So, to answer my own question — should we buy a house we can't afford? — we now have our answer, Nora: No.
It was a silly question anyway. As you know, I am opposed to spending too much on many things, such as toys and computers and even boxes of cereal . It's not as if I was going to change my mind on something as big as a house. And now that the president has unveiled Operation Save Our Homes , we also know that the government isn't going to help us: You had to have bought your house before Jan. 1, 2009, to qualify.
Which makes sense. Otherwise, as I noted, there would have been a perverse incentive for people like us to buy more house than we could afford, in the hopes that the government would step in and make things more affordable. Of course, there have been perverse incentives to buy more house than you can afford for most of the last decade, but that's another story. As the president says, we need to look forward, not back.
The one thing I will say about Operation SOH (note: not its real name; it's called HASP) is that it is as complicated as it needs to be. Possibly more. On
the government Web site
that attempts to explain it all, there is a series of questions that start out simple enough
"Is your home your primary residence?"
and end up purely speculative: "Do you believe that the amount you owe on your first mortgage is about the same or less than the current value of your house?" There's no way to give a solid answer to this question, really, though
will help. Maybe the best answer is, "I'm not sure. Make me an offer and let's find out."
The questionnaire is designed to funnel you into one of two programs, though in both cases the government ends up recommending that you gather up as much paperwork as you can find and call your lender. By Monday, I predict most will have phone trees already set up: If you can't afford your mortgage and would like to refinance, press 1. If you have already refinanced and would like to negotiate a lower payment, press 2. If you lost hundreds of billions of dollars in the real estate market in the last five years though your own greed, corruption, and stupidity, and would like government assistance to help you avoid bankruptcy, please press 0 and ask to speak to Secretary Geithner.
There is also a sad little Web page where you end up if it is determined that you don't qualify for any federal assistance. This plan "will not help everyone," it says, though you can always call " a HUD-approved housing counselor " to find out just how screwed you are. "In certain cases," it reads, "you may need to sell your home and move to more affordable housing."
I have an idea, Nora! How about we move into affordable housing to begin with?