When your home is threatened by foreclosure, you may find it hard to think about anything other than the loss of your home. It's overwhelming. But you need to act for there to be any hope of saving your home. The longer you wait the worse it can get. For everyone.
You need to get legal help, and time matters. A foreclosure attorney can help you figure out how to proceed with your case and also can also negotiate with your lender to avoid the undesirable result of a foreclosure sale. The key is to get your attorney involved as early as possible.
The Foreclosure Process
Understanding the legal steps of the foreclosure process may help you know when it's necessary to ask an attorney for help. Typically, foreclosure takes the following steps if you do nothing to prevent it:
- Your lender tries to contact you to find out why you haven't made payments
- Your lender sends you a notice of default and demands payment
- Your lender hires a local attorney who files a foreclosure complaint in court
- The court sends you a copy of the complaint and gives you some time (usually about 30 days) to file an answer
- The lender's attorney files a motion for a default judgment
- The court grants the motion and issues an order of sale to the sheriff
- The sheriff gets an appraisal of the value of your home
- The sheriff advertises a foreclosure sale or public auction of your home. You get a notice of that sale
- Your home is sold. The court enters a judgment of sale and orders a new deed for the buyer
- The buyer now has a right to possess the property and can ask the sheriff to evict you
- Your lender obtains a deficiency judgment against you for the difference, if any, between the foreclosure sale price and what you owed on the mortgage
The foreclosure process, from the time of filing the foreclosure complaint to the time that a judgment of sale is entered against you, can happen within a two-month period. That doesn't give you much time, so you must be proactive to defend your home.
Keep Communication Lines Open
First and foremost, don't ignore your lender's calls. You should always keep the lines of communication open. Your lender really has no desire to foreclose on your home - it's an expensive process and your lender doesn't want to be in the real estate business.
So, it's probably willing work with you to find a solution. At the same time, if it looks likes you and your lender can't prevent foreclosure, the sooner you seek legal help, the better prepared your attorney will be to help you through the process.
The Attorney's Role
A foreclosure attorney will not only defend you in a foreclosure proceeding but will also work with your lender alone or with the help of a certified housing counselor to work out an alternative to foreclosure. Here are some of the services you can expect from your attorney:
- A thorough examination of the terms and conditions of your purchase agreement, mortgage and other relevant documents
- A thorough understanding of your side of the story, your personal and financial situation and your interests and objectives
- An analysis of your failure to make timely mortgage payments including any mitigating circumstances that may explain your default, such as the loss of your job or illness
- An analysis of available defenses to a foreclosure complaint and any possible counterclaims
- An assessment of viable options to foreclosure that are in your best interests
- Negotiations with your lender to work out a solution to foreclosure
- Zealous defense of your interests in all court filings and court proceedings
A foreclosure attorney's options in helping you depends a lot on how early the attorney gets involved in the foreclosure process. The longer you wait, the fewer opportunities your attorney will has to help you.
Paying for an Attorney's Services
An attorney is entitled to a reasonable fee providing legal services to you. Typically, a foreclosure attorney may cost from $500 to $3,000 or more depending upon the complexity of the case and the attorney's time spent with you, your lender and in court.
Depending on the laws in your state and your mortgage agreement, your lender may have to pay your attorney's fees if your attorney is successful in getting a court judgment in your favor.
You may get legal help even if you can't afford to hire an attorney. Check with your local legal aid society to see if you qualify for assistance. You should also check with your state and local bar associations. They list attorneys willing to provide their services for free.
Don't wait around thinking there's no way around or out of foreclosure. Talk to an attorney and you may be surprised. You may save your home. You'll certainly lose your home if you do nothing at all.
Questions for Your Attorney
- Do I have to leave my house once my bank starts the foreclosure process?
- How do I know if the bank is following the legal rules during the foreclosure process? What happens if it doesn't follow those rules?
- I can't afford to pay everything I owe in missed mortgage payments, but I can start to make my regular payments again. Should I send in my payments?