November 15, 2011

Fannie Mae to struggling borrowers: Come see us in Greenbelt

Got a mortgage held by mortgage-financing giant Fannie Mae? If you're trying to get help with it and you're not having any luck by phone, you now have a face-to-face option.

Fannie Mae last week opened a "Mortgage Help Center" in Greenbelt that's targeted at the Baltimore-Washington area. It's the 12th such center in the country, the company says.

Spokesman Andrew Wilson said Fannie Mae has worked with about 9,000 homeowners in the 11 that have already been operating, and 60 percent "have been able to stay in their home."

"Many of the others can achieve what we call a graceful exit, where they avoid foreclosure through a short sale or deed-in-lieu of foreclosure," he wrote in an email.

To make an appointment at the Greenbelt center, call 866-442-9376, Wilson said. (You can check here to see if Fannie Mae owns your loan. But the company says anyone can call, and staffers will send homeowners without Fannie Mae mortgages to HUD-approved counseling agencies.)

Some mortgage servicers have been opening centers or holding convention-center-type events. If you've been to anything like this, weigh in -- did it work for you?

In other mortgage financing news, Fannie Mae just asked for $7.8 billion more from taxpayers to cover losses, the head of the agency that oversees Fannie and Freddie Mac (both in government conservatorship) is defending the bonuses paid to execs last year and Ginnie Mae -- the lesser-known mortgage-bond issuer -- is now bigger than Freddie.

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 6:00 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Foreclosure help, Mortgages, The foreclosure mess

October 12, 2011

Three housing events you might want to know about

If you're trying to cut your utility bills, find a less expensive place in live in pricey Howard County or get a loan modification from Wells Fargo, you might want to check out these events:

Energy conservation. The Fuel Fund of Maryland is partnering up with Direct Energy and The Loading Dock to hold a weatherization fair on Saturday, Oct. 29 from 1 p.m. to 3:30 p.m.

They promise a hands-on look at subjects ranging from fixing leaks to installing weather stripping and caulking. Oh -- and an intro to "vampire energy," just in time for Halloween.

Where: The Loading Dock, 2 N. Kresson St. in Baltimore.

Affordable housing. Howard County's Moderate Income Housing Unit program is taking applications through Oct. 31 for people hoping to snag a less-pricey home for sale or rent there. Eligible purchasers must have a household income no more than 80 percent of the county's median income, while eligible renters have to be at 60 percent or below. (It ranges depending on family size -- more details here.)

Continue reading "Three housing events you might want to know about" »

September 30, 2011

One day left for Emergency Mortgage Assistance program

An emergency-loan program intended to help homeowners avoid foreclosure nationwide is likely to end up at best making half as many loans as Congress budgeted for -- $400 million to $500 million rather than $1 billion. But in Maryland, state housing officials have processed so many loans that they got about $20 million more to keep on going.

Today's the deadline to finish. Leaders at the state Department of Housing and Community Development say they're working frenetically to try to get every bit of the nearly $57 million committed, because what isn't approved for Emergency Mortgage Assistance loans by the end of the day must be handed back to the feds.

More in today's story.

One piece of the tale is that the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development didn't start taking applications for the forgivable-loan program until June 20 in most of the country, a short window before the Congressionally mandated deadline to match the money with homeowners who qualified for it. (The deadline to actually apply was earlier this month.)

HUD spokesman Lemar Wooley said the agency went as fast as it could.

"As with any new program, it took some time to get it up and running," Wooley wrote in an email. He said the agency had to write regulations, identify contractors, put fiscal controls in place "and ensure the program was being run fairly."

Maryland and four other states were allowed to run their own versions of the federal Emergency Homeowners' Loan Program because they successfully argued that they had "substantially similar" ones already in place. (Pennsylvania's program was the model for the federal effort.) All five states think they can make enough loans to use their money up, Wooley said.

Maryland started taking applications about two-and-a-half months before HUD did elsewhere, which helped the state get more loans done.

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 12:01 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Foreclosure help, The foreclosure mess

August 26, 2011

Chase opens Baltimore center for struggling borrowers

Chase, which is opening "homeownership centers" across the country to give struggling borrowers a location for face-to-face conversations, officially launched one in Baltimore Thursday. It's the first Chase homeownership center in the state, the company said.

Homeowners with mortgages serviced by Chase or EMC can meet with loan counselors at the center, at 1040 Park Avenue, Suite 210.

Some other big servicers have centers of their own. Bank of America's closest is in Alexandria, Va., which opened earlier this year.

Have you been to a loan-help center or workshop (such as Bank of America's three-day event at the Baltimore Convention Center in June)? Did it do you any good?

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 6:00 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Foreclosure help, The foreclosure mess

July 14, 2011

Clock ticking down for emergency-loan help to struggling homeowners


Better get a move on if you think you'd qualify for an emergency bridge loan to stave off foreclosure. The deadline is closing in.

The state has about $28 million remaining of the $40 million in federal funds, and two-and-a-half months left to commit it all. Applications for the Emergency Mortgage Assistance program that aren't approved by Sept. 30 -- not received, approved -- can't be funded.

The state Department of Housing and Community Development says its underwriting staff need about two weeks to process an application, so Sept. 15 is as long as you'd want to wait. Earlier is better, in case there are any hitches.

Maryland officials, nonprofit staffers and other volunteers knocked on doors yesterday morning in Baltimore's Ednor Gardens-Lakeside neighborhood as part of an outreach campaign. They visited 500 homes, leaving door hangers with information when no one was there. (The photograph above, taken by Rosa Cruz with the state housing department, shows volunteers from Civic Works. From left to right: Muhammed Shodeinde, Bridgette Canada and Terrell Binford.)

The no-interest, forgivable loans are for homeowners who lost their jobs, took a cut in pay or are dealing with a health crisis. You must be behind on your mortgage by three to 12 months. Here's how the program works: 

Continue reading "Clock ticking down for emergency-loan help to struggling homeowners" »

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Categories: Foreclosure help, The foreclosure mess

June 8, 2011

New events for emergency home loan program

If you're trying to apply for the Emergency Mortgage Assistance program, aimed at staving off foreclosure with a no-interest, payment-deferred loan, you'll have several opportunities to meet directly with state officials this month.

The state Department of Housing and Community Development has scheduled events June 9 (this Thursday), June 18 and June 30 at its offices in Crownsville -- Anne Arundel County.

Details, including how to register, are here.

The state also announced two other new loan programs yesterday, one for people purchasing a foreclosure or short sale and the other aimed at purchasers of homes in need of repair. (The second mortgage program includes money for renovation.) Details about those mortgages here.

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 5:45 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Foreclosure help

June 1, 2011

Md. urges struggling borrowers to apply for new program

The new Emergency Mortgage Assistance program -- which gives bridge loans to Maryland homeowners who are unemployed, underemployed or dealing with a medical crisis -- has had 350 applications so far, close to 90 of them to the point of approval.

