Foreclosure can affect you and your neighborhood, never mind if you personally have never been late paying your mortgage. When lenders repossess homes, economists say, values go down nearby.
The good news is that the riskiest mortgages - subprime - made up 10 percent of all loans in the Baltimore area as of May, down from 13 percent a year earlier. That's according to an estimate by First American CoreLogic.
The bad news? About 8 percent of area homes with subprime loans were either in the foreclosure process or had been foreclosed on, almost four times the number a year earlier.
A homeowner or buyer could be excused for wanting to know how good or bad, exactly, the mortgage picture looks close by. With a bit of time and an Internet connection, you can find some answers.
Put in your address or ZIP code at First American CoreLogic's RealQuest site, realquest.com, and it will tell you how many homes in your area are facing foreclosure, have an auction date scheduled or are owned by lenders. You'll get street names, too, so you can see if you're surrounded. Similar information is at RealtyTrac (realtytrac.com) and ForeclosureS.com.
If you'd just like a sense of how Maryland compares with the rest of the country, try the Federal Reserve Bank of New York's maps at newyorkfed.org/mortgagemaps. You can see the state-by-state share of subprime or "Alt-A" loans - the latter are in the gray area between subprime and prime. You can also get stats about those loans, such as the percentage in foreclosure.
Though Maryland has seen a significant increase in problem mortgages, the maps offer some could-be-worse perspective. California and Florida in particular have been pummeled by loans going sour.
The bigger price drops in those states hasn't helped. Neither have the loans. In California, according to First American CoreLogic, 17 percent of mortgages taken out in 2006 were "option ARMs" - adjustable-rate loans with an option to make a monthly payment so low that the amount owed would grow rather than shrink. Option ARMs accounted for not quite 5 percent of new mortgages in Maryland that year. (In the first six months of this year, they were down to two-tenths of a percent here.)
The Baltimore area is doing better than the nation overall, according to First American CoreLogic's figures. Remember the 8 percent of subprime loans about to be or already foreclosed on in the area? It's 13 percent nationwide.
Here's hoping that things are better than average near you, too. Misery loves company, but it's human nature to prefer the worst misery be elsewhere.
"You can look at other areas and say, 'I'm glad I'm not there,' " says Bob Visini, a vice president with First American CoreLogic.