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Walking away from 'underwater' mortgage has pitfalls

You bought your place for $350,000 in 2006. Today, you might get $175,000 for it. You owe at least $100,000 more than it's worth.

So you wonder: Could you maybe, you know -- just thinking out loud here -- perhaps buy that exact same model across the street for $150,000, walk away from your underwater mortgage and start over with a sane housing payment? And would it be so wrong if you did buy and bail?

It's a familiar fantasy for thousands of Las Vegans. Some national estimates claim at least half of the city's homeowners owe more on their homes than the properties appraise for.

But good luck purchasing a new place and walking away from the old. Experts say exceedingly few homeowners possess the financial wherewithal to indulge in the practice, which grabbed national headlines in a recent Time magazine cover story.

Time followed a Las Vegas real estate agent named Brooke Boemio, who told the magazine's reporter that she "finds clients who owe more on their house than the house is worth ... and sells them a new house similar to the one they've been living in at half the price they paid for their old house. Then she tells them to stop paying the mortgage on their old place until the bank becomes so fed up that it's willing to let the owner sell the house at a huge loss rather than dragging everyone through foreclosure."