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Preforeclosure: Defined And Explained

Molly Grace6-minute read

September 15, 2020

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Sometimes, things don’t go according to plan. Financial hardship can come out of nowhere, causing you to start missing mortgage payments because you simply can’t afford to make them.

When your mortgage lender or servicer notifies you that you’re in preforeclosure, it can feel like the end of the world. But you aren’t out of options just yet.

What Is Preforeclosure?

Preforeclosure is the first step in a foreclosure proceeding brought on because the homeowner has failed to make 3 – 6 months of payments. Homeowners in preforeclosure typically have a few options to avoid foreclosure, including paying what is owed, working with their lender to modify the mortgage to reduce their monthly payment, or settling the debt through a short sale or deed-in-lieu-of-foreclosure.

When you take out a mortgage, you agree to make payments according to your contract. Depending on your contract, your lender may give you a short grace period after your monthly payment is due – usually 15 days – before you’ll be considered late and charged fees.

When you become late, or delinquent, on your mortgage, your lender will begin contacting you by letter or phone to try and work out a solution that doesn’t involve you losing your home to foreclosure.

It’s very important that you stay in contact with the lender during this period. They’ll do their best to work with you, but they can’t do that if you don’t pick up the phone.

If you don’t work with your lender or aren’t able to come to a solution and you miss three or more payments, your lender will file a notice of default, which is a public record stating that your loan is in default. This is the beginning of the preforeclosure process.

Once this happens, consider this your “last call” to take action to avoid foreclosure. Let’s take a look at what taking action looks like in this situation.

Keep in mind that foreclosure laws vary from state to state, so the timeline might be slightly different for you. If you want to know what exactly the law says in your state, check with your state’s housing office or consult an attorney. Read your loan documents for default information specific to your loan.

What Can A Homeowner Do To Stop Foreclosure?

For most people, putting an end to preforeclosure isn’t as simple as paying back everything you’re late on in one lump sum and moving on.

While your lender may offer this as an option, if you’re still suffering from the same circumstances that caused you to initially go delinquent on your mortgage, such as a job loss, you likely won’t be able to do this.

When you pay off past-due mortgage bills (and any fees incurred) to bring your loan current, it’s called reinstating the loan.

However, just because you can’t pay everything off right away doesn’t mean you don’t have options. Mortgage lenders would much rather work with you than foreclose on your home. Take advantage of that and explore whether any of these options make sense for you.

Talk To Your Lender About Repayment Plans

Your lender may agree to spread out your past-due payments over the course of several months, adding the amount to your regular monthly bill.

This can be a good option if you had a temporary setback and are currently able to make your regular payments but are having trouble paying back the missed payments.

However, be sure that your budget can handle the extra monthly payments. Work with your lender to determine how much you can afford to pay each month. Don’t agree to pay more than what you know you can afford.

With this option, you’ll be able to stay in your home and avoid foreclosure (provided you follow the terms of the repayment agreement).

Ask For Help

We all need a little bit of help sometimes. If you aren’t sure what your options are, consider reaching out to a housing counseling agency that’s approved by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). You can search for a counselor online or call (800) 569-4287.

These counselors will evaluate your individual situation and help you determine the best course of action for you to take. When you call, be prepared to provide some basic information on your financial situation. You may want to have your most recent mortgage statement, recent pay stubs, tax returns, bank statements and other monthly bills with you so you can better answer their questions.

Make sure the counselor you’re reaching out to is HUD-approved. Scammers often prey on homeowners going through the foreclosure process, and even some more legitimate businesses may charge you for services you can get for free from HUD.

Discuss A Loan Modification With Your Lender

If you can’t pay your loan as was originally outlined in your contract, your lender may be open to modifying the terms of your mortgage.

A loan modification typically involves changing the type, length or rate of the loan to lower your monthly payments. This could mean that the lender extends the life of the loan, giving you more time to pay it off, moves you from an adjustable rate to a fixed rate so that you have a predictable monthly payment or lowers your interest rate.

This option can be helpful if you need a longer-term solution and aren’t eligible to refinance into a new loan with better terms.

Explore Forbearance

With forbearance, your lender will allow you to temporarily stop making payments on the loan. However, once the forbearance period is over, you’ll not only resume making monthly payments, you’ll typically owe the full amount of what you would have paid during that time in one lump sum.

This may be helpful if you have a temporary loss of income, but you should be careful about agreeing to a forbearance plan if you aren’t sure you’ll be able to pay the full amount once it comes to an end.

Pursue A Short Sale

This option can help you avoid foreclosure, but unfortunately, you’ll give up your home in the process. However, if you’re living in a home you can no longer afford, this may be your best option.

When you sell your home for less than you owe on it, it’s called a short sale. If your lender agrees to it, you may be able to satisfy your mortgage debt by selling your home and using the proceeds to pay off as much of the loan as you can, with the lender agreeing to forgive the remaining balance.

If you’re interested in pursuing this option, talk to a real estate agent with experience in short sales.

Sign A Deed-In-Lieu-Of-Foreclosure

With a deed-in-lieu-of-foreclosure, you exchange the deed to your home for forgiveness of your mortgage debt. You lose your home to the lender, but you avoid the foreclosure process.

If you want to explore this option, talk to your mortgage lender about whether they’ll accept a deed-in-lieu agreement.

What If I Want To Buy A Preforeclosure Home?

On the other side of the foreclosure process are buyers who are hoping to potentially get a good deal on a home that is being sold for less than other homes on the market. Preforeclosures are generally popular with two types of buyers.

Real Estate Investors

Investors often look for homes they can purchase below market value and then “flip” to sell at a higher price than what they bought it at.

While this can be a profitable strategy, it’s best left up to the professionals, as novice flippers often end up underestimating how much time and effort they’ll need to put into their fixer-upper and overestimating the amount of money they can make off of it.

First-Time Homebuyers

Often, cash-strapped first-time home buyers will look at preforeclosures and foreclosures to see if they can’t get into a home at a bargain price.

However, upfront savings can often turn into long-term headaches. Homes that are going through the foreclosure process might not be in the best of shape due to the owner not being able to afford basic maintenance. These homes will also typically be sold as-is, meaning no repairs will be done to the property. This makes them risky for first-timers, who might not have the funds to make necessary fixes.

Summary: Preforeclosure – A Difficult Time Requiring Difficult Decisions

There are no easy answers when your home is danger of being foreclosed on. Though there are options available to help you avoid foreclosure, many of them will still negatively impact your credit history and score and may still mean needing to move out of your home.

The best thing you can do if you’re having trouble making your mortgage payments or believe you will soon is to talk to your mortgage lender or servicer early and often. Foreclosure is an expensive process for them; they would rather work with you to help you make your payments.

It’s easy to feel ashamed and to want to bury your head in the sand when you get the call or letter from your mortgage lender letting you know you’re late on your payments. But remember that there’s nothing shameful about experiencing hardship. Don’t be afraid to ask for help and find a preforeclosure solution that works for you.

Learn more on the Rocket Mortgage® Learning Center.

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Molly Grace

Molly Grace is a staff writer focusing on mortgages, personal finance and homeownership. She has a B.A. in journalism from Indiana University. You can follow her on Twitter @themollygrace.