But the state believes the $40 million it's been allocated by the federal government is enough to help nearly 1,200 people. And it only has until Sept. 30 to commit all that money.

That's why politicians congregated on Deborah Goldring's lawn Tuesday in the sweltering heat to urge more people to apply before it's too late.

Goldring, who lives in Baltimore's Lauraville neighborhood, is an enthusiastic supporter of the program after being approved for one of the no-interest loans, which will pay off her past-due amount and help cover her mortgage payments as she tries to get back on her feet. (She met both the unemployed and medical-crisis criteria -- her husband died in 2007 after a long illness, then she lost her job in late 2009 while still struggling to pay off all the medical bills.)

All her efforts to get a loan modification were for naught, she said, but the application process for the Emergency Mortgage Assistance program was much faster and more productive. As long as she can stay in the home, payment on the bridge loan will be deferred for five years -- at which point it disappears, essentially converting to a grant.

Here's a video of Goldring talking about her journey, with a bit of information about the program woven in:

Continue reading "Md. urges struggling borrowers to apply for new program" »

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 6:00 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Foreclosure help, The foreclosure mess

May 6, 2011

Housing events and foreclosure help

Two events for would-be homebuyers and one announcement for struggling homeowners:

o Live Baltimore is holding its Buying into Baltimore fair for the western half of the city on Saturday, May 14, which includes the usual opportunity to qualify for $4,000 in city-funded money to put toward closing costs or a downpayment.

o Comprehensive Housing Assistance Inc. is putting on its own open house tour of Northwestern city neighborhoods on Monday, May 16, also with $4,000 settlement-help opportunities.

o Bank of America announced Thursday that it would open a Baltimore-area center that its borrowers can visit if they're having trouble with mortgage payments, one of 28 "customer assistance" locations it plans to open in the next three months. The closest one now is in Arlington, Va. The potential appeal of showing up in person? A common complaint by borrowers seeking loan modifications from their servicers is that the documentation they fax or mail is repeatedly lost.

Know of an event or happening? Please share in the comments.

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 6:00 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Foreclosure help, Housing events

April 29, 2011

New guidelines for mortgage servicers could be good news for struggling borrowers

Mortgage servicers have been roundly criticized for their efforts -- or lack thereof -- to help delinquent homeowners avoid foreclosure. More than 2 million of the delinquent mortgages they're servicing are owned or guaranteed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

You can see how they could make a difference.

Their regulator, the Federal Housing Finance Agency, said yesterday that the mortgage giants will issue new rules for servicing troubled mortgages in hopes of doing just that. Servicers will get incentives for working with borrowers more quickly -- "earlier contact, more frequent communication, and prompt decisions" is how the agency's director puts it -- and will be hit with penalties if they don't perform well.

For instance: no more starting foreclosure proceedings while a borrower is working with the servicer on an alternative.

"The updated guidelines ... address the so-called 'dual track' by requiring servicers to contact borrowers as soon as they become delinquent and focus solely on remediating that delinquency," the agency said. "The foreclosure process may not commence if the borrower and servicer are engaged in a good-faith effort to resolve the delinquency. The servicer must conduct a formal review of each case to ensure a borrower has been considered for foreclosure alternatives before the loan is referred for foreclosure. Even after foreclosure processing begins, financial incentives are provided to encourage servicers to continue to help borrowers pursue a foreclosure alternative."

Full guidelines are expected later this spring or over the summer, but there's a link to Fannie and Freddie's own announcements from the FHFA release.

Anne Balcer Norton, the state's deputy commissioner of financial regulation, said by email that it looks like a good start to fixing "misaligned compensation incentives" that make servicers treat foreclosure as the best option.

Continue reading "New guidelines for mortgage servicers could be good news for struggling borrowers" »

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Categories: Foreclosure help, The foreclosure mess

April 19, 2011

Funding for housing counseling cut

One result of the new deficit-cutting federal budget: an almost $90 million cut in housing counseling efforts.

Congress agreed to continue funding a foreclosure-prevention program to the tune of $65 million but completely eliminated funding for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's $88 million Housing Counseling Program, which is used not only on foreclosure prevention but also for nonprofit counselors who work with people before they buy, refinance, get a reverse mortgage, start renting and the like. The idea of such counseling is objective advice -- free or low-cost -- in an industry where that's hard to come by.

HUD spokesman Lemar C. Wooley called the zeroing out of the agency program "painful cuts that would not have been made in better circumstances."

The result locally could be both a reduction in services and new charges for long-free counseling, said Carol Gilbert, assistant secretary of neighborhood revitalization at the state Department of Housing and Community Development.

"It means a curtailment of services for sure, and that's very troubling," she said Monday. "This is a time we need as much housing counseling as we can make available to consumers."

A variety of programs aimed at new homebuyers, including a variety of downpayment grants and the state-run Maryland Mortgage Program, require that participants get the pre-purchase counseling that had been funded by the federal government. 

Continue reading "Funding for housing counseling cut" »

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 7:00 AM | | Comments (6)
Categories: First-time home buyers, Foreclosure help

April 4, 2011

Foreclosure aid for unemployed, underemployed now available

The Emergency Homeowner Loan Program was signed into law eight months ago, but the $1 billion in aid for unemployed and underemployed people facing foreclosure has just now reached the first few states.

Maryland's share is $40 million. The state announced Friday that it is taking applications.

Borrowers could receive as much as $50,000 in interest-free loans to pay off past-due amounts and to make up to two years of payments. They must have taken an income hit of at least 15 percent, be three to 12 months behind on their mortgage and have a "reasonable likelihood" of being able to get back on their feet.

The emergency help is like loan-to-grant money given to first-time homebuyers: No payments are due for five years, and every year the total is reduced by 20 percent until nothing is owed -- as long as the homeowner keeps the property and stays up-to-date on the mortgage during that time.

If you want to apply, you have to meet with a nonprofit housing counselor, the state says. Its approved list is here. You can also connect with a counselor by calling the state's foreclosure-prevention hot line, 877-462-7555. The state is calling its version of the program "Emergency Mortgage Assistance."

Elected officials and housing counselors talked to borrowers about the program at two events over the weekend, one in Baltimore and the other in Prince George's County. Organizers of the Baltimore event, Money Power Day, say a steady stream of homeowners met with foreclosure-prevention counselors to sort through their options.

Why the months-long delay in receiving the federal money, you might ask? (An August press release said the program would be launched "soon.")

Continue reading "Foreclosure aid for unemployed, underemployed now available" »

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 4:00 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Foreclosure help, The foreclosure mess

December 21, 2010

A late addition for Maryland Mortgage Program

Maryland officials have been outspoken on the subject of foreclosure prevention, lecturing mortgage servicers to work with struggling borrowers and passing laws to try to make loan modifications more likely. But it wasn't until recently that the state's own mortgage program -- aimed at first-time homebuyers -- designed a modification option to lower monthly payments to an amount its borrowers in trouble could afford.

Three of those loan modifications have been approved so far. Four more have been OK'd by the state but are awaiting authorization from mortgage insurers. 

