From, hat tip PH!

Homeowners with mortgages of more than $1 million are defaulting at almost twice the U.S. rate and some are turning to so-called short sales to unload properties as stock-market losses and pay cuts squeeze wealthy borrowers.

“The rich aren’t as rich as they used to be,” said Alex Rodriguez, a Miami real estate agent with JM Group USA Inc., whose listings include a $2.9 million property marketed as a short sale because the price is less than the mortgage, leaving the bank with a loss. “People have reached the point where they can’t afford the carrying expenses of a $2 million home.”

Payments on about 12% of mortgages exceeding $1 million were 90 days or more overdue in September, compared with 6.3% on loans less than $250,000 and 7.4% on all U.S. mortgages, according to data from First American CoreLogic Inc., a Santa Ana, California-based research firm. The rate for mortgages above $1 million was 4.7% a year earlier.

 As defaults on the biggest mortgages rise, borrowers such as Steve Holzknecht, 53, are turning to short sales to exit loans that now are larger than the market value of the house. Last month he cut the asking price for his 7,280-square-foot home in Kirkland, Washington, by $550,000 to $1.25 million, lower than the balances of his two mortgages.  Holzknecht, the former owner of Four Suns Inc., a Seattle luxury homebuilder that went out of business two months ago, constructed the Craftsman-style home in 2000. He declined to identify his lenders or the amount he owes.

“It’s not uncommon to see this situation on the high end of the market — homes selling for less than it would cost to build them,” said Holzknecht’s agent, Joe Flick of Roanoke Group in Seattle. The property came on the market eight months ago priced at $1.85 million, he said.

Porter Michael Peterson, a 33-year-old linebacker for the National Football League’s Atlanta Falcons, bought a mansion near Tampa, Florida, four months ago for $1.1 million — almost half the amount of the mortgage taken out by the sellers three years earlier, according to real estate records.

Short sales almost tripled to 40,000 in the first six months of 2009 from the same period a year earlier, according to data from the Office of Thrift Supervision. The bank regulator doesn’t break out short sales by size of mortgage.

“You are just starting to see the tip of the iceberg with luxury short sales,” said Adrian Heyman, owner of Property Advisors, a real estate broker in Scottsdale, Arizona. “A lot of wealthy people are upside down in their mortgages and they just can’t afford the second or third vacation home anymore.”

There are 114,000 home loans of more than $1 million, according to First American. About a quarter of all mortgaged homes in the U.S. have loan balances bigger than their current value, known as being upside down or underwater, the data company said.

Masoud Bokaie, co-founder of engineering firm BORM Associates Inc. in Irvine, California, owes $2.6 million on a 3,664-square-foot house with marble floors and granite counters about 10 miles (16 kilometers) away in Newport Beach. He’s waiting to hear whether lenders Luther Burbank Savings and Wells Fargo & Co. will approve a short sale.

He received an offer last month “close to” the loan balances, said Shirley Cameron, his agent at Coldwell Banker Platinum Properties in Irvine, who declined to specify how much.

Bokaie said he doesn’t want to pay $7,000 a month in net costs including the property’s mortgages and taxes when real estate values in the area continue to tumble.

“What’s the point when the market is going in the other direction?” Bokaie said in an interview.

The U.S. median home price was $173,100 in October, 25 percent lower than its July 2006 peak, according to the National Association of Realtors. Prices fell 7.1 percent from a year earlier, the slowest pace of the year.

“The reason the low end stopped falling is because the government stepped in with affordable loans,” said Scott Simon, managing director at Pacific Investment Management Co., a Newport Beach-based investment firm that runs the world’s largest bond fund. “There is no political will to bail out a million-dollar house.”

Luxury home prices probably will drop another 5 percent before reaching a bottom in September 2010, according to Sam Khater, senior economist at First American.

Those declines may lead to losses on jumbo mortgages that dwarf the “haircut,” or discount to full value, that banks take on short sales or foreclosures of moderately priced homes, said Rodriguez, the agent with JM Group in Miami.

“When the bank takes a loss on a $3 million property it’s a lot bigger than the loss on a home with a $150,000 mortgage,” Rodriquez said.

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