Foreclosure: it’s easy to get into, and oh so tricky to get out of. There’s a common foundation to the stories of how people find their homes being foreclosed upon (job loss, medical bills, financial disaster), but in my years of research, there’s been so few consistent explanations on how to get out of it. The stories are the same, but the outcome rarely is. It’s a world of scams, flukes, ignorance, and fear. All I had to go on, when my family faced it, were a few points that were emphasized over and over again. These are the biggest red flags:
- Don’t pay for any counseling or mitigation service upfront, before services are rendered.
- Don’t stop talking to your bank yourself.
- If somebody tells you they can fix your mortgage and solve all your problems, remember the saying, “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”
Our Story of Red Flags
When my now-husband and I first began our search in earnest, a family member had an acquaintance of hers come to our house to talk about our options. This woman is a financial advisor for a reputable nationwide organization and apparently had some experience with this stuff, so it was thought she could help us.
When the advisor showed up, initially she pretty much stuck to her usual presentation, which wasn’t relevant to anything we were going through, but oh well. After that hour spiel, she finally got away from her script and started to focus on our individual situation. She recommended highly this one particular person and his loan modification company, stating that the work he does is “amazing” and that we should talk with his associate here in New Jersey. I’ll sum up a few of the details:
- They look over your case, and if they think they can help you, you must then pay them $495.
- You then pay them every month for three months. The money goes into a trust—if the modification doesn’t go through, you get your money back.
- “The great thing is you don’t have to talk to the bank anymore, they do all the talking for you.”
- The one case she knew of personally was of someone who hadn’t paid their mortgage in two years, and they managed to get the mortgage modified to about a thousand dollars per month.
Do you hear the warning sirens going off? Good. Because you should.
So, while I didn’t like it, my now-husband was on the fence about it. We decided it couldn’t hurt to at least talk to the associate to find out the full story. Just talk, nothing official. (In the mean time, I found this loan modification company’s website—or should I say, websites. Holy crap. Okay, maybe I’m biased as a web developer, but if you’re going to be a professional company, have a professional-looking website. Not duplicate(!) websites at different addresses that look like they were built in 1997. It was laughable and embarrassing.)
My now-husband called the woman, and our hunches were pretty much confirmed. The topper was when she said that she wasn’t even sure if they were able to write any mortgages right now because of some legislation going on at the state level. (If this is your profession, shouldn’t you know exactly what is going on?)
So, look at this as an example of how not to save your house from foreclosure. And again, note that this lead came from someone who works as a financial advisor at a reputable nationwide organization. Keep your eyes open at all times.
The Success Story
Fortunately, during all this time, I had been doing my own research. I looked through HUD’s recommended list of agencies and then checked each agency at the Better Business Bureau. (By the way, unsurprisingly, that other company was not listed at either site.)
I found one agency in particular that was local, had a good website, and didn’t have any red flags in their information. Also a good sign was when we mentioned this company to people who worked in finance—these people had nothing but good things to say about them. (So, not only had people heard of them, but it’s actually for good things.) We played some phone tag, booked an appointment, gathered our paperwork, and hoped for the best.
Well, the meeting we had with the HUD counselor exceeded my expectations. She emphasized the biggies: Everything is done at no cost to us—even our lawyers! We the homeowners talk directly with the bank, but we are to run everything by our lawyers and counselor first so that we say the right things. There is no guaranteed success, but they will try their best to get the banks to listen to us and understand that we are financially capable of paying our mortgage now.
From September 2010 to July 2011, we had court appointment after court appointment and a constant stream of paperwork being faxed and mailed to the bank, our counselor, and our lawyers. The bank kept dragging their heels to the point where even the bank’s lawyers were actually apologizing to us, saying that our case is pretty straightforward and we should wind up with a modification easily. (There’s few things that feel quite as bizarre as when the big ol’ scary bank’s lawyers are telling you that you’re going to win your case.)
Then, just a month before our wedding, we got the wonderful news—the bank is granting us a new trial period. If we pay our bill on time for three months, then our house is officially pulled out of foreclosure, all the late fees on the mortgage are forgiven, and we get an affordable interest rate for the life of the loan. We could hardly believe that all of our hard work finally paid off, thanks to the wonderful resources that we found through HUD.
Fast forward to today, and all that foreclosure drama that happened over the course of six years is now like a distant bad dream. The mortgage is officially listed as current with the credit bureaus. There’s peace at last.
Can you imagine what would have happened if we went with the first company?
There are a lot more scam artists than trustworthy people out there, unfortunately. Foreclosures bring out the bottom-feeding predators because they know people are desperate. Keep in mind you may not have the same outcome as we had because of my and my now-husband’s unique situation. However, the most important thing I want you to take away from this is to look out for the red flags. Keep a checklist of them for yourself. Don’t let people take advantage of your weakened state, always think logically, and listen to your gut at all times. Use HUD and BBB to your advantage. If your home is beyond saving, but you throw money at someone who’s promising you the world, then you’re just going to wind up without a house AND without a lot of your money.
I wish you much luck!