Imagine for a moment that your wallet, purse, or handbag was stolen from your car. All of your personal and credit information was included in the “transfer” of ownership: your multiple IDs, social security card, home address, credit cards, spare house and car keys; everything. Now, you have some work to do. You need to cancel your credit and membership cards and get new ones, set up a credit monitoring or credit security service to lock credit activity, change the locks on your doors, go to the DMV and get a new license, dig through family photos for replacements, get a new cell phone and replace all your contacts, programs, music, etc. Getting your life back together is going to take awhile. You’ll be on hold for hours, talking with hapless bureaucrats, minimum-wage-earning call center human robots, jumping through hoops, providing documents to people who either don’t get them or lose them, and standing in line at the DMV.
Processing a loan modification is a lot like this, only much worse. Whereas a dedicated and persistent person could recover from stolen personal effects in a few weeks at most, negotiating with a lender on a loan mod, short sale, or deed in lieu of foreclosure routinely takes months, and can take over a year. Real estate attorneys, agents, and short sale processors who have experience in dealing with lenders and negotiations on behalf of homeowners are not surprised by this; they expect it. They spend their days on hold, taking copious notes, demanding to speak to supervisors, “expediting” the process, verifying paperwork, and pushing through to the ubiquitous “next level” in the process. This is their job, and in most cases, they are paid well for it.
There are now hundreds of businesses and “servicers” clamoring for the distressed homeowner’s attention, offering “help” with their foreclosure troubles. I get many of them myself, and I’m not even “distressed,” at least not about real estate! Needless to say, there are many scams being perpetrated on homeowners, and care should be taken. Selecting the right company, attorney, or agent to help you can be daunting and anxiety producing. The following are some tips when shopping for loan mod help:
Be Wary of Paying Money Up Front
If possible, look for an agreement that provides payment if, and only if, the loan modification is completed on a permanent basis. It should be understood however, that this is a very labor intensive process, and there is no real guarantee of success. The company that worked on your behalf for all those months will likely want compensation if, in spite of all their best efforts, your modification is denied. Remember, there is risk involved for both the homeowner and the processor, and that risk can and should be negotiated, or shared. Perhaps you could work out a deal where only half the fee is due up front? Be very cautious about paying in full up front, with a promise of “your money back,” if the loan mod fails. Some suggest that you insist on paying with a credit card, so that charges may later be disputed if something goes wrong.
Make Sure the Processing Charges Appear on the HUD-1
When and if the lender agrees to a permanent modification, new loan documents will have to be generated and executed by the borrower, the lender, and the Trustee (in AZ). This will usually happen at a title company, where the documents will be notarized, filed with the county recorder, and distributed to all parties. A regular HUD-1 or “Closing Settlement Statement” will be issued for the transaction. The party who processed your loan modification should be listed on the HUD-1, along with their attendant processing fees. You would then bring that fee to the closing table to as your cost for “settlement charges”.
Make Sure the Processor Understands the Process, and Can Explain
Make sure that whoever you choose has a plan or strategy in place for fully educating you on the process. Whether this means they meet with you in person or on the phone, or send you a flow chart, graph, or handbook, you should be aware of milestones, what is coming up next, and where you stand with the over-all process. Someone with a good “bedside manner” is what you’re looking for here, as you are in trouble, and you need to feel confident that the process is under control by a competent professional.
Make Sure Communication Lines Are Clear
You will need to have open lines of communication with your processor. They will have questions for you, and will need you to deliver documents to them periodically. The best practice is email communication, as it is an excellent way to keep records of who said what when, and what documents were sent and when. If you have the ability to scan and email documents through email, you should also do this. The documents will be attached to their original emails, and saved in the system. This is record that you have complied with all pertinent information and data requests. If you have to, use a fax machine for documents, and keep the “Transmission Record” of your having sent it. Only hand-deliver or mail documents as a last resort, and only if they are certified (i.e., someone has to sign for them on the other end). Bottom line: keep neat records of communication and documentation sent.
Your communication lines will also keep you up to date on the progress on your file. You should receive weekly updates, in writing. This should be a log of all activity on your file. Good processors keep notes on a “transaction” or “processing” form of some kind. Any time they have a conversation with your lender, send some document, or make a call to any third party, the conversation is recorded in this log. You want an updated copy of this log each week. The log should show that the processor is contacting your lender at least once per week, what your lender said, what your lender wants, what the hold up is, etc. Depending upon your level of comfort, you may ask for this document, along with a call to discuss it, on a designated day and time each week.
Make Sure You Check for Experience and References
You should ask any potential processor what type, and how much, experience they have with loan modifications, how many of their loan mods have been successful versus unsuccessful, and whether they can provide a list of potential references for you to call. You might also visit your local BBB web site to look up the company’s history. Sometimes, a simple Google search with “[Company Name] Scam” is sufficient to root out trouble makers. If there are several Web sites, Blogs, or news stories connecting the word “scam” with the company or person you have selected, well. . . I’ll leave you to your own judgment.
If you decide to hire someone to help modify your mortgage, follow the above guidelines to minimize your exposure to scams and ensure the best professional selection. Also remember, there are no guarantees that your loan modification will be successful. If you would rather complete the process yourself, in our next installment we’ll provide guidance and best practices for going it alone.
*Disclaimer: We DO provide loan counseling services to our clients, but we NEVER charge the homeowner money. Please also remember: I am NOT an attorney, and neither do I play one on TV or the Internet. None of these pontifications should be construed as specific legal advice. If you need specific legal advice regarding your personal situation, give us a call. We can help you ourselves, or provide a list of housing counselors that are free!