WSVN — When Sandra saw this house she was sold.
Sandy Bernar: "I just couldn't stay away from the house. I had to have it."
It was a dream come true when she bought it in 2005. Now, move forward five years to her nightmare.
Patrick Fraser: "How much did you pay?
Sandy Bernard: "I paid $311,000
Patrick Fraser: "What's the house worth today?"
Sandy Bernard: "About $140,000."
Sandra tried to get her bank to work with her when they refused. She let her house go into foreclosure .
Charlie Kluck: "I'm here in mortgage purgatory and there's nothing I can do about it."
Charlie Kluck can afford to make the payments on his townhouse, but wonders if he should.
Charlie Kluck: "I'm paying $435,000 for this house that's worth around $300,00 or three and a quarter."
Charlie says he was raised to pay his debts and is willing to keep paying the mortgage if the bank would just lower his interest rate, they said no.
Charlie Kluck: "The banks have not been fair about this refinance issue and I see they're not real keen about having any loyalty anymore, so yea, I'm considering it. I'm considering walking on the mortgage."
Patrick Fraser: "Charlie is not alone. It's estimated that half the people in South Florida owe more on their mortgage than their house is worth. In many cases, owe twice as much as the house is worth and now they have to decide do I pay and stay or walk away."
Roy Oppenheim: "We have lawyers, we have doctors, we have engineers people who have done everything right and their American dream has become the American nightmare."
Roy Oppenheim is an attorney who helps people walk away from their mortgages legally.
For example, thru a short sale, which means the bank allows the house to be sold for less than the mortgage or whats called a deed in lieu of foreclosure, which means the homeowner gives the house back to the bank and is allowed to walk away.
Roy Oppenheim: "The banks want the mortgages paid, but they also know these mortgages are underwater so they need to work with the borrower."
But we hear from so many homeowners who tell us the banks refuse to work with them. The bankers reply you borrowed the money, you gave your word to repay it now pay it.
Daniel Rodriguez: "People that are simply walking away from their mortgage simply because the house is worth less than they owe. I think that's unethical and I think it's not the right thing to do."
Bankers believe the borrowers have an ethical obligation to repay the loan. Charlie says he has to think about another obligation.
Charlie Kluck: "I also have an obligation to my family and that comes into play."
Homeowners who have stopped paying their mortgages have found one big advantage, free living because it can take a bank two years to foreclose and throw them out.
Andrea Heuson: "During that time people are living essentially rent-free in their homes and using that sort of implied savings to build up their liquidity balances."
But the downside, a foreclosure devastates your credit and if the bank gets a judgment against you, they can come after you for the money they lost on the loan.
Roy Oppenheim: "This is a judgment that is going to last for up to 20 years. It will follow them from state to state. It will affect their bank accounts, their cars, their wages."
Thats why experts advise people who want to walk away to do it the right way so the banks can't come after you. It's a decision that Charlie Kluck knows he will have to make.
Charlie Kluck: "Whether I can do it or not, I don't know if I can pull the trigger. It still bothers me but certainly it's something I'm going to have to decide here in the next few months."
Sandra did walk away.
Patrick Fraser: "Do you think it's worth it to keep trying to make the payments?"
Sandy Bernar: "No, it's never good, you're going to lose. Why are you going to pay for something that's not worth it?"
Sandra owed $310,000 on her mortgage. After luis Valdeon bought it in foreclosure, he sold it back to Sandra for $115,000.
Luis Valdeon: "They sell it to me and they will not work with her. That's the only part I don't understand is why is that happening. I really don't understand."
Sandra walked away and bought her home back at a much lower price.
Sandy Bernar: "So I'm happy."
But most people who have to decide to pay or walk away can't be sure what they are walking into.