Thousands of Bay Area homes have a ticking time bomb embedded in their mortgage. The homes were purchased with loans known as option ARMs, short for adjustable rate mortgages.
by Carolyn Said
Next year, many option ARM payments will begin to readjust, slamming borrowers with dramatically higher monthly mortgage bills. Analysts say that could unleash the next big wave of foreclosures - and home-loan data show that the risky loans were heavily used in the Bay Area.
From 2004 to 2008, "one in five people who took out a mortgage loan (for both purchases and refinancing) in the San Francisco metropolitan region (San Francisco, Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin and San Mateo counties) got an option ARM," said Bob Visini, senior director of marketing in San Francisco at First American CoreLogic, a mortgage research firm. "That's more than twice the national average.
"People think option ARMs (will be) a national crisis," he said. "That's not really true. It's just in higher-cost areas like California where you see their prevalence."
Of the 10 metro areas nationwide with the most option ARMs, three are in the Bay Area, according to Fitch Ratings, a New York research firm. They are the East Bay counties of Alameda and Contra Costa, the South Bay area of Santa Clara and San Benito counties, and the counties of San Francisco, Marin and San Mateo.
Together, these areas account for the second-most option ARMs in the country, although they are still far behind the greater Los Angeles area (including Los Angeles, Riverside, San Bernardino and Orange counties), according to Fitch data.
First American shows more than 54,000 option ARMs issued here with a value of about $30.9 billion. Fitch shows more than 47,000 option ARMs here with a value of about $28 billion. Both say their data underestimate the totals.