Foreclosure Aid Available, Just Ask
It is easier than expected to avoid foreclosure, according to local experts. Calling 311 and reaching out to your bank or a non-profit agency can help you avoid forclosure.
By Joseph Orovic
The phones never rest at Neighborhood Housing Services of Jamaica. The HUD-certified nonprofit has seen a significant jump in homeowners trying to keep a roof over their heads.
Consider it the next wave in a mortgage crisis with no visible conclusion. With the City’s unemployment numbers rising, organizations like NHS have been flooded by local homeowners fearing they may lose their houses, while lenders have been inundated with mortgage holders hoping to restructure their loans.
According to real-estate research Web site propertyshark.com, 258 new foreclosures were reported across the City last month, an 8 percent jump since April. Queens led again, with 209.
But some of those foreclosures could have been prevented, had the homeowners sought assistance. Lenders have become more willing to work with borrowers, and the City and a horde of nonprofits are ready to help.
“It’s critical homeowners pick up the phone, call the bank, call their mortgage company or call 311 and say, ‘Hey, I’m facing foreclosure and I need help,’” said Eric Eve, senior vice president of Global Community Relations at Citi.
New York City was first in the nation to offer aid to struggling homeowners via 311. Simply calling up and saying, “Foreclosure” will lead to a nonprofit willing to offer advice and quite often do the legwork themselves.
Many homeowners fear the lender’s reaction but Eve maintained there is little to fear.
“We’re not in the home owning business. We’re in the mortgage lending business,” Eve said. “If we can keep an owner in his or her home, that’s still an important customer. A vacant or foreclosed home presents a challenge to that community.”
Overcoming the stigma of debt itself is quite often the biggest barrier, according to Helen Maxwell, a foreclosure prevention counselor for NHS of Jamaica. She has seen clients neglect to tell their families of their monetary troubles. Sometimes the person’s own spouse has no idea their property is facing foreclosure.
When NHS meets with a client, it first reviews the entire financial situation and establishes a budget to present to the lender. Then, the organization works with the lender to explore if any loss mitigation options are available.
“Our clients are scared to pick up the phone and contact their lender,” Maxwell said. “We often act as a buffer.”
Then, Maxwell takes pains to explain the homeowner’s options in laymen’s terms.
According to Eve, lenders are willing to work with their clients, often extending the term of the loan, changing the interest rate, lowering the principal or any combination of the three.
It’s a new dynamic, as Maxwell said; a year ago mortgage companies and banks were much less willing to negotiate. She attributes the change in heart to the Obama administration’s Homeowner Affordability and Stability Plan, which makes it easier for refinancing and restructuring to occur.
There is a word of caution in all of this.
The growing number of desperate homeowners has bred a cottage industry of predatory helpers, with companies offering to reduce interest rates to as low as two percent for a fee ranging in the thousands of dollars. Some have even gotten a list of delinquent borrowers, cold calling with offers to assist with refinancing.
Both Eve and Maxwell emphasized there should be no cost to getting help, and NHS is collecting any fliers being handed out to homeowners by these companies.
“Under no circumstance should you give your money to these companies who prey on your desperation,” Maxwell said.
The best solution, she said, is the humility to seek help when you need it.
“The earlier you speak up, the better your chances are of saving your home,” she said. “The longer a homeowner waits, the harder it is to get a handle on the situation.”