It's one of the great mysteries of the mortgage crisis: Why did Texas -- Texas, of all places! -- escape the real estate bust? Only a dozen states have lower mortgage foreclosure and default rates, and all of them are rural places such as Montana and South Dakota, where they couldn't have a real estate boom if they tried. Texas's 3.1 million mortgage borrowers are a breed of their own among big states with big cities. Fewer than 6 percent of them are in or near foreclosure, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association; the national average is nearly 10 percent.
The land in Texas might look an awful lot like its Sun Belt sisters Arizona (with 13 percent of its borrowers in foreclosure) or Nevada (19 percent) -- flat and generous in letting real estate developers sprawl where they will. Texas was even the home base of two of the nation's biggest bubble-era homebuilders, Centex and D.R. Horton. Texan subprime borrowers do especially well compared with their counterparts elsewhere. The foreclosure rate among subprime borrowers in Texas, at less than 19 percent, is the lowest of any state except Alaska.
Part of the reason is that Texas didn't experience the stratospheric run-ups in home prices that other states did. On average, the home-resale prices of the 20 metro areas in the Case-Shiller Home Price Index peaked in 2006 after more than doubling since 2000. In Dallas, one of the 20 areas, they rose just 25 percent, gradually, and have barely declined. But there is a broader secret to Texas's success, and Washington reformers ought to be paying very close attention. If there's one thing that Congress can do to help protect borrowers from the worst lending excesses that fueled the mortgage and financial crises, it's to follow the Lone Star State's lead and put the brakes on "cash-out" refinancing and home-equity lending.No wonder places like California and Michigan are losing residents, and Texas in gaining residents.