Local mortgage market at critical juncture, experts say

Some 2,000 families have been evicted from their homes over the last year for failure to pay their mortgages.

har homa 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
har homa 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Some 2,000 families have been evicted from their homes over the last year for failure to pay their mortgages, a phenomenon that is the result of mortgage banks unfairly taking advantage of customers, the Jerusalem-based Ethics Center said on Monday, ahead of its "Mortgage Market on Trial" conference, to be held today in Netanya. "Banks need to change the way that they offer mortgages to their customers," attorney Gilad Barnea of the Association for Community Empowerment, told The Jerusalem Post. "At the moment that the bank throws a family out of their house the bank is violating that family's self-respect and this is something that we have to prevent from happening." Barnea, one of the keynote speakers at today's conference, suggested that banks be obligated to offer customers the option of choosing a mortgage package plan that includes higher interest loans that come with guaranteed protection in case of a default on the loan. "Today customers are offered many appealing mortgage plans with low interest, but they do not come along with protection in case the customer fails to pay back the loan, leading to situations where banks are forced to remove families from their homes," Barnea noted. Most of those who are removed from their homes live in the peripheral areas of the country, and when handed eviction papers, are faced with no where to go, Barnea said. "If banks remove a family from their home, they should help the family arrange a new place to live until they can get back - they should not just throw them out on the street," he added. Reducing the number of people who can't afford mortgages, however, said Professor Meir Chait, head of the business ethics department in the Ethics Center, starts even before potential mortgage customers walk into the bank. "There is an inclination among Israelis to make purchases that are beyond what they are able to afford," he said. "Banks should not be giving such high credit ratings to so many people and both the banks and those taking out mortgages need to be more careful and less optimistic about the future and the ability of those who take out loans to pay it back." Today's conference, to be held on the campus of the Academic College of Netanya, will also focus on the question of whether Israel is headed for its own subprime mortgage crisis. The subprime crisis of 2007 saw a sharp rise in home foreclosures starting in the US during Fall 2006 and became a global financial crisis within a year.