As long as I've been practicing real estate law, there have been festering feuds and flaming fights. Real estate agents take exception when attorneys wrest control over deals, attorneys resent agents for picking up bigger paychecks, buyers begrudge sellers who continue to act like homeowners until closing, and sellers harbor hard feelings towards buyers who disparage a house to negotiate even lower.
Now there's a new grudge war, between homeowners who can afford their mortgages and homeowners who can't. Suburbanites express ill feelings towards neighbors, focusing on some better deal or break they sense a struggling homeowner is getting.
The gripe fests have a few variations:
• "I bought as much house as I could afford. Why should somebody that couldn't live within his means get a mortgage modification?"
• "I had to put 20% down to get a house. Who lets someone buy a house with less than 5% down?"
• "I hear my neighbor is selling for $80,000 less than he owes, and won't have to pay his bank back the extra money. Why should I have to pay every cent I owe?"
• "All the houses for sale around here are listed for 10 [15, 20, 30] % less than my house is worth. These prices keep me from refinancing my house and lowering my rate [cashing out my equity]."
• "These new people paid so little for their houses that they'll never bring them up to neighborhood standards."
During some bitter grumbles, I hear resentment. In others, I hear jealousy. And yes, in some I sense racism at worst or elitism at best. A number of homeowners await a verbal pat on the back for their superior money management skills, and more than a few expect consoling on the loss of their deeply departed equity.
I'm afraid that I offer none of these complainers what they crave. The paragons of frugality aren't praised, as many of us are a major illness or layoff away from needing a loan modification or short sale approval. Mourners of the downward slide of home prices find me unwilling to take their side. Unchecked real estate speculation and frenzied equity raiding got us into so much trouble that a breather isn't a bad thing. Of course, those that couch prejudice in economic turns dislike my "we're all in this together" counsel.
Recently a homeowner was strutting his stuff, telling his listeners that he "did everything right" when it came to budgeting and paying his bills. While he represented the "backbone of America," there were "some bad apples" in his neighborhood who lost their homes to foreclosure and "ruined everybody's property values."
I wondered if he knew the circumstances behind any of these value-spoilers, and why they lost their homes. "Who cares? They screwed up and had it coming. But they ruined it for everyone else and I hate them."
Along with hostile homeowners who detest fellow owners, I guess we'll add a bad-blood sub-category: those who hate former homeowners.