Columnist Marcie Geffner touched off some very heated criticism this week when she expressed "true sympathies" for homeowners facing foreclosure who take their anger out on the homes they are about to lose.
While she admitted sympathy for homeowners facing such turmoil in her column, "Defaulting homeowners strike back," she also acknowledged that the destruction was inherently wrong. "Perhaps my feeling is just as wicked or as equally wrong as the destruction itself, but there it is all the same."
The column concluded, "Unless we can provide healthier alternatives for these former homeowners to vent their anger, perhaps the damage inflicted on some houses is the least offensive solution for all concerned."
Several readers lashed out in online comments and e-mailed letters, saying Geffner’s column seemed to condone cruel, violent and destructive acts; some noted that there are far less destructive ways for those facing foreclosure to deal with their anger.
"Marcie, you blew it on this piece," commented Ron LaMee, vice president of information services for the Arizona Association of Realtors.
"The rationale is slim and doesn’t even appeal on an emotional basis. Everyone has their own ways to ‘release grief and anger,’ but it doesn’t come down to either ‘hit the kids’ or ‘trash the house.’
"I’m certain that trashing a foreclosed home is not unique to this day and age, just more common. I empathize with the feelings, but basic human dignity and integrity would focus these energies into more appropriate channels," LaMee wrote.
Timothy Countryman, broker-owner for Countryman Real Estate Associates in Newburgh, N.Y., asked in a comment, "When did we enter this era of entitlement? Whatever happened to accepting responsibility? Whatever happened to respect for the property of others? Whatever happened to personal dignity?
"When a person resorts to this behavior, they have devalued themselves as much as the property, and in the end, they have not solved the source of their anger. We cannot condone this behavior or find justification for it. All that does is feed into the growing immaturity of our society. We need to hold those who would take such actions accountable. Most of all, they need to hold themselves accountable."
Ken Fisher of Ken R. Fisher & Associates Inc. Realtors in Fishers, Ind., chimed in, "Jail time is the only answer for these folks (who destroy property). The ultimate fault lies in the idiot who signed his or her name on the dotted line. Obama needs to build more jails … for criminals such as these, but not the overburdened taxpayers trying to pay enough taxes to offset the government programs to save the criminals."
And Blaine Walker, president of Walker & Co. Real Estate in Salt Lake City, said he is "sorry to hear the writer loses her moral compass and has to side with the ex-homeowner. Basic ‘human’ traits, or ‘inhuman’ traits, as I would call them, of the sort she speaks regarding the destruction of private property is immoral."
"It’s time we, as a nation, take responsibility for our actions, absent the fraud and misrepresentation issues. Please do not attempt to excuse these types of malicious actions outlined in this article as anything but what it is … terrorism, theft, vandalism and criminal activity," Walker stated.
As for more constructive — and less destructive — solutions, Jay Thompson, owner of Thompson’s Realty in Phoenix, Ariz., suggested that angry homeowners could "talk to a counselor, beat the hell out of the equipment at the gym, take up the cause and write letters to their elected representatives, peacefully protest. There are a multitude of ways to deal with anger that don’t involve destroying property, negatively impacting your innocent neighbors, and committing criminal acts." …CONTINUED
Geffner joined the online discussion and commented, "I do not encourage homeowners to destroy their homes. Nor do I condone such behavior. Nor do I believe such behavior is justified. As I wrote, ‘It’s just plain wrong to destroy private property.’ "
And while she stated their actions cannot be justified, "I do understand how they feel and why they do it," she added. "Have we really become so cruel and hard as a society that we can’t feel any human kindness or plain sympathy for people who are in such pain that they would destroy their own home?
"I find that sad — and more than a bit scary. The fact is we are all a lot closer to that edge than we may be willing to admit to ourselves."
Not all comments were critical of Geffner’s viewpoint.
"From the defaulted loans that I’ve seen, criminality was structured into the loans by the lenders. I perceive the present mortgage debacle as a blatant equity grab by lenders and their Wall St. underwriters. They have acted in concert, not too dissimilarly than the classic robber barons of the Reconstruction era and the early Industrial Age," said Eric James of James Preservation Trust in Danville, Ky.
"Today’s bankruptcy mechanism has proven a useless recourse for defaulting borrowers. So, too, the vapid legislation intended to require lenders to modify loans. What other recourse is left to the defaulted borrower of a criminal loan, other than criminality itself?"
He further suggests that borrowers who wreck their foreclosing homes "did not create an environment of lawlessness. That environment was created by the lenders and Wall Street."
A suggestion from Dave Montgomery, a real estate broker in East Stroudsburg, Pa.: prevention. "Foreclosure damage has been ongoing, and the lenders do not seem smart enough to develop a preventive plan. They will take a $20,000 to $50,000 hit in damages rather than try to protect a home."
"Houses (typically) sit empty for months … why not negotiate an orderly departure for buyers. Let them stay in the home as tenants for six months for no rent in return for a no-damage departure and cooperation with Realtors? But, coming up with a plan that would save lenders and buyers money just seems beyond the comprehension of those who will collect their paychecks regardless."
Deede Wockenfuss of CybrSold Concepts in Chandler, Ariz., commented, "Banks need to quickly and graciously modify the loans (of those in distress). It is better to get $1,000 per month than a stripped shell and a loss of over $100,000. The full loan amount stays on the books, which means there is no ‘paper loss’ to the bank.
"Homeowners have lost their equity, lost their jobs, some their marriage, moved adult children back in the home, etc. They are DONE. They are not willing to lose anymore.
"I have absolutely NO SYMPATHY for the banks. I am looking forward to the entire system falling apart, which it will, unless the banks start to realize that they are just NOT in control any longer," Wockenfuss said in an online comment.
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