4 ways to fight for your home
If you're feeling pinched by an adjustable-rate mortgage or a falling salary, take action before the situation gets worse.Kiplinger.com
Even if you're a fiscally conservative homeowner, you may be feeling the pressure of high housing costs, particularly if you have a mortgage with a rate that's headed up or if your income has taken a hit. Here’s what to do if your home is on the line.
Spot trouble early. Assess where you stand, especially if your house payments are rising. For advice on cutting back your spending or increasing your income, consult a fee-only financial planner or a nonprofit credit counselor, such as one certified by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Credit-counseling services should be free or low-cost -- say, less than $50 for a session.
Try a refi. Rates on 30-year, fixed-rate mortgages are still attractive and are generally lower than fully indexed rates on adjustable-rate loans. If you can't refinance because your financial prospects are poor, you have no equity in the home or you're looking at a large prepayment penalty, you may want to try selling your home. If you can't afford a full-service agent, try one who offers a limited package of services for a flat fee. See "3 ways to pay lower real estate commissions."
Doing it yourself is no easy task -- you have to price the property aggressively, make yourself and your home available for showings, and close the deal.
Take advantage of mortgage relief, if it's available. In Massachusetts, for example, the governor mandated that homeowners in financial trouble be allowed to request extra time to avoid foreclosure. Their cases will be considered individually. In California, legislators have proposed creating a mortgage pool to assist first-time homeowners in trouble. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac soon will introduce their HomeStay program, which is designed for borrowers with adjustable-rate mortgages who are at risk for payment shock.
Head off foreclosure. As soon as you think you will miss a mortgage payment, call your lender to discuss your options. Besides refinancing, these may include a forbearance (you temporarily pay nothing or only a minimum amount, making up the payments either over time or at the end of the loan) or a loan modification (the lender temporarily adjusts the interest rate). The better your credit score and employment history, the more receptive the lender will be. But note that some lenders may not be able to change the terms of your loan until you're at least 30 days delinquent, and sometimes as many as 120 days past due.
If all else fails, you could try to negotiate a short sale. In that case, the lender agrees to cancel your debt in exchange for the proceeds from the sale of your home. As long as you're an owner-occupant, not an unhappy investor, lenders are likely to be receptive. Plus, they want to avoid the hassle and expense of foreclosure.
A real-estate agent can help you negotiate the deal. (Call local agencies and ask for an agent with experience or training in short sales.) You have a limited window of opportunity: Most lenders allow only three months' delinquency before they issue a formal notice of foreclosure, and state law mandates how quickly the process moves after that.
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