House of doubt

It’s been more than two years since I first wrote about my home-mortgage debacle (“Default!” SN&R Feature Story; December 16, 2010), but I still regularly receive emails and phone calls from readers who not only seek resolution but also want to share their own tales of mortgage woe. Our story was hardly unique: We purchased at the peak of the housing boom only to watch our home’s value crash along with the rest of the market. We tried to refinance through the government’s Home Affordable Modification Program, or HAMP, but instead of relief, we became embroiled in a bureaucratic nightmare. Eventually, we were “lucky” enough to sell our house in a short sale that, compared to what came before, seemed downright easy.

For many, however, the struggle continues. On February 21, Joseph A. Smith, an independent attorney tasked by the Office of Mortgage Settlement Oversight to watch over agreements between banks and homeowners, reported that thousands still aren't getting help.

At the same time, the housing market shows signs of recovery. The median price of a home in the Sacramento metro area rose to $228,000 in January, according to the website Zillow, a 13.7 percent increase over January 2012.

Great news, right? We're buying homes again—but at what cost? Investors are purchasing many of these homes and flipping them for considerable profit—a practice that drives up the overall market average. As such, according to the tracking firm DataQuick, Sacramento prices are rising at twice the national average.

Many analysts argue we're not headed toward another crash, citing the still-sluggish economy and a more rigorous lending process that, unlike last time, should be less likely to set up homeowners for failure.

I only hope they're right.