Let's start at the very end of the credit chain and work up. That means we begin with the borrowers themselves - in other words, with us. Thanks to low interest rates in the wake of the stock market crash, getting rich in real estate, always part of the culture, became a national pastime, with cable-TV shows like Flip This House, Flip That House and The Property Ladder (not to mention newspapers and magazines) stoking everyone's inner Donald Trump. Admit it - how often did you go on the Web to check the prices of homes in your neighborhood, just to see how much you could get for yours?
As prices kept soaring, the urge to get in on the boom became overpowering. Medical students, hairdressers and other amateurs were snapping up multiple condos in hot spots like Miami and Las Vegas, planning to flip them for quick gains. And people for whom home ownership once seemed out of reach took on far more debt than they could ever hope to repay. Don't have enough cash to put down the customary 20 percent? Just put down 10 percent. Better yet, borrow the down payment! If the bank approves, it must be okay, right?
Feckless, naive and pathetically addicted to easy money - sure. But with teaser rates and complicated terms, hopeful homebuyers often had little sense of what they were getting into. Now many will pay dearly for their poor judgment - losing their houses, having their credit ruined. We weigh our belief in individual responsibility against the all-too-human failing of getting caught up in a national frenzy.