More here.

While we're on the subject of delinquencies and foreclosures, you might be interested in the results of a project by The Seattle Times and ProPublica that looked at three areas -- one of them Baltimore. Reporters there were frustrated by the lack of good information on the foreclosure crisis (amen to that) and compiled a random sample of foreclosure filings in Baltimore, Seattle and Phoenix from 2005 through 2008.

As you'd expect, the dataset shows "how the housing bubble and lower lending standards of the era reinforced each other, seducing many homeowners to get in over their heads." But there were significant differences by geography, the organizations wrote:

Continue reading "A late addition for Maryland Mortgage Program " »

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 10:50 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Foreclosure help, Mortgages, The foreclosure mess

August 27, 2010

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:

Continue reading "Things looking up for struggling Md. homeowners?" »

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 9:38 AM | | Comments (10)
Categories: Foreclosure help, Mortgages, The foreclosure mess

July 6, 2010

Foreclosure mediation in Md. -- and elsewhere

If you're a Maryland homeowner behind on your mortgage, you now have the right to ask for mediation when your lender starts foreclosure proceedings.

This rule change kicked in last Thursday, so it's too early -- way, way too early -- to know how well it will work. But with mediation/negotiation programs under way in all or part of 21 states, we might get a few clues from experiences elsewhere.

New Jersey, for instance. Like Maryland and most jurisdictions with mediation programs, the Garden State doesn't make sit-down meetings between borrowers and lenders mandatory but instead allows homeowners to opt in if they want to.

According to a mediation report by the Center for American Progress, about 50 percent of participants in that state are reaching settlement in their mediations, most of which allowed the borrowers to stay in their homes. But most struggling homeowners aren't in the mix -- because they're not opting in.

Continue reading "Foreclosure mediation in Md. -- and elsewhere" »

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 7:00 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Foreclosure help, The foreclosure mess

May 17, 2010

Do you have a foreclosure-avoidance success story?

There's lots of foreclosure woe out there. But one group is hoping to hear success stories.

If you avoided foreclosure, mortgage financier Fannie Mae would like to share your experience on a new foreclosure-prevention website it's launching.

It's soliciting stories of a variety of foreclosure alternatives -- loan modification, short sale, deed in lieu, etc. -- as a way of offering encouragement to homeowners looking for a way out.

Contact Kindall Rende at if you're interested in participating.

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 9:05 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Foreclosure help, The foreclosure mess

April 30, 2010

Foreclosure-prevention event on Monday

Looking for a foreclosure-prevention workshop, stat? Congressman C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger's office is holding one in Essex on Monday from 6:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.

His staff say their last event -- held earlier this week -- matched up 50 struggling borrowers with their lenders for one-on-one discussions.

If you go, bring all the things lenders usually want to see:

• Hardship letter

• Last two months of bank statements

• Last two pay stubs

• 2008 or 2009 tax return

• Any foreclosure notifications you're received

• And anything other documents specific to your situation

The workshop is scheduled to be held at Stemmers Run Middle School, 201 Stemmers Run Rd.

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 10:08 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Foreclosure help

April 28, 2010

Q&A: Md.'s foreclosure mediation program

If you're a Maryland homeowner struggling with your mortgage, you might be curious -- extremely curious -- about the state's newly passed foreclosure mediation law. It takes effect for foreclosure cases filed on or after July 1.

Raymond A. Skinner, the state's secretary of housing and community development, offered details in a recent interview.

Question: What will change for homeowners and lenders?

Answer: What we’re trying to do is to put in place a process which is really kind of the last step before foreclosure can proceed. And it gives the homeowner a chance to sit down face to face with their lender or servicer with a neutral third party to see if something can be worked out before actually going to foreclosure. The law builds on what we had done in 2008, when we changed the foreclosure process and added more time and more notice for borrowers.

Q: What steps does the law add?

A: When the lender ... sends the notice of intent [to foreclose] to the borrower, they’ve got to include some additional things now under this new law. They must include a loss-mitigation application with instructions for how to complete it and where to send it. ... They also have to include information about various loss-mitigation programs, including the federal Home Affordable Modification Program -- the HAMP program -- and also specific information about the lender’s loss-mitigation programs. … In addition, they've got to send information about the state programs -- our HOPE program with the HOPE hot line number and the website.

Q: What comes next?

A: Before they can file an order to docket [a foreclosure case in the court system], they’ve got to file a loss-mitigation analysis. And basically, it’s an affidavit where the lender certifies that they’ve exhausted all loss-mitigation procedures or processes, and they could not find a way to give this particular borrower any kind of relief. And they’ve got to explain the reasons why they could not provide any relief.

Q: They have to be specific?

Continue reading "Q&A: Md.'s foreclosure mediation program" »

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 7:00 AM | | Comments (6)
Categories: Foreclosure help, Mortgages, Q&A, The foreclosure mess

March 27, 2010

HAMP: What the loan-mod changes mean

The Home Affordable Modification Program is aimed at keeping struggling borrowers from losing their homes, but the number who've had their loans permanently modified is a tiny percentage of the total the federal government believes is eligible.

Yesterday the Obama administration announced changes to HAMP in hopes of turning things around.

The HUD press release is ... well, not exactly clear-cut about what those changes are. So here's the translation offered by the Consumer Federation of America:

· Requiring participating servicers under HAMP to offer at least 3 months’ forbearance of mortgage debt for unemployed borrowers, and encouraging such assistance for up to 6 months.

· Requiring participating servicers to use principal reduction as a primary means of reducing borrowers’ payments where loans are more than 115 percent of the current home value.

· Offering borrowers that are current on their mortgages but with debts greater than their home’s current value the opportunity to refinance into a lower cost, long-term fixed rate mortgage insured through the FHA if the current lender will agree to reduce principal owed by at least 10 percent and the total combined debt including any second liens would be no greater than 115 percent after the refinancing.

· Requiring HAMP servicers to work with borrowers in bankruptcy on mortgage modifications, and waive the trial period for such modifications if consumers have been successfully performing under bankruptcy settlements.

· Increasing the incentives to get second lien holders to reduce their claims to facilitate modifications.

· Clarifying that HAMP servicers must suspend all foreclosure actions and notices for borrowers that have sought modifications or are in trial modification periods, and requiring a written certification that a borrower is not HAMP eligible before an attorney or trustee can conduct a foreclosure sale.

Barry Zigas, director of housing policy for the consumer federation, thinks these changes will make a difference.

"Borrowers who are unemployed and those that find their homes are worth far less than the remaining debt on them are now those driving delinquency and default numbers," he said in a statement.

Some offered a thumbs down. Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, is particularly critical. (Baker, if you'll recall, is the economist so convinced we were in a bubble earlier in the decade that he sold his home in 2004 to rent instead.)

Continue reading "HAMP: What the loan-mod changes mean" »

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Categories: Foreclosure help, The foreclosure mess

March 1, 2010

Foreclosure-help event next Saturday

Looking for a foreclosure-prevention event to attend? There's one in Columbia next Saturday, March 6. Housing counselors, pro bono attorneys, loan servicers and government agencies are all expected.

