Homeowner advises fighting to save houseThey were a couple from Florida looking to start over after losing almost everything to several hurricanes and other setbacks when they decided to settle in Hudson. That was five years ago and at first things seemed to going well.
By: Meg Heaton, Hudson Star-Observer