I think we all know the answer to the question in the headline, courtesy F. Scott Fitzgerald, “The rich are different than you and me.” And the fact that they have more money means their defaults are couched as pure business decisions. But mere homeowners, told to view their house as an investment, are now castigated if they act as any professional would and cut their losses.
The Wall Street Journal article on, ahem, voluntary commercial real estate defaults points out that some of the very biggest names are in the walk-away camp and through the article points out the similarities in decision process between commercial real estate strategic defaulters and their retail kin:
Like homeowners walking away from mortgaged houses that plummeted in value, some of the largest commercial-property owners are defaulting on debts and surrendering buildings worth less than their loans.
Companies such as Macerich Co., Vornado Realty Trust and Simon Property Group Inc. have recently stopped making mortgage payments to put pressure on lenders to restructure debts. In many cases they have walked away, sending keys to properties whose values had fallen far below the mortgage amounts, a process known as “jingle mail.” These companies all have piles of cash to make the payments. They are simply opting to default because they believe it makes good business sense.
Yves here. Note another difference with having more money. The bank might actually negotiate with you. Back to the article:
These pragmatic decisions by companies to walk away from commercial mortgages come as a debate rages in the residential-real-estate world about “strategic defaults,” when homeowners stop making loan payments even though they can afford them. Instead, they decide to default because the house is “underwater,” meaning its value has fallen to a level less than its debt.
Banking-industry officials and others have argued that homeowners have a moral obligation to pay their debts even when it seems to make good business sense to default. Individuals who walk away from their homes also face blemishes to their credit ratings and, in some states, creditors can sue them for the losses they suffer.
But in the business world, there is less of a stigma even though lenders, including individual investors, get stuck holding a depressed property in a down market. Indeed, investors are rewarding public companies for ditching profit-draining investments. Deutsche Bank AG’s RREEF, which manages $56 billion in real-estate investments, now favors companies that jettison cash-draining properties with nonrecourse debt, loans that don’t allow banks to hold landlords personally responsible if they default. The theory is that those companies fare better by diverting money to shareholders or more lucrative projects.
Yves here. And similarly, it might be better for consumers to get a millstone of a house off their neck and get on with trying to rebuild their finances…..