The event is scheduled from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Bridgeway Community Church, 9189 Red Branch Rd. More details -- including documents to bring -- noted on this PDF flyer.

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 6:00 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Foreclosure help

February 1, 2010

What foreclosure mediation could look like for homeowners

Gov. Martin O'Malley wants to make mediation a part of the foreclosure process in Maryland, offering it as one way to avoid more avoidable trips to the auction block. Mediation has popped up in other states, but not in the same way everywhere. So what's the plan here?

Kathleen Skullney, the staff attorney for the foreclosure legal assistance project at Maryland Legal Aid, kindly offered to walk us through it.

The idea, she said, is to tuck new requirements into the state's current foreclosure timeline. Right now, lenders must wait 45 days between notifying Maryland homeowners that they intend to foreclose and actually filing with the court to start those proceedings.

O'Malley's most recent summary of legislative priorities says the bill he is submitting "prohibits the filing of a foreclosure action without completion of loan modification review."

When lenders or servicers file foreclosure actions, they would have to include "an affidavit documenting completion of review, reasons for denial and calculations on which denial was based, or showing that review could not be completed because borrower failed to engage in the process." They would also have to document that they considered other alternatives to foreclosure.

"Meaning you use the 45 days to figure out what else you can do," Skullney said. "And you make sure that that’s a fairly efficient process by giving homeowners the information they need the minute they get the notice of intent to foreclose -- they can immediately apply, whether it’s the federal program, whether it’s the lender’s own program."

On the flip side, homeowners can't expect that failing to respond will bring the process to a halt.

Continue reading "What foreclosure mediation could look like for homeowners" »

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 7:00 AM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Foreclosure help, The foreclosure mess

January 28, 2010

Spotting loan-modification scams

Many newspapers and television stations have reported on loan-modification scammers, people taking money from homeowners who can least afford to be flimflammed. But it's still happening, so the word hasn't reached everyone who needs to hear the message.

Here's an effort to fill in gaps: Loan Modification Scam Alert, a website run by community revitalization nonprofit NeighborWorks America. The site offers "6 Things You Should Know" (for instance, paying an upfront fee to a company for loan-mod help may get you nothing but further in the hole), a list of common scams, people's scam experiences and the like.

It's illegal in Maryland for a loan-modification company to charge upfront fees, so, yeah -- definitely a red flag. The state Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation has been issuing cease-and-desist orders to operators as part of a nationwide crackdown. You can read more about that effort here. 

But don't heave a sigh of relief: As a Salon piece from September notes, it's "a giant game of whack-a-mole," with cracked-down-on companies finding ways to continue operating and firms using loopholes to get around state laws banning the collection of upfront payments. Many states have an exemption for attorneys, and -- alas -- attorneys are involved in some of the companies under fire. (On the other hand, about 1,000 attorneys in Maryland have signed on to an effort to help borrowers for free.)

Whom should you call, then, if you're hoping you qualify for a modification of your mortgage? The company that services your loan -- that's the firm asking for your payments every month. Or the state's HOPE hot line, 877-462-7555, which will refer you to a nonprofit housing counselor. Or connect with a housing counselor directly -- the HUD-approved list of agencies is here.

January 25, 2010

Foreclosure prevention event Feb. 6

Behind on your mortgage or concerned you might get that way? U.S. Rep. Elijah E. Cummings is sponsoring a foreclosure-prevention workshop in Baltimore County a week from this Saturday, Feb. 6. The registration deadline is Feb. 3.

You can sign up to see a representative of your mortgage servicer, assuming yours is on the sizable invitee list, and you can also ask for time with a housing counselor and/or a pro bono attorney.

Homeowner advocates tell me that Cummings' previous events have been packed.

The event is scheduled from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Woodlawn High School, 1801 Woodlawn Drive in Gwynn Oak. More details, including what financial documents to bring, are on this PDF.

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 7:00 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Foreclosure help, The foreclosure mess

January 14, 2010

Attorneys volunteering to help borrowers

Nearly 1,000 attorneys have joined a Maryland pro bono effort to offer free help to borrowers facing foreclosure, figuring legal advice and negotiating prowess could keep more people in their homes.

I've got a story on the effort today and figured you might like to know more about how it works, from a "how do I get this free help?" perspective (as well as "how do I volunteer?").

If you're a homeowner, you'll need to first connect with a HUD-approved housing counseling agency participating in the effort. Organizers recommend doing so by calling the state's HOPE hot line, 877-462-7555.

The pro bono attorneys are offering one-on-one advice to homeowners at foreclosure-prevention workshops, and anyone can take advantage of that. Find a list of events here, along with details about how to prepare (scroll down the page).

If you want an attorney to represent you on a volunteer basis, you'll need to meet income requirements. A three-person household in the Baltimore area, for instance, can't make more than $40,720. UPDATE: Actually, the income guidelines are slightly higher for this program than the usual cap for free legal aid. Here's the correct breakdown for the Baltimore metro area:

# People in home

Maximum Income



















Attorneys wanting to volunteer can call the Pro Bono Resource Center of Maryland, 410-837-9379, or go to

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 1:00 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Foreclosure help, Mortgages

September 9, 2009

Mortgage troubles? Meet with a lender Saturday

A number of lenders -- plus housing counselors and attorneys -- are expected to be on hand at a foreclosure-prevention event in Baltimore County this Saturday, and you can still register for it today if you'd like to attend. The event, sponsored by Congressman Elijah E. Cummings, will run from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Woodlawn High School, 1801 Woodlawn Drive in Gwynn Oak.

The event flyer (a PDF) has more details, including what documents you should bring. You can find the online registration form here.

UPDATE: Cummings' office says you can still register on Thursday, even though the form says the deadline is 9/9.

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 4:05 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Foreclosure help, The foreclosure mess

August 21, 2009

Md. mortgage troubles

One in eight -- that's how many Maryland borrowers were at least a month behind on their mortgage payments during the spring, according to new numbers.

What can you do if you're in that group?

The state says to call for help immediately -- before you're in trouble, even, if you're still current but see problems on the horizon. It has a foreclosure-help hot line -- 877-462-7555 -- to put you in touch with a nonprofit housing counseling agency near you. Or you can find the list of HUD-approved nonprofits here.

The struggle to get assistance from lenders has been well publicized, so I wondered how much success local foreclosure-prevention counselors are having. The state Department of Housing and Community Development said the nonprofits helped just over 4,500 people avoid foreclosure in the fiscal year that ended June 30. (That runs the gamut from people who received a repayment plan to those who got their mortgage refinanced, and includes folks who sold their homes.)

That "avoided foreclosure" group is up 33 percent from the previous fiscal year, the state says.

But nearly 13,700 in total saw counselors in the year ending June 30. So what happened to the nearly 9,200 who aren't on record as avoiding foreclosure? The state says some of those homeowners are still in counseling, some dropped out of the system and the rest ended up in foreclosure, bankruptcy or similarly depressing circumstances.

