More and more commercial real-estate companies are doing what many indebted homeowners would like to do: Walk away from mortgages on properties that are now worth a lot less than they paid for them.
Today's Wall Street Journal highlights three major developers - , and - that have recently decided to default on mortgages.
When companies do this, no one bats an eye--it's just "smart business."
When ordinary homeowners think about doing it, meanwhile, the mortgage industry and government begin moaning that a mortgage is more than a business contract. It's a social contract, in which homeowners have a "moral obligation" to pay.
That's bunk. An individual mortgage is no different than a corporate mortgage. If corporations are allowed to walk away from mortgage obligations without feeling shame and guilt, then individuals should be able to do so, too.
The contract homeowners sign when they take out a mortgage spells out exactly what happens if the homeowner stops making payments on the loan. The lender has the right to foreclose on the house, taking the homeowner's downpayment with it. In addition, the borrower's credit rating will usually get destroyed, and, in some states, the lender can come after his or her other assets to recoup the capital the lender has lost.