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SoCal Homeowners Should Brace For Possible Boost In Home Equity Payments

LOS ANGELES ( — At the height of the housing bubble a decade ago, a home equity line of credit seemed like an answer to a prayer.

La Mirada mother Liberty Gutierrez built two businesses, renovated her home and bought three more properties: "For the first 10 years, anything I borrowed and used was interest-only when I paid it back."

But this year her $175,000 home equity line of credit (HELOC) resets. It's not just the interest she now has to pay but the principal. Her payments will jump from around $400 to $1,700 a month.

"I'm not behind, I'm not unemployed, I'm not underwater. But that still doesn't mean I can afford such a jump in a mortgage payment every month," Gutierrez said. "I have no idea what I'm supposed to do with this property."

She isn't alone.

According to RealtyTrac, 3.3 million homeowners nationwide have a HELOC that's scheduled to reset in the next four years, and 250,000 of those are in Los Anglees and Orange counties. That's the largest number of HELOCS of any metro area in the country.

"SoCal was the hotbed for home equity lines because so many people gained so much equity in their homes so quickly that it was very tempting to take that money out 10 years ago," RealtyTrac Vice President Daren Blomquist said.

But today, "it converts to a 20-year fully-amortizing loan. And so your payments are gonna go up quite a bit," Blomquist said.

He says starting this year HELOC's handed out before the housing bubble burst will set off a new wave of foreclosures: "A lot of homeowners who took out these HELOC's during the bubble, can't refinance because they are underwater on their homes. These homeowners are not only underwater ... now they're seeing this higher loan payment. The combination of those two triggers, in my mind, represents a lot higher risk, that these homeowners will finally throw up their hands and just walk away."

The biggest surprise for Blomquist was RealtyTrac's study that found 56 percent of homes with a HELOC nationwide are underwater. In Southern California, 60 percent are underwater.

He says the timing couldn't be worse: "This is coming at a time when home price appreciation is slowing down."

"These people, they can't just refinance out of that situation. They're gonna need a little more help to get out of it," he said.

For Gutierrez, an answered prayer has turned into a nightmare: "There's gotta be some kind of help for people like me the same way there was help for people who made a mistake and were able to refinance, walk away from their home, short sale it."

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