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 7:00 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Foreclosure help, The foreclosure mess

August 12, 2009

Need foreclosure-prevention help?

Baltimore County's Office of Community Conservation is inviting homeowners who want mortgage advice or free legal counseling to attend a "foreclosure solutions" workshop next Wednesday from 5 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.

The event, to be held at New Town High School, 4931 New Town Blvd. in Owings Mills, will offer information about managing mortgages and one-on-one foreclosure-prevention counseling with attorneys.

If you register by Friday (before 4:30 p.m.), you'll be guaranteed a time slot with an attorney, the organizers say. Call 410-887-3124.

Those free counseling sessions are being put on as part of a partnership with the Pro Bono Resource Center of Maryland and Civil Justice Inc.

The county is scheduling other sessions with one-on-one counseling in October, November and December.

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 9:43 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Foreclosure help

July 17, 2009

A cease and desist on loan-modification 'help'

Maryland has issued cease-and-desist orders against 17 loan-modification companies, part of a nationwide effort to go after consultants the Federal Trade Commission alleges are "con artists" preying on homeowners in trouble.

Here's what the federal agency says about "Operation Loan Lies":

The FTC charged that the defendants falsely claimed that they would either obtain a mortgage loan modification or stop foreclosure, or both, and that some of the defendants falsely represented that they would give consumers refunds if they failed to do so. After charging consumers the equivalent of one month’s mortgage payment or more in advance, these companies often did little or nothing to help homeowners renegotiate their mortgages or stop foreclosure. After failing to provide the promised services, the defendants that promised refunds did not honor those promises.

Here's the full list (link opens a PDF), which includes the firms and players that Maryland went after. Several are run by attorneys.

The state Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation offers suggestions for avoiding foreclosure-help scams, including this one: "Beware of any person or organization asking you to pay up-front fees in exchange for providing mortgage counseling services or modification of a delinquent loan."

Remember, HUD-approved nonprofits have counselors who help borrowers navigate their lenders' loan-modification process, and they do foreclosure-prevention work free of charge. Here's the list of Maryland housing counseling groups.

July 9, 2009

Now playing on YouTube: loan-modification advice

The variety on YouTube is pretty amazing, when you stop to think about it. Old music videos. Clips of random people making silly faces for your amusement. Whatever hot new visual meme is making the Internet rounds. And -- now up this week -- a Freddie Mac video for borrowers who are behind on their payments and want to request a loan modification.

Foreclosure prevention amid the pop culture.

Freddie Mac says in a press release that homeowners will have an easier time of it if they gather these documents before calling:

* Most recent monthly mortgage statement;
* Pay stubs or other documents showing their household's monthly pre-tax income;
* Most recent tax return;
* Second loan or home equity line of credit statements;
* Account balances and minimum monthly payments on credit cards, car loans, student loans or other debt;
* A short, concise description of the financial hardship that is causing – or leading to – a mortgage delinquency.

Fair warning: There's no guarantee it won't still be a difficult process.

And be wary of consultant-type firms promising to get you a loan modification if you'll pay an upfront fee. The New York Times notes in this story that you can end up closer to foreclosure and several thousand dollars poorer, even if you got a "money back" guarantee. The Federal Trade Commission is going after some companies for "marketing potentially deceptive relief programs," the newspaper reported.

For advice on avoiding foreclosure-prevention scams, check out the Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation's foreclosure-help page.

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 11:33 AM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Foreclosure help

May 17, 2009

Housing stimulus?

Realtors and homebuilders are all abuzz over the federal government's newest plan to help the housing market: let first-time homebuyers use the $8,000 tax credit toward their downpayment if they're getting an FHA-insured mortgage.

The head of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development announced it at a National Association of Realtors summit last week. Here's what Secretary Shaun Donovan said:

We, like you, believe that this new tax credit is not only a tremendous opportunity for first-time homebuyers, but also an enormous benefit for communities struggling to deal with an oversupply of housing. ...
We all want to enable FHA consumers to access the tax credit funds when they close on their home loans so that the cash can be used as a downpayment. So FHA will permit trusted FHA-approved lenders and HUD-approved nonprofits, as well as state and local governmental entities to "monetize" the tax credit through short-term bridge loans.

Specifics, he said, will come shortly. (I was hoping "shortly" meant "by the end of the week," which is why I held off blogging on the subject.) But the brief announcement was plenty long enough for Realtors and builders to cheer -- "the biggest obstacle for first-time buyers is coming up with a downpayment," the chairman of the National Association of Home Builders said -- and for some economists to groan.

From Dow Jones Newswires:

"Much like the lax lending standards of the housing bubble, all it succeeds in doing in our view is pulling sales forward and encouraging speculative buyers into the market," noted Michael Widner, an analyst with Stifel Nicolaus Equity Research.

What do you all think? Good idea or bad? If you're contemplating buying, would it make a difference?

In other feds-involved-in-housing news, officials announced new aspects of the Making Home Affordable foreclosure-prevention program. HUD says it will offer incentives to loan services and borrowers to opt for short sales or "deeds in lieu" (in which the borrower voluntarily gives up the house) rather than foreclosures. Those alternatives aren't quite as bad for the borrower's credit score and, the government argues, are less costly for lenders and neighborhoods.

The feds are also offering extra incentive payments to lenders for making loan modifications "where home price declines have been most severe and lenders fear these declines may persist."

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 9:16 AM | | Comments (7)
Categories: First-time buyer tax credit, Foreclosure help

August 18, 2008

How-to Monday: Foreclosure help ... and "help"


Associated Press photo

You get what you pay for, right? Well ...

If you live by that rule of thumb and you're trying to avoid foreclosure, you'll seek out a for-profit foreclosure consultant who will charge you for any services provided. But consumer-protection advocates say you're much better off going to a nonprofit housing counseling agency that will work with you for free.

Here's why ...

Continue reading "How-to Monday: Foreclosure help ... and "help"" »

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 4:00 AM | | Comments (6)
Categories: Foreclosure help, How-to Mondays

August 2, 2008

A legal primer on foreclosure

Confused by the ins and outs of foreclosure? Not sure how the state's new law changes things for lenders and homeowners?

The Maryland State Bar Association has a new brochure available online that covers foreclosure basics. For instance:

In Maryland, before the lender can file a foreclosure case against your property, the lender must:

* Wait 90 days from the date that your loan is in default; and

* Send you a Notice of Intent to Foreclose 45 days before the foreclosure case is filed.

o The Notice of Intent to Foreclose will provide you with important information about why your loan is in default, the amount you owe to bring your loan current, the last payment received, contact information for the lender or secured party, for the mortgage servicer that collects your mortgage payments and for the department that can help you work out your default (the loss mitigation department).

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 9:14 AM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Foreclosure help

February 26, 2008

State, loan services hammer out a deal

In trouble on your mortgage (or helping someone who is)?

