Foreclosure Issues Elicit Strong Debate

BY Paul Solman  October 28, 2010 at 1:14 PM EST

Paul Solman answers questions from NewsHour viewers and web users on business and economic news most days on his Making Sen$e page. Here’s Thursday’s query:

Name: John Magill

Question: Regarding your Oct.14 article on foreclosures and specifically the woman who may lose her New York home but had taken $500,000 out of it. I know she had a $6,000 water main break but she took half a million from that dump. Why didn’t you ask her about the half million??? She got her money, now she wants the house also. I don’t care it’s “the family house,” she’s taken a half million. And you stand there and say nothing.

Making Sense

Paul Solman: I’ve long lamented the remarkable vituperation of the e-mail age. Not that I haven’t gotten hostile snail mail in 40 years as a journalist, but there’s something about the instantaneous that seems to bring out thoughts best left unexpressed. Or maybe it’s the culture of shrill, rife with radio ranters nurturing the dark side, forever upping the pitch: a vicious circle of venom.

“Why didn’t you ask her about the half-million???” you write. “And you stand there and say nothing.”

As opposed to saying what? “You’re a fool, ma’am”? “How could you have been so stupid?” “You bought something that’s now worth half what you paid, so quit bellyaching?” Though the interviewee didn’t actually complain at all.

As for the half million, our story explained exactly why the woman in question took out a half-million-dollar mortgage on the family home: “So she could buy out her siblings. Repair bills soon forced a refinance.”

For those who don’t approve, consider your own home — a genial broker offering you half-a-million to refinance and buy out your siblings? Especially when that was the going rate for the house and home prices had marched onward and upward?

To be fair to the woman we interviewed, she didn’t even say that. She wasn’t suing or bellyaching. We sought her out because her foreclosure was one of those Judge Schack threw out of court for highly suspect paperwork. The judge, who ran for office with the support of the Conservative Party of New York because he’s tough on crime, said the evictors appeared not to be following the law when they swore to the veracity of the foreclosure documents. When I told him I often signed things without reading them, he said simply: “That’s YOUR problem.”

For the record, I think most Americans were responsible for the crisis, irrationally exuberant because it’s in our nature, in our culture, in our recent ideology. In addition, in the ever-more-complex world of modern finance, almost all of us were (and remain) overmatched. Including the interviewee in question.

You’re more than welcome to respond.