Earlier this month a reader, Pamela Norvell, wrote a suggestion for lessening the foreclosure crisis. She suggested a freeze and/or a rollback of interest rates to their original levels. In making her suggesting Ms. Norvell wondered what it was causing lenders to foreclose on properties rather than do a workout or a restructure. Made us curious too.

The cost of a foreclosure, it turns out, is pretty staggering and we wonder why lenders and the investors they represent aren't jumping at a solution, any solution, that would allow them to avoid going to foreclosure whenever possible.

According the Joint Economic Committee of Congress, the average foreclosure costs $77,935 while preventing a foreclosure runs $3,300.



The cost of preventing a foreclosure is not easily categorized. We assume that it includes the staff costs of talking to the borrower, collecting financial documents (a task we have noted seems unreasonably difficult for the borrower) reviewing the documents, ordering and reviewing the appraisal, the cost of that appraisal (more likely to be a less expensive brokers price opinion or BPO) and the preparation of a justification to decision makers for any workout plan.

We have seen figures from non-profits that the cost of averting a foreclosure through the use of credit counseling from a non-profit agency approved by the Department of Housing and Urban Development can range from a bit under $1,000 to $14,000 and we don't quite know what to do with that large and disparate range. We do know that counseling programs vary greatly and we assume that those on the high side include programs that provide emergency funds to homeowners to bring loans current while those on the low side are primarily advising and educating their clients.

But the $77,934 cost to foreclosure figure seems fairly easy to document and, compared to others that are widely bandied about ' from $58,000 to 30 percent of the pre-foreclosure value of the house ' seems reasonable.

First of all, the cost does not accrue totally to the lender. The homeowner has a typical loss of $7,200 which includes loss of equity in the property, moving expenses, and perhaps some legal fees.

Those neighbors living in close proximity to the foreclosed house suffer $1,508 in losses from the decrease in the value of their own home as the neighborhood begins to deteriorate.

The local government loses $19,227 through diminished taxes and fees and a shrinking tax base as home prices decrease. This is a hard number to justify. First of all, only a portion of the declining tax base is due to foreclosures. A big chunk of it is based on falling prices community wide. And we'll bet that even as we talk about it local governments are busy adjusting assessments and mill-levies to keep total revenues close to pre-housing crisis levels. This means that the neighbor's share of the costs should be higher as they absorb increased tax levels.

Also, while the cities and towns are permanently losing some income from fees such as trash pick-up and water and sewer charges, if and when the house is sold they will collect back property taxes or, if they remain unpaid, they will become the owners of the property through tax title. (That opens a whole new area of concern, but one for discussion on a different day.)

That leaves us with total costs of $50,000 for the lender under the numbers produced by the Joint Economic Committee of Congress. The Committee does not break out these figures but a new study from Standard & Poor's (S&P) does. While there is not a total match between the two sets of data, they are close enough.

The Committee includes the following in its list of pre-and post-foreclosure expenses:

Loss on property/loan
Property maintenance
Appraisal
Legal fees
Lost revenue
Insurance
Marketing
Clean-up

And S&P breaks them down as follows:

The largest component of the $50,000 is cash loss on the property. S&P pegs this number at $40,000 for a typical loan of $210,000. Investors who buy short sales tell us that the big lenders are unwilling to sell property or take payoffs for more than a 15 to 20 percent discount so these numbers are closely in sync. S&P however includes only the actual decline in property values in that 19 percent loss figure.

S&P assigns a staggering 26 percent of the loan amount for the costs of foreclosure. This category wraps up the remainder of the list above and include paying property taxes (3 percent, although many ignore this obligation, hoping to pass accrued taxes on to the eventual buyer), maintaining hazard insurance, legal fees (1 percent), an appraisal (although most lenders are choosing the far less expensive alternative of a brokers price opinion or windshield appraisal,) lost revenue (an estimated 13.6 percent of the loan amount) 6 percent marketing fees (broker's commission) and 3 percent spent on home maintenance.

There is a figure that is usually not taken into account ' cash reserves. Bank regulations require that lenders put aside a percentage of their capital to cover potential losses. That amount, whether $100,000 or $500,000 is that much less that the bank has to loan to others and means more lost revenue.

It is obvious that no one is a winner in the foreclosure game. But we wonder if lenders and their real estate agents are not exacerbating the situation for all involved through their property management and marketing policies. A look at that later in the week.