Real estate agents
The charge: Salespeople fed the frenzy.
"I'm frustrated that real estate agents have gotten off scot-free," says Shana Smith, president of the National Fair Housing Alliance.
According to Smith, agents encourage consumers to buy much more house than they can afford and the agents show them how to do it through the use of exotic mortgage products like hybrid ARMs, interest-only and negative-amortization loans.
"My neighbors just bought their first house," says Smith. "They carefully figured out how much they could comfortably spend - $325,000. The first thing their agent told them was, 'I think we can go up to $400,000. We can get you into more house.'"
"When the real estate agent can show how she can get you into a $400,000 house, your eyes get big."
Real estate agents are salespeople and, just like any salespeople, it is in their best interest to move up their customers into a bigger, more expensive product.
Bottom line: Real estate salespeople are not always scrupulous about fulfilling their fiduciary responsibilities to their clients. They sometimes persuade consumers to overspend and take on mortgage payments that may ultimately be unaffordable. But borrowers, too, have to take responsibility for staying on budget.