The Father of "Pick-A-Pay"

Once Trusted Mortgage Pioneers, Now Pariahs


Known as an option ARM — and named “Pick-A-Pay” by World Savings — it is now seen by an array of housing analysts and regulators as the Typhoid Mary of the mortgage industry.

Pick-A-Pay allowed homeowners to make monthly mortgage payments that were so small they did not cover their interest charges. That meant the total principal owed would actually grow over time, not shrink as is normally the case.

Now held by an estimated two million homeowners, the option adjustable rate mortgage will be at the forefront of a further wave of homeowner distress that could greatly delay or even derail an economic recovery, mortgage industry analysts say.

The Wachovia Corporation, which bought the Sandlers’ bank two years ago, was so battered by the souring portfolio of World Savings that it began writing off losses now projected at tens of billions of dollars and eventually stopped offering option ARMs.

Through it all, the Sandlers have maintained they did nothing wrong beyond misjudging the real estate bubble.

“I didn’t mislead anybody, and to the best of my knowledge, our company didn’t, though there may have been an isolated case here and there,” Mr. Sandler said. “If home prices hadn’t declined by 50 percent, nobody would be raising these questions.”

Mr. Sandler also finds it incredible that borrowers feel victimized by Pick-A-Pay. “All of a sudden their home is worth half of what it was, and they say they didn’t know.”

Yet the Sandlers embraced practices like the use of independent brokers who used questionable methods to reel in borrowers. These and other practices, critics contend, undermined the conservative lending practices that the Sandlers built their reputations upon.

“This product is the most destructive financial weapon ever deployed against the American middle class,” said William J. Purdy III, a housing lawyer in California who is representing elderly World Savings customers struggling to repay their loans. “People who have this loan are now trapped, and they can’t get another loan.”

Comment: Sounded like a good idea at the time

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