The vast majority of e-mails and telephone calls I receive are from very thoughtful readers, which I find a welcome change of pace from the fist-shaking rants that seem to be the way most Americans offer their opinions these days.
I thought I would share one of my readers' views with you today, since we are heading into a new year and perhaps some changes are due in the way we think about real estate.
Lisa Hastings believes change is in order for the way equity is accrued in a mortgage. Basically, she suggests that we should pay more principal than interest in the first years of a mortgage.
"I was thinking the other day about mortgages and about the many people who have so much debt and so little equity," she said.
Over her life, Hastings said, she has had an adjustable-rate mortgage (in the high-interest-rate 1980s, and it "turned out to be a very good deal"); a 30-year mortgage; a 10-year, and "maybe something in between."
She was always able to put down 20 percent or more, she said, so "I'm fine, even though I sold my last house last year for less than I paid for it."
Hastings said that she knows how mortgages work, "and the current model, based on fixed, long-term mortgages, was designed when people bought one or two houses in a lifetime and had stable or growing incomes over time."
Her parents, for example, lived in an apartment for a few years, bought a small house until the family grew out of it, and then bought a house they lived in for more than 50 years, while her father had a job with the same company and her mother worked before she had children and after the kids were all in at least junior high school.
Her parents had a 20-year mortgage that was paid off before she finished college, Hastings said. "People don't live like that anymore."
"There is nothing magical about how interest and principal are amortized - it's just the way the banks always have done it, and it works quite well for people with assets to put into their homes and the ability to take short-term mortgages."
That setup should be re-thought, Hastings said, even though she knows that banks won't like her idea, nor will "the people who keep a mortgage just so the government subsidizes the bank's rate and they get a tax deduction."
The trade-off would favor the consumer, she said, because people could accumulate equity in their homes more quickly.
"I'm sure many people thought that they were actually paying for their home - accumulating some equity - when they were really paying almost entirely interest on the future," Hastings said.
"I think the schedules should be flattened so that at the very least, at least a third of someone's early payments would go to principal, and their ending payments would still be about a third in interest," she said.
"I think this would help the middle class still build some assets over time, and it would keep many from 'just throwing their money away' on mortgage interest."
It's an interesting idea considering that, in normal times, we are a more mobile society, moving about every seven years, at last estimate.
Before the economy took its downward turn a few years ago, the rule of thumb was that an adjustable-rate mortgage was the perfect vehicle for those who didn't expect to live in their houses more than a few years, thus getting the lowest possible rate before the mortgage readjusted to a higher rate.
With 23 percent of the nation's 45 million mortgages now underwater - that is, with those homeowners owing more than their houses are worth - staying put seems like a much better idea for a lot of people.