Adviser shares tips for avoiding foreclosure

COMMERCE CITY, Colo. – On a Wednesday morning, 30 people, including whites, blacks and Hispanics, a younger couple holding hands and a silver-haired man in a wheelchair, pack a small classroom in the basement of the Adams County Housing Authority, northeast of Denver.

They are here because foreclosure is close behind. A new group has filled the room every two weeks since July.

“This is about choices and sacrifices,” housing counselor MaryEllen De Los Santos tells them. “Ask yourself continuously, ‘Do I want to keep my house?’”

De Los Santos is no fan of lenders who sign people to mortgages they can’t afford. But, she tells homeowners, responsibility also falls on them. Talking to dozens of families has convinced her of that.

There was the man who fell behind on his mortgage, then took money his daughter gave him for payments and used it to buy back his guitar collection from a pawnshop. There have been any number of families whose problems began when they traded the security of a fixed-rate government-insured loan for an adjustable rate mortgage without thinking about the consequences.

So cancel the cable. Put aside any thought of going out for dinner. De Los Santos says she can help, but the person who is going to save the house is the homeowner.

Everyone nods. But some wonder if it isn’t too late.

Bonnie Stout, a retired police dispatcher, is one. After an auto accident, she refinanced so she’d be able to make payments on a new car. Then her husband, a groundskeeper, was hit by a car at work and they lost most of his income. They are $12,000 behind on their interest-only loan. The payments go up every month.

Stout says the stress has contributed to an ulcer, and it has fanned tensions between her and her husband. Wells Fargo is ready to foreclose, and she is ready to give up.

“It comes to the point where there is no Peter to pay Paul,” she says.

Stout’s best hope is a “short sale,” where a lender approves a sale for less than the value of a loan, taking a loss but avoiding the time and expense of foreclosure. The homeowner keeps a foreclosure off their record, giving them a chance to start over.

The problem is that there are way too many homes for sale and way too few buyers.

Not far from Stout’s home, real estate agent Bill Thornton threads through subdivisions, pointing out all the homes sitting dark. “Price Reduced,” a real estate sign in one yard reads. “I’m Gorgeous,” reads a sign on another. Some have “No Trespassing” signs taped to the living room windows.

“If you eyeball it and it’s empty,” Thornton says, “it’s usually either foreclosure or bank- ruptcy.”

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