That's the question that New York Times economics reporter Edmund L. Andrews tries to answer about himself in a new piece for the Times Magazine, which is being previewed on the website this week. And it must be some species of triumph that Andrews manages to make a story about refinancing a complicated mortgage a gripping read. Really!
And while I kept thinking he couldn't have done a good job covering the mortgage crisis while being spanked by it, I read back through some of his old pieces and was surprised to find items like this:
For years, Ray and Shahrazad Daneshi sought to buy a home, only to be told that they did not earn enough to qualify for a mortgage. But they recently managed to buy a small house in the shadow of Disneyland for $360,000 -- six times their annual income -- thanks to a lender who allowed them to borrow the entire value of the home, with no down payment.
''We will not be going to any movies or eating out at restaurants,'' said Mr. Daneshi, a self-employed wedding photographer who came here from Iran in 1988. ''But in two years, the house will be worth a lot more and we will have something to show for it.''
That's from a 2004 piece -- prescient -- and we know how it ended.
Tim Fernholz takes Andrews to task for not calling his misadventure the spade that it is -- predatory lending. But I don't think it's quite right to say Andrews is the victim here, and at any rate I know why he isn't playing the victim card: He had far, far better information -- as the 2004 article suggests -- than just about anyone else who was prey for the subprime lending industry.
I'm also not sure the piece has an unhappy ending -- and not just because Andrew got a nice magazine story and (I presume) a nice book advance. The article ends with him living in a house he can't afford, but avoiding foreclosure because the bank is too backlogged to do anything about it. "Eight months after my last payment to the bank, I am still waiting for the ax to fall." Not a bad life.