The state Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation said that loan servicers made several promises today about moves to help cut down on the rapidly rising number of foreclosures. The services said they would within 10 days provide information "about what is required from borrowers to access real loss mitigation solutions," meet again next month "to continue work on a streamline triage system for Maryland homeowners" and attend a training event for housing counselors.

State officials said the following servicers are participating in the effort (and all but two were at today's meeting):

Continue reading "State, loan services hammer out a deal" »

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 4:50 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Foreclosure help

February 20, 2008

Foreclosure help coming to an arena near you

Looking for a mega foreclosure prevention event? Put March 5 on your calendar, because that's when one will be coming to the Show Place Arena in Upper Marlboro, sponsored by Prince George's County, HUD and several other agencies and groups. You don't have to be a county resident to attend.

Tommie Thompson, director of the county's Department of Housing and Community Development, says 13 national loan servicers will be on hand to talk to people about foreclosure prevention and refinancing. The event is also geared toward homebuyers who want extra information about mortgages -- to avoid getting into a loan they're ill-suited for, as so many have before them.

To register: 800-CALL-FHA.

Thompson said workshops for residents will run from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m. Servicers will be meeting with government officials in the morning.

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 4:21 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Foreclosure help

February 13, 2008

Counseling group criticizes foreclosure-help hotline

The National Foundation for Credit Counseling said this morning that the widely publicized HOPE hotline for foreclosure help -- 888-995-HOPE -- isn't helpful enough. In a statement, the Silver Spring group said the hotline isn't keeping up with demand because too few housing counseling agencies are permitted to participate. The foundation said:
At one point, 26 percent of the calls to the Hotline were abandoned. Homeowners whose calls were answered were frequently given minimal counseling or simply told to call their mortgage lenders.

I heard this complaint from a Midwestern homeowner, too, as it happens. 

I looked for a response from the Homeownership Preservation Foundation, which runs the hotline, but it may be a while before I hear back. It says on its website that it generally needs 24 hours to respond to media inquiries. (No, I'm not going to insert a joke here. Honestly.) The hotline is getting a lot of calls because President Bush has pointed struggling homeowners there.

This is as good a time as any to remind folks in trouble on mortgages that if you need help and don't get it in one place, it doesn't hurt to try another.

UPDATE at 12:45: The Homeownership Preservation Foundation has responded with a statement that calls the NFCC's accusations "false and misleading." The preservation foundation said it is reviewing its legal options.

It said its counselors are doing real counseling -- an hour on average to 19,558 homeowners in January. It said the remainder of the callers had "other questions which included: questions about the rate freeze program, calls on behalf of family and friends, inquiries about grant funds, basic information about the HOPE hotline, calls from brokers and realtors, etc."

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 10:52 AM | | Comments (1)

February 11, 2008

How-to Monday: Foreclosure help


Baltimore Homeownership Preservation Coalition public-service ad 


More than 50,000 Marylanders were behind on their mortgage payments at last count in September. Homeownership advocates fear that even more will be this year, with thousands of adjustable-rate mortgages scheduled for their first resets to higher payments.

If you're worried that foreclosure could be in your future, you're not alone -- and you do have places to turn for help.

Continue reading "How-to Monday: Foreclosure help" »

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 4:00 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Foreclosure help, How-to Mondays

January 7, 2008

Baltimore group launches foreclosure-help ad campaign

The Baltimore Homeownership Preservation Coalition said today that it has launched an ad campaign to encourage struggling borrowers to get help before it's too late. Commercials started airing today on local radio stations, while print messages are going up on billboards and are already in 165 buses. Here's the ad:


The announcement came as part of the Foreclosure Solutions Forum, held in Annapolis today. About 200 people turned out for the event.

I'll have the full story tomorrow.


Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 4:55 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Foreclosure help

December 16, 2007

Foreclosure prevention classes

Housing counselors in Prince George's County are holding weekly workshops to help homeowners worried about -- or already facing -- foreclosure. You can attend even if you live in the Baltimore area. Call 301-883-5570 to register.

The next session: Thursday, Dec. 20 at 7 p.m. at Roots of Mankind, 4273 Branch Ave. Suite 205 in Temple Hills ( Click HERE for a list of later workshops, organized by the Coalition for Homeownership Preservation in Prince George's County.

And click HERE for a list of HUD-approved housing counselors across the state, if you're looking for something closer to you or just want a one-on-one conversation with a counselor.

The best time to get help is when you think you're going to be in trouble but before you actually get there. Counselors can talk to your lender and try to negotiate, for instance, temporary modification of your loan -- but they need time.

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 6:06 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Foreclosure help

December 12, 2007

Freddie Mac goes viral

Mortgage financing giant Freddie Mac uploaded a video to YouTube today about foreclosure rescue fraud -- where a con artist claiming to offer help to borrowers facing the loss of their homes tricks them into signing over their deed. Homeowners falling prey to these scams include people here in Maryland.

So -- why YouTube? Freddie Mac spokesman Brad German said a quarter of borrowers who are behind on their mortgages say they go to the Internet first to look for information and help. He said the company wants to get "some viral distribution" -- people pointing it out to friends and relatives.

"It made sense for us to post this on the Internet in hopes of alerting more borrowers to the potential pitfalls of foreclosure rescue artists," he said. "This is, as you can imagine, a very vulnerable time for borrowers who are finding themselves in jams."

The direct link is -- though I have yet to get the page to load, so let me know if you can actually watch it. (EDIT on 12/14: I tried again, and now it's loading.)

At, the company has information beyond the video highlights.

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 4:30 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Foreclosure help

December 8, 2007

Another perspective on the rate freeze, a bubble blog, doesn't think much of the plan to freeze interest rates for some subprime borrowers, but not for the reasons you keep hearing on the news:
Potential buyers face higher prices for a house than they would if the market were just allowed to work. This is a direct harm to millions of people, especially young families with limited income.

Is it illegal for the government to manipulate markets to benefit one class over another?

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 1:24 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Foreclosure help

December 7, 2007

Rate freezes for some

If all those comments about the mortgage-rate-freeze plan haven't dampened your enthusiasm for reading more about it, click here for my story in today's paper. A preview:
The rate freeze, generally for five years, would be limited to certain subprime borrowers with hardly any equity in their houses who can't refinance but who can afford their current payments. President Bush, who billed it as the industry's plan, said the major lenders that have signed on to the voluntary initiative also expect to help refinance subprime borrowers who are in better financial shape, either with FHA loans or other mortgages.

Bush said the two-pronged plan, which would use no taxpayer money, could help up to 1.2 million homeowners. But some economists believe the number is likely to be much lower. Moody's puts it at 500,000 - half helped by the rate freeze and half by the refinancing.

Also in the story: Interesting new research by The Reinvestment Fund (on behalf of the Baltimore Homeownership Preservation Coalition) about the mortgage landscape in Maryland -- from the share of subprime loans in affluent Montgomery County to the fact that some pockets of the state are seeing very high delinquency rates.

