Things looking up for struggling Md. homeowners?
If you're struggling to pay your mortgage, the best help -- of course -- is a job with a good income. Failing that, homeowners often seek loan modifications or other assistance from their lenders, but many have complained that the process is Kafkaesque.
If this describes your life, see if one or both of these options might help:
Mediation. Owner-occupiers in Maryland can ask for court-supervised mediation with their lender if their foreclosure case started on or after July 1, when the new state law went into effect.
HOPE LoanPort. The web portal lets participating housing counselors and mortgage servicers nationwide trade loan-modification information electronically. The promise there is no more faxing the same paperwork over and over and over in the hope that it might actually reach someone who will put it in your file.
Here's what you need to know about each program:
First, mediation. I covered the basics in a Q&A, but state regulators have since shared additional information that you might find useful.
The "order to docket," the foreclosure filing that officially starts the quasi-judicial process, is the key here. If it was filed before July 1, you don't qualify. If it was filed on or after, you do.
Keep in mind that you have only 15 days to request mediation once you've received the form, so you want to be on the lookout.
You could get it with the order-to-docket paperwork, which is served on homeowners. Or, if your lender hasn't completed a required loss-mitigation review of your loan at the point the paperwork is filed, you'll get it 28-plus days later by certified and regular mail when the analysis is done.
The Maryland Office of Administrative Hearings is spearheading the mediation effort. Administrative law judges will be the mediators. Just two dozen cases have been scheduled so far, though, because fairly few borrowers qualify yet.
As for HOPE LoanPort, an outgrowth of the HOPE NOW alliance: Eleven mortgage servicers are participating, including large players such as Bank of America. So are about 250 housing counseling agencies, the nonprofit says. Participants are listed here. (The housing-counseling list is far shorter than 250, but I'm guessing that's because most of the agencies in NeighborWorks America's large network aren't listed separately.)
If you're hoping for a loan modification, a repayment plan or other assistance from your servicer and it's on the list, find a housing counseling agency that has also signed on.
It's early days still, but the initial reaction looks promising. Home Partnership Inc., a Harford County housing counselor, has had two clients get loan modifications since it started using the portal in July -- light speed compared with the usual months-long slog.
"We've never seen things go this quickly before," says Kim Cowie, a counselor there.
She said it's an improvement not just because there's no debate about who sent which paperwork when, though that in itself is a big step forward. The system allows counselors and servicers to communicate by email, rather than trade voicemail messages, and there's also an opportunity to contact an "escalation officer" if something's not going well, she says.
Planning on trying mediation or the portal? I'd like to hear from you.