It does not matter where you live, whether it be in Minnesota or in South Carolina, there are homeowners underwater in their home and unsure of what their options are.
This is an excellent post detailing what you can do if you feel that your home is worth more that you paid for it, if you're drowning in your mortgage payments, or if it's time to just get out.
In my home state of Minnesota, Minneapolis and Saint Paul have nearly 39 percent of homeowners under water. I've had the question, "I'm upside down on my home, what are my options?" so many times that I wanted to prepare a menu of options for people to reference. This article briefly outlines 9 potential solutions that may serve you well. The target audience here is not necessarily someone who's in default on their loan but simply one who owes more than the home is worth.
All too often, when one is upside down on their home and/or struggling with their mortgage, they reach out for one to three options that they may have heard about on the news or from a friend. What homeowners should be doing is seeking the advice of qualified real estate agents, real estate attorneys and a skilled loan officer. But, . . . before a homeowner picks up the phone, there's a lot of homework to do! Before one calls the professionals, they'll just be spinning their wheels until the following items are ready:
- Know your address. You may know it to be one thing but for these purposes, your address is whatever http://www.usps.gov/ tells you it is. So go to this website, click on "find a zip code" and type your address. The postal service will then give you the address it has registered for you. This is the address that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac use so it would serve you well to do the same.
- Collect your financial documents. Whether you're working with a loan officer on a loan, a Realtor on a short sale or an attorney on a bankruptcy or modification, they'll all need a complete set of your financials. This includes 09 and 08 tax returns, W2's and 1099's. If you're self employed, you'll need 2009 and 2008 tax returns from your business. If you haven't filed your 09's, get it done. You'll also need copies of your most recent paystub, most recent bank statement, most recent statement on any retirement accounts, and a copy of a mortgage statement on each mortgage you have. Getting these documents scanned to image documents such as Adobe Reader can really speed things up.
- Collect your legal documents. It would be wise to, at the very least, have a copy of your mortgage note. If you are planning on meeting with an attorney, it would be much better to have your entire closing package. This should have been provided to you by the title company that closed your loan. Again, getting these documents scanned to image documents such as Adobe Reader can really speed things up.
- This isn't necessary, but it's wise. Get a copy of your credit report at http://www.annualcreditreport.com/ (this site is truly free and not a scam). Knowing the content of your credit will help you write letters of explanation if you're doing a mortgage loan or a hardship letter if you're doing a short sale.
Getting this done is arduous but it will prove invaluable to those you ask for help. Now you're ready for that menu of options:
- Fannie Mae DU Refi Plus - If your loan is owned by Fannie Mae, you may be entitled to refinance up to 125% of your home's value. You can get a loose idea of what your home is worth at http://www.cyberhomes.com/. To see if your home is owned by Fannie Mae, go to http://loanlookup.fanniemae.com/loanlookup/ and enter your address as it appeared at http://www.usps.gov/. If it is owned by Fannie Mae and you owe less than 125% of the value of your home, you may be eligible for this loan. The rates are slightly higher than normal advertised rates because of pricing add ons but they are close enough to market rates to be a heck of a deal.
- LP Open Access - If your loan is owned by Fannie Mae, you may be entitled to refinance up to 125% of your home's value. You can get a loose idea of what your home is worth at http://www.cyberhomes.com/. To see if your home is owned by Freddie Mac, go to https://ww3.freddiemac.com/corporate/ and enter your address as it appeared at http://www.usps.gov/. If it is owned by Freddie Mac and you owe less than 125% of the value of your home, you may be eligible for this loan. The rates are slightly higher than normal advertised rates because of pricing add ons but they are close enough to market rates. This program will not let you finance more than 5 thousand dollars in closing costs and prepaids so if your settlement charges exceed 5 thousand, be prepared to bring cash to closing.
