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Foreclosure Fundamentals by Rick Sharga

RISMEDIA, January 14, 2009- “M*A*S*H” holds the record for having the most-watched episode of a TV series, with over 106 million viewers-some 77% of that night’s TV audience-tuning in to bid farewell to a cast of characters that had become a part of their lives over an 11-year journey. Everyone has a favorite character, but the most iconic was Capt. Benjamin Franklin Pierce, better known as “Hawkeye.”

Hawkeye was the conscience of the series, with a moral compass that drove him to point out the lunacy happening around him, while struggling to maintain his own sanity. This often led to ranting about the impotence of the government in dealing with the situation, and how ineffective the systems and processes set up to address the problems were.

Meatball Surgery

A MASH (Mobile Army Surgical Hospital) unit was chaotic and stressful. Wounded soldiers delivered from the front lines at all hours, often in large numbers, to understaffed and poorly supplied surgeons whose job was to save those who could be saved.

It necessitated “meatball surgery:” Stop the bleeding, stabilize the patient and ship him off to the next stop.

Triage, Repair and Recovery

This, in a roundabout way, brings us to today’s real estate market. We have reached the point where the sheer volume of “wounded” and the severity and complexity of the problem has overwhelmed the normal processes and systems set up to handle such things.

Foreclosure activity increased by 79% from 2006 to 2007. Through the end of November, activity in 2008 had increased by another 44%. Since both the government and the industry have been unsuccessful at finding a solution, I wondered, “What Would Hawkeye Do?” Here’s how I think he would approach the problem:

Triage-Any MASH surgeon can tell you that the first thing needed is an assessment of the wounded: How many? How badly? Which can be saved? Trying to assess several million loans this way will be difficult. But waiting for the foreclosure fairy to fix things hasn’t worked so far, so maybe we should start the process.

Repair-Before the patient can be saved, the bleeding has to stop. Over $1 trillion of bandages and gauze have been shipped to the financial system. It’s time to get some of that to homeowners. Most economists have concluded that until the housing market stabilizes, there’s no hope for the economy to get better, so we need a program that homeowners can tap into to re-structure toxic loans.

Recovery-Once the patient has stabilized, the challenge is returning him to health. For a soldier, this means avoiding future mortar fire; in real estate, it means avoiding future mortgage fire sales. Perhaps 0% financing and no-doc loans should stay out of the war zone.

What would YOU do? Send your ideas on dealing with foreclosures to I’ll feature some of the best ideas in a future column. RE

Rick Sharga is senior vice president at RealtyTrac.

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