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 6:58 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Foreclosure help

More reaction to the mortgage rate freeze

My inbox is overflowing with statements. Here's a taste:

John Berlau, director of the Competitive Enterprise Institute's Center for Entrepreneurship: "Like all so-called five-year plans, the five-year interest rate freeze by its design would pretty much have only negative effects and worsen the credit slowdown. While apparently no taxpayer dollars are directly involved (at least not yet), by pressuring the rewrite of millions of mortgage contracts, the Paulson plan could have even greater costs on the economy as well as future aspiring homeowners than even a direct taxpayer bailout. The credit market depends on the sanctity of contracts for everything from the financing of mortgages to new small businesses. But if regulators can negate contracts anytime there is a problem, much of this credit could dry up."

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid: "I came to the floor to say positive things about the President’s actions to help as many as 200,000 people. That’s what their efforts today – he and Secretary Paulson’s efforts today – will help: about 200,000 people. That’s about 10 percent of the people in real trouble. Is that enough? Of course it’s not enough, but it’s a step in the right direction."

Congressman Elijah E. Cummings of Maryland: “The President’s plan will help only one small group of the millions of families who are in danger of losing their homes, leaving the remaining 80 percent of people—many of whom are minorities—literally out in the cold. We need to enact a permanent solution that will help everyone who is struggling through this crisis—not just a five year plan assisting a select few."

Sen. Hillary Clinton: "I have announced a comprehensive plan that will actually end the foreclosure crisis. My plan imposes an immediate moratorium on foreclosures; an automatic, across-the-board rate freeze; and the requirement that servicers and lenders provide status reports on how many mortgages they are converting from designed-to-fail to designed-to-work. The foreclosure moratorium ensures that families will not lose their homes while servicers put the systems in place to implement the rate freeze as well as the large-scale modification of loans." 

Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation Chairman Sheila C. Bair: "In many cases, it will make sense to extend the modification for a longer period and that is allowed by today's agreement. Investors benefit by receiving a steady stream of income rather than incurring the greater losses from foreclosing on a home. Communities and neighborhoods benefit by allowing people to maintain stakes and a vested interest in the areas where they live."

Edward L. Yingling, president and chief executive of the American Bankers Association: "We appreciate the Bush administration for its efforts in bringing together private sector players to develop a mechanism to modify mortgage loans to certain ‘at risk’ borrowers. The plan appropriately focuses on those who are current in their financial obligations but will be unable to meet reset-rate payments.  Doing this will not only reduce foreclosure risks and help families in need, it will also add substantial stability to a portion of the mortgage market that has been in disarray."

Steve Bartlett, president and chief executive of The Financial Services Roundtable: "One word to the business community who are rightly concerned about their contracts: this agreement is built on existing contracts and abrogates no one’s contractual rights."

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 6:44 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Foreclosure help

December 6, 2007

Who's eligible for the interest rate freeze

Crazy busy today working on a story for tomorrow about the rate-freeze plan -- but now I'm taking a deep breath and putting up a link for everyone who wants the nitty-gritty details about eligibility ... or at least the nittier-than-the-sound-bites. (Why yes, I was frustrated by the lack of specificity at the press conferences; thanks for asking.)

The American Securitization Forum has a document -- called “Streamlined Foreclosure and Loss Avoidance Framework for Securitized Subprime Adjustable Rate Mortgage Loans" -- that you can find linked to this webpage. Happy reading.

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 8:33 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Foreclosure help

And now for the reaction

The Neighborhood Assistance Corporation of America, responding to the mortgage-rate-freeze plan that the Bush administration expects to announce today but that was detailed by the AP yesterday, has this to say:
The Bush administration’s rescue plan impacts a limited number of homeowners and even those within the criteria will only have a temporary reprieve. Freezing interest rates temporarily is analogous to having a defective automobile with no brakes, and rather than fix the brakes, you are allowed to park it while making the payments and then drive it down the hill full speed.
Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 7:53 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Foreclosure help

December 5, 2007

Early details of the mortgage-rate-freeze plan

The AP reports (in a story you can find here):
The Bush administration has hammered out an agreement to freeze interest rates for certain subprime mortgages for five years to combat a soaring tide of foreclosures, congressional aides said Wednesday.

The aides, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the details have not yet been released, said the five-year moratorium represented a compromise between desires by banking regulators for a longer time frame of up to seven years and mortgage industry arguments that the freeze should last only one or two years.

Another person familiar with the matter said the rate-freeze plan would apply to borrowers with loans made at the start of 2005 through July 30 of this year with rates that are scheduled to rise between Jan. 1, 2008, and July 31, 2010.

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 8:59 PM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Foreclosure help

Atta Poku foreclosure case on The Daily Kos

The popular blog has an entry this week about the case of Kwaku Atta Poku, the Columbia cab owner who lost his house to foreclosure though he never missed a payment. (He refinanced his mortgage but could not prove the original loan had been paid off because, as Larry Carson has been reporting, "several key documents, including the settlement check itself, were lost by financial institutions.")

At last count, there were 62 comments. For instance: "This is beyond enraging" and "What appears to have happened, and tragically, it happens all the time, is that Mr. Poku's delay in taking legal action cost him his house."

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 5:13 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Foreclosure help

December 4, 2007

Judges comment on foreclosure case

Maryland Court of Appeals judges mused yesterday on the case of the Columbia cab owner who lost his home to foreclosure though he'd never missed a payment. (He refinanced his mortgage but could not prove the original loan had been paid off because, Larry Carson reports in a story today, "several key documents, including the settlement check itself, were lost by financial institutions.")

Scott C. Borison, attorney for homeowner Kwaku Atta Poku, wants him to be able to recoup his losses.

"You're asking us to do something we haven't done before," said Judge Dale R. Cathell, according to Carson's story. Cathell added later: "I don't mean to say there's not been a wrong done. How is it corrected? I just don't know how to do it."

Judge Irma S. Raker asked a question raised by many since Carson first reported on the predicament: "How could Mr. Atta Poku have avoided all this once this train started moving?"

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 11:34 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Foreclosure help

Help is on the way! Or maybe not

If you're a homeowner in trouble with your subprime loan, don't assume all is well now that the Bush administration is crafting a plan to assist -- or at least that's what industry analysts are saying. A New York Times story today reports that analysts say the effort "could help only a small number of those who took out such loans."
Though administration officials have yet to agree on crucial details with mortgage lenders and the securities industry, a similar effort in California is likely to help about 12 percent of borrowers in the state with adjustable-rate subprime loans, according to estimates by Barclays Capital.

In case this number hasn't been hammered into your brain already, about 2 million homeowners with subprime mortgages are likely to see big hikes in their monthly payments "in the next year or so as their introductory teaser rates expire," the Times says.

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 11:18 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Foreclosure help

December 3, 2007

Columbia homeowner gets another day in court

Larry Carson reports in today's paper that the foreclosure case that attracted so much attention -- the one involving a Columbia cab owner who lost his house though he never missed a payment -- will go before Maryland's highest court today.