- FHA 115% Write Down Refi - This one doesn't have a name yet so I just made that up. It's a complicated program and I'm not sure how successful it will be. Essentially, if you're refinancing a non-FHA loan, you'd take a loan out at 97.75% of your home's value. A balance may be subordinated to the first mortgage thus becoming a 2nd mortgage but that loan may not exceed 115% of the homes value. For any of this to happen, the existing lender/s must write down their loan balances by at least 10%. Here is the announcement for this program. You must be current on your mortgage to qualify for this loan. A history of late payments will likely disqualify you for this loan.
- FHA Short Refi - This one is a little simpler. Essentially, you get preapproved for a 97.75% loan to value FHA refinance. This loan will support a certain amount to be paid to your existing lender. Whatever the loan can't support, assuming you can't come up with the difference in cash, will have to be written off by your existing lender. You'd be surprised how many lenders are willing to do this (I know I have been). This was officially permitted by HUD in December of 2009. You must be current on your mortgage to qualify for this loan. A history of late payments will likely disqualify you for this loan.
- Modification - You do not necessarily have to be in default to get a loan modification. If you've had any kind of hardship (i.e. involuntary reductions of income or unavoidable increase in expenses that indicates that you might go into default and you feel that you owe so much on your home and at such poor terms that you're losing your incentive to repay, that might be enough to qualify. Many people have their own opinions on this and I don't assume that mine is the best but I don't recommend contacting your lender directly as a starting point for a modification and I don't recommend calling a pay for hire service either. I recommend calling 1-888-995-HOPE (4673) to speak with a HUD approved counselor for free. They will conduct an interview and serve as an initial intermediary between you and your lender.
- Chapter 11 Bankruptcy - It's expensive, it's a long and hard process but unlike Chapter 7 and Chapter 13, a judge can order a mortgage modification under a Chapter 11 bankruptcy plan. It is the most flexible type of bankruptcy and is thus difficult to explain. Consult an attorney with specific Chapter 11 experience.
- Deed in Lieu - This is where the owner of a property deeds the property back to the lender to avoid foreclosure. Obviously, this only makes sense if you want to get out of the situation quickly and don't want the house anymore. I highly recommend the assistance of an attorney in this to ensure that the act of deeding in lieu serves as payment in full of your mortgage to prevent both damage to your credit and the potential of deficiency judgments.
- Short Sale - A short sale is where a homeowner and lender cooperate to sell a home in a situation where more is owed on the home that the house is worth. The buyer and their Realtor prepare the home for sale and market it and in exchange, the lender writes down the balance of their note to facilitate the sale. It is less costly that foreclosure so lenders are typically willing to do this. Often times, with the help of a good Realtor, damage to your credit can be ameliorated. When choosing your agent, make sure they have a lot of past experience with short sales, are aware of what is changing in short sales and, preferably, they have done short sales that involve your current lender.
- Foreclosure - Now I hesitate to even mention this but a fact is a fact. Foreclosure is an option. If you're upside down and you can't make your payments, sometimes you just have to let go. Too many people think the sheriff's sale is the end. It's just a step in the process. Although it varies by state, foreclosure is usually a 9 month process. So, 9 months of living there and then you move out. It's an ugly option. . . but it's an option.
When we are under stress, we often reach for the first or easiest option that might get us away from the cause of that stress. In the case of the underwater homeowner, that can be a huge mistake. Few know how many options they really have and, if these options are weighed carefully, they can learn that with some effort on their part and the help of qualified professionals, they can get away from their problem with a good solution in hand.
Please remember that all four of these loan types are very difficult and consequently, you'll need an excellent loan officer. Managing your legal risk in a deed in lieu situation or conducting a Chapter 11 requires a seasoned and sophisticated attorney. Proper execution of a short sale is both a science and an art so, if that's the route you take don't make a quick decision on a Realtor. Just because they advertise as a short sale expert doesn't make it so. Choose your professionals wisely, be deliberate in choosing the solution that you want and be organized and you'll find that you're closer to being stress free again than you think.
My heart goes out to you for your situation and, . . . if misery loves company, . . I'm right there with you!