Perhaps the biggest fear any homeowner can have is foreclosure. A foreclosure occurs after a homeowner is late 45 days or more with a mortgage payment. To collect the remaining debt, the lender posts a foreclosure sale notice on the house and it is put up for public sale.
While the Mortgage Bankers Association reported in its most recent National Delinquency Survey that the number of loans in foreclosure was at 1.16% — its lowest level since 2000 — that percentage could increase substantially as the thousands of adjustable-rate mortgages that were made during the last refinancing boom begin charging higher interest rates.
Claudia Ray, regional housing supervisor for ACORN Housing Corp. in Baltimore, says a loss of income and other unforeseen circumstances are often reasons homeowners fail to make mortgage payments. But whether you lose your job, become ill, or experience some other hardship, experts say you don’t have to lose your home if you follow these important tips:
Get counseling. Ingrid Beckles, vice president of default asset management for Freddie Mac, says counseling agencies can help potential homeowners understand property taxes and homeowner’s insurance before they buy. Ray says counseling after the purchase can also help. ACORN provides post-purchase counseling to homeowners three to six months after they buy a home.
Save for emergencies. Replacing or repairing things in the home can leave homeowners with insufficient funds to make their monthly mortgage payment. Ray suggests establishing a repair fund before you go house hunting, and continuing to save even after the home is purchased.
Maintain your home. Perform quarterly or annual home checkups to make sure everything is in working order. For example, make sure all fire detectors work and that all gutters are clean. This can reduce the number of big repairs you’ll have to make. “When the furnace blows and you don’t have the money to replace it, what are you going to do? That’s where preventive maintenance comes in,” says Beckles.
Reach out for help. If you receive a foreclosure notice, contact your local housing agency immediately and meet with a counselor to review your budget and discuss mediation options. “The problem is that people are afraid to call,” says Beckles. “They don’t realize there is so much we can do to help them.” She says homeowners should contact their lender before their loan becomes delinquent. They may be able to suspend mortgage payments and still maintain good credit.
Know your options. In cases where homeowners can prove a loss of income due to sickness or layoff, they may be able to receive a special forbearance from their lender where the debt is refinanced to lower payments or a repayment plan is established based on income. Beckles says homeowners should inquire about forbearance and then fully cooperate with counseling agencies and lenders. “The lenders don’t necessarily want the house back, they’re just looking for solutions.”
Websites that can help: www.acornhousing.org, www.freddiemac.com, www.hud.gov