November 24, 2017

Should You Save Your Home from Foreclosure, or Should You Let it Go

With the news full of foreclosure statistics showing huge increases along with stories of self-righteous Members of Congress asserting their heartfelt concern for “struggling homeowners” little attention is paid to the question of whether a homeowner ought to fight to save his home.  My friend and colleague, Charleston bankruptcy lawyer Russ DeMott were recently discussing this issue and I invited him to prepare a guest post about this very topic:

Chapter 13 bankruptcy is a tool that can be used to save your home from foreclosure.  But the big question sometimes isn’t “can I save my home,” but “should I save it?”

We all know that there’s been an epidemic of foreclosure resulting from the recent economic downturn.  Jobs were lost, values plummeted, and foreclosures have been on the rise.

So it’s natural to wonder, “can I file Chapter 13 bankruptcy to save my home from foreclosure?”  However, when you meet with a bankruptcy lawyer to explore your options, you need to explore all your options—bankruptcy and otherwise.  And that might be not saving your home.

When you’re having financial problems and seek advice, you should take the opportunity to review your entire financial situation.  Can you afford your vehicle payments? Can you “tighten the belt” and cut back on some unnecessary expenses?  And most significantly, “should you try to save your home?”

In my Charleston, South Carolina bankruptcy practice, I get calls every week from folks facing foreclosure.  The potential bankruptcy client’s question is always a “can we?”  Can we stop foreclosure?  Can we make the lender listen?  Can we catch up on these payments we’ve missed?  Can we protect our home? Can Chapter 13 bankruptcy help?

But I always focus on the “should we.”  Here are some factors to consider when deciding whether you should use Chapter 13 to keep your home:

  • Can you afford the mortgage payments?  Do you have large house payments you can’t really afford, perhaps with more than one mortgage?  For example, it may be that you can afford payments of $1800 a month, but your current payments are $2800 per month.  Absent a mortgage modification, that’s a tough nut to crack every month.
  • Is your interest rate scheduled to adjust?  It may be that you can afford your payments now but maybe not once your payments adjust.
  • Do you have equity in your home?  (Equity is the value of the property less any liens (like mortgages, outstanding taxes, assessments, and home owner’s dues).  Lately, I’ve been getting calls from clients who not only have no equity, but actually have “negative equity.”  For example, your house might be worth $250,000 and you owe $350,000.  If that’s the case, you might not want to try to save your home from foreclosure.  You’d actually have more equity if you rented!
  • Is this where you want to live for the indefinite future?  If not, perhaps you should use your financial problems to reevaluate where you want to live.  Perhaps renting in another area would lessen your commute or allow your children to enroll in a better school?

These are just a few factors you should consider.  You should weight all the pros and cons of saving your home. You can then have your bankruptcy lawyer help you decide whether filing Chapter 13 bankruptcy to save your home really makes sense.

Jonathan’s note: in addition to the very relevant points Russ makes, let me add this:  if you decide that saving your house in a Chapter 13 does not make sense, a “fresh start” Chapter 7 could be appropriate.  Similarly, you can still file a Chapter 13 to reorganize  your other debts while you surrender your home.   My point – personal bankruptcy is not a “one size fits all” solution – a good bankruptcy lawyer can offer you several options to consider, many of which you may have never considered.

If there is one lament that I hear from my colleagues, it is this – “I wish my clients would call me earlier, when there is time to evaluate bankruptcy and non-bankruptcy options.”  Sometimes, when there are only days or hours to go before a foreclosure, an emergency Chapter 13 may be your only choice.   Even if bankruptcy is something you really do not want to think about, you would be wise to establish a relationship with a bankruptcy lawyer before you end up facing a crisis.

About Jonathan

Jonathan Ginsberg represents honest, hardworking men and women in the Atlanta area who need personal bankruptcy protection. In practice for over 25 years, Jonathan teaches bankruptcy law and practice at legal continuing education seminars and he is a founding member of the Bankruptcy Law Network. Jonathan lives with his wife and children in Atlanta.

Comments

  1. Bankruptcy says:

    Dear Jonathan, I totally agree with your views about “Should we”. If the client came to the bankruptcy lawyer just in time, it makes easy for a bankruptcy lawyer to make the most out of the chapter 13 bankruptcy. It is not always good to file for a bankruptcy but there is no other options left for the debtor in the end. I like all things piked and would try to come here time and again for more updates. Great Job!

  2. In Georgia, if the house is the only debt problem and you want to surrender the house back to the mortgage company, it might be best to let the house get foreclosed without filing Chapter 13 or Chapter 7. In Georgia, for a mortgage holder to collect on a foreclosure deficiency, the mortgage holder must file a confirmation of foreclosure within 30 days of the foreclosure. Most of the time they never file.

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