Kwaku Atta Poku lost the townhouse after a refinancing.

Washington Mutual, which took and resold his house in 2005, said it "never received payment for the first mortgage, and Atta Poku was unable to prove it was paid off when he refinanced, partly because crucial financial documents were lost by the financial institutions involved in the transaction," Carson reports.

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 10:22 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Foreclosure help

December 2, 2007

Mortgage rate freezes?

The AP reports that the "Bush administration and the mortgage industry, trying to counter a huge wave of foreclosures, are hammering out a proposal to temporarily freeze interest rates on certain troubled subprime mortgages."
The major thrust of the proposal would be to get lenders to extend the low, introductory rates offered on subprime mortgages for up to five years. These loans are usually offered to borrowers with weak credit histories.

An estimated 2 million of those initial teaser rates are scheduled to reset to much higher levels by the end of next year, pushing the payment on a typical mortgage from $1,200 per month to $1,550. The concern is that many homeowners will not be able to meet the higher payments, triggering hundreds of thousands of defaults.

The proposal doesn't call for the use of taxpayer money, AP adds. In theory, it means mortgage-backed-securities investors will take the hit -- though "they would still get more money than if the mortgage went into default," the story notes.

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 7:33 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Foreclosure help

November 19, 2007

Foreclosure-help efforts

Faithful readers with good memories will recall that last month the Bush administration announced an alliance of mortgage industry players aimed at helping prevent foreclosures. Robert K. Steel, the Treasury Department's undersecretary for domestic finance, gave an update on the "HOPE NOW" effort at a housing forum in Minneapolis today:
Today is an important day in this public-private outreach effort. Starting today, HOPE NOW will send more than 300,000 letters by the end of this month alone to struggling homeowners who could be in a position to move into a more affordable mortgage. That is 100,000 more homeowners than they initially expected to reach this month. And they will continue reaching out to more borrowers over the next several months.

The administration expects that the letter campaign will be more effective than can-we-help-you notices sent out by mortgage servicers. Steel said servicers "have reported limited success reaching at-risk customers, but independent counselors have reported a significantly higher success rate."

The letter recommends that borrowers in trouble get help by calling their servicer or a hotline, 888-995-HOPE. (The hotline belongs to the Homeownership Preservation Foundation.)

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 5:48 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Foreclosure help

November 14, 2007

The ripple effect of foreclosures

Lorraine Mirabella and I have a story today about a report by the Center for Responsible Lending that tries to put a figure on the number of homes that will see values decline simply because they are near subprime foreclosures.

The center estimates that about a third of homes nationwide -- 44.5 million -- will see property values drop by an average of $5,000 two to three years after the foreclosures of loans originated in 2005 or 2006. Such a loss would add up to $223 billion.

The study ranked Maryland sixth worst in the nation, with some 1.43 million properties - more than half the state's total - expected to lose $8 billion in value. California was ranked No. 1.
The Joint Economic Committee of Congress, in a report last month, put a smaller figure on the projected loss for Maryland.
The committee estimated the total loss of state property values at $2.7 billion, of which about $1.1 billion was the ripple effect on nearby homes. That report forecast subprime foreclosures from the middle of this year through the end of 2009.
Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 10:03 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Foreclosure help

October 26, 2007

A prediction for Maryland

The new foreclosure report from the Democrats on the Joint Economic Committee of Congress includes state-by-state estimates of subprime foreclosures between the summer of '07 and the end of 2009.

The report predicts that lenders will foreclose on about 25,000 homes in Maryland -- a $2.7 billion loss in property value, both directly and indirectly. (Studies say foreclosure hurts the value of nearby homes, too.) The committee estimates the local loss in property taxes at $19 million.

I compared the foreclosure predictions to 2006 household numbers for an apples-to-apples way to stack Maryland against the nation. If the committee is right, we'd see about 12 subprime foreclosures for every 1,000 households in Maryland. The nation's rate is about the same.

California, which had a bigger boom and is experiencing a bigger bust, would have 14.5 subprime foreclosures per 1,000 households. Ohio, which has economic problems on top of housing woes, would have about 16 for every 1,000.

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 1:14 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Foreclosure help

October 25, 2007

Foreclosure prediction -- and suggestions

The New York Times reports today that the Joint Economic Committee of Congress will issue a report predicting "about two million foreclosures by the end of next year on homes purchased with subprime mortgages."
That estimate is far higher than the Bush administration’s prediction in September of 500,000 foreclosures, which in itself would be a tidal wave compared with recent years. ...

The Joint Economic Committee estimates that the lost of real estate wealth just from foreclosures on subprime loans will be about $71 billion. An additional $32 billion would be lost because foreclosed homes tend to drive down the prices of other houses in the neighborhood.

Tip of the hat to Calculated Risk for noticing this. 

On a related note, added foreclosure-help suggestions to its site today, including possible do's and definite don'ts if you find yourself in trouble.

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 12:02 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Foreclosure help

October 17, 2007

GAO on foreclosures

The U.S. Government Accountability Office has a new report on foreclosures -- summary here, with a link on that page to the full study. An except:
Overall, the number and percentage of mortgages in default or foreclosure rose sharply from the second quarter of 2005 through the second quarter of 2007 to levels at or near historical highs, but there was significant variation among market segments, loan types, and states. The overall default rate grew by 29 percent, reaching a point at which just over 1 in every 100 mortgages was in default, almost a 28-year high. The foreclosure start rate did reach a 28-year high, rising by 55 percent. The subprime market experienced substantially steeper increases in default and foreclosure start rates than the prime or government-insured markets, accounting for two-thirds or more of the overall increase in the number of loans in default or foreclosure during this time frame.
Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 11:07 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Foreclosure help

October 1, 2007

Foreclosure help

The Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development -- reacting to rising foreclosures and the expectation of worse to come -- said today that it is giving almost $1.2 million to homeownership counseling agencies helping residents in trouble. (See "What's New" column on the right side of the home page.)

The money, to be spread among 17 groups, is part of the state's Home Owners Preserving Equity (HOPE) initiative.

Falling behind on your mortgage payments, or afraid you will? You can call 877-462-7555 for information about HOPE. Got a complaint about lending practices? Call the state Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation, 888-784-0136.

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 7:11 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Foreclosure help

September 28, 2007

Searching for foreclosure homes?

The Maryland Attorney General’s Office and the owner of several Annapolis-based websites have reached a settlement after the agency accused him of not delivering on a promise of free searches for foreclosure properties, the state said today.

The press release lists the various websites and details of the settlement, which includes $150,000 in penalties and fees.

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 2:04 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Foreclosure help
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About Jamie Smith Hopkins
Jamie Smith Hopkins, a Baltimore Sun reporter since 1999, writes about the regional economy. Her reporting on the housing market has won national and local awards. Hopkins is a Columbia native and has lived in Maryland all her life, save for 10 months spent covering schools in Ames, Iowa.
She trained to become a wonk by spending large chunks of time as a geek and an insufferable know-it-all.
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