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Housing's Poster Boy

We talk about housing a lot, but usually from an altitude of 30,000 feet.

Seldom do we actually speak to the people in the thick of it, people who got in over their heads and are now drowning in debt.

Here is one of those people. He's Scott Mintz, a Los Angeles chiropractor who believed all the talk (some of it on our air) that housing prices would continue to go up. Like a lot of Americans, he wanted to make money investing in real estate, believing he could continue to leverage by refinancing mortgages and drawing money out to buy more property. He's not the only one.

That's the problem. What to do? Let them all fail? Save some? Only those trying to keep primary residences?

"I was under the hope that property keeps going up," Mintz told me outside one of his properties. He began buying houses in 2001, ending up with four homes, including his primary residence. He then refinanced them to pull out more money to buy and fix up a four-plex. That's about the time the market started to tank, and he barely got out of that investment with his shirt.

Now, he is late and underwater on all four home mortgages.

See the my interview with Mintz in the accompanying video.

The home we met him at has a tenant, but that person is also having financial troubles. Mintz says he's only gotten about $600 in rent over the last six months, but he doesn't have the heart to evict the guy. "If I did all the tough love and got my rents, I'd still be shy about ten thousand (dollars) a month," he says. There's no way his chiropractic business can be ramped up enough to cover that nut, he says.

So why admit all this to me?

Mintz says as bad as things are now, the proposed solutions won't make thing better. He says most of the loan modification programs will merely delay another wave of foreclosures. For example, one of his loans is with Indymac, and he is trying to get it modified. But Mintz fears the only modification he'll be offered is to pay interest-only for five years, at a reduced rate of 4.25%. After that, he'd have to pay off the original principal at a variable rate over 20 years. He says payments could then double, yet his home will not have recovered its value. "We're just destined for another Depression in another five years...we're gonna repeat history," he says.

However, Mintz thinks lenders are hoping to get enough people "trapped" into these modified loans to at least delay some foreclosures for five years. He believes the only way he can stay afloat is if the banks cut his principal to market value and give him a fixed rate. That seems unlikely. It may be less expensive for banks to just foreclose on him. He'd like help. Why should he get it? "It helps the whole, possibly."

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