from an individual that is unable to comply or support payments arranged? Aren’t they the experts in the transaction? What kind of environment do we want to pursue for people who are usually uneducated and naive about he house purchasing process? Where is the ethical standard of the seller?

    If a buyer walks away from an arrangement they can’t support, isn’t that they most ethical thing that they could do? A hard decision borne by facts and not the destructive pride or false shame placed upon them by Pseudo responsibilities garnered by a contract.

    If my asset is undervalued to my mortagage, doesn’t that disqualify the mortage contract?

    I’m looking forward to the mortage process being reregulated with appropriate oversight and laws that protect consumers, not the rich.

  93. 93
    Bilo says:

    I think it’s better to short sale, it shows you were responsible and did the best you could in a negative situation, you didn’t just walk away and make the situation worse by leaving the house vacant, stripping out the fixtures and exposing it to vandalism and possibly making your neighbors situation worse. At least look into and try the short sale route first.

  94. 94

    […] of strategic default in your specific state or municipality.It has been a couple of years since we last ran a poll on this subject, so here’s a new poll:Should ethics/morals come into play when deciding whether to walk away […]

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