Facing foreclosure fears

Recent surveys of foreclosure starts in the North Country reflect an increasing number of homeowners in our area are falling behind on their mortgage payments or finding themselves on the brink of foreclosure. The 2007 rate of foreclosure starts in Clinton County is up 44% and in Warren County the rate is up 31% compared to 2006. How did this happen? Easier access to home loans a couple of years ago, a fragile housing market, and adjustable rate mortgages that suddenly are beyond the financial abilities of the borrower are causing a climb in foreclosure rates in the North Country and across the nation. Over the last few years, too often buyers rushed into or were tempted by loan products that appeared to be low-cost. These loans actually had teaser rates as short-term benefits and while they got many buyers into a home, when their rates increased as scheduled, thousands of homeowners have been shocked by payments they didnt expect and cant afford. Nothing is worse than doing nothing if you are falling behind on your payments. There are steps area homeowners can take to avoid foreclosure and keep their home equity. Because fast action is so important in the early stages, homeowners at risk of entering foreclosure should immediately call the Housing Assistance Program of Essex County (873-6888), the Clinton County Housing Assistance Program 565-4456), or the HOPE Hotline (888-995-HOPE) for help. According to recent industry studies, more than half of homeowners facing foreclosure do not call for help when they begin to fall behind on their payments. The early stages of foreclosure are the most crucial studies show that homeowners who are one or two payments behind are more likely to keep their homes than those further behind on their payment schedule. Counselors are often the first line of defense for homeowners facing foreclosure. The Housing Assistance Program of Essex County is a member of the NeighborWorks network of organizations that provide homeownership education and counseling, can deploy a range of services to help area residents in danger, including face-to-face counseling, bridge loans to help borrowers falling behind in payments catch up, rehab loans for repairs and maintenance, and public education. Homeowners facing foreclosure may also consider calling the 888-995-HOPE (4673) to receive counseling over the phone, or in-person foreclosure prevention counseling from HUD-certified counseling agencies like HAPEC and CCHAP. The nation-wide toll-free hotline is facilitated by the Homeownership Preservation Foundation, a Minneapolis-based nonprofit dedicated to preserving homeownership and preventing foreclosures by reaching owners as early as possible to prevent them from reaching the point of foreclosure. Homeowners who have fallen behind should also contact their lender. Many borrowers may be hesitant to call their bank because of embarrassment, fear, or lack of trust. Working with a counselor may help alleviate this anxiety because a counselor has the ability to serve as mediator between the borrower and lender. With the help of a counselor, a homeowner can work with his or her lender to develop a reasonable plan that will offer temporary relief to the borrower. More often than not, a bank is willing to work with a borrower to develop a plan of action designed to put the family back on the financial road to recovery. Research and experience show it is much less expensive to counsel and restructure loans than to foreclose. The cost to the borrower includes a lost home, equity and ruined credit. The cost to the community includes unnecessary law enforcement services and lost economic development. And, contrary to common misperceptions, banks and mortgage investors lose in foreclosure, too at least $30,000 on each foreclosed home. We must do all we can to ensure homeownership is not built on quick sand; the earlier our homeowners act, the more options they have in addressing their financial issues, and preventing foreclosure. Remember, nothing is worse than doing nothing.

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