When Edmund Andrews laid his hands on $414,000 (£254,000) to buy his dream home, he thought his mortgage lenders were crazy. There was no way he could cover the monthly payments himself, and his wife needed to hit the jackpot in the jobs market if the couple were to make ends meet. The sums didn't add up, and he knew it. After all, he is a numbers guy. He is an economics reporter for The New York Times.
Now, having publicised his adventures in sub-prime in a book, Andrews finds himself at the centre of a bitter debate over who is to blame for the catastrophe that has engulfed the nation, and rippled through the world.
"My wife is beginning to wonder if this was in fact a really horrible idea," he says, ruefully, the day before Busted: Life Inside the Great Mortgage Meltdown is published in the UK. "I am a professional journalist; I am hardened to it. But Patty has been vilified in so many places." The couple has been lambasted in the blogosphere, and reporters have been combing through his family's finances and pointing to a history of profligacy. The fury that has erupted comes not because Andrews's gamble was uniquely reckless, but precisely because it was so ordinary. As Americans survey the wreckage of the post-bubble housing market, Andrews' Everyman tale touches a painful nerve.
"What I think makes me typical of overstretched borrowers is that my emotions completely topped my reason and my sense of prudence," he says. "It was so easy. I had just laid my hands on half a million dollars and I still had time for lunch.
"It felt cool in this bad way – kind of gangster. My main feeling was, 'I'm going to burn in hell for what I'm doing – and I hope my parents don't find out'."
The reasons for this super-easy credit are well known now. Mortgage lenders didn't keep hold of the loan long enough to care if you could pay it back. They sold the loan straight away into a Wall Street sausage factory. Bankers sliced millions of mortgages into new securities that they sold on. The original mortgage lenders weren't crazy at all.
The house he and his wife found in the Maryland suburbs of Washington was the perfect four-bedroom family home. It has a front and back garden and a good school nearby. It could be the American dream made real.
"Most people don't look at a house as a cashflow proposition. A house is the embodiment of stable family life. It is a measure of security. It has a whole panoply of meanings people attach to it that have nothing to do with money."
Except that money is important. Patty did not make enough to cover the bills. The couple fought. Finally, after refinancing twice more, they reached the end of the road: default. Andrews's default was another tiny blow to the value of the mortgage securities that came out of Wall Street, another little hole in the balance sheet of a bank somewhere, and another ratchet higher for the recessionary pressure on the US.
Bloggers have poured scorn on the family, on Patty for having twice already filed for personal bankruptcy, and on Andrews for failing to mention all of her history in Busted. Meanwhile, the couple are still in the house.
The question, then, has to be put. Does Andrews feel ashamed? He answers: "I have had to come to terms with my mistakes. I blew it. I showed horrible, execrable judgement. But I'm not going to apologise for it."
That's a no. And he goes on: "The people who should really be apologising are the bankers and the Wall Street guys pushing this stuff ... Far greater sins were committed by the people in charge of the big money, who wrote millions of mortgages at a time. Most of the key players knew, and those that did not had no excuse for not knowing. I'm tired of being criticised as the cause of all the woes that the US is going through right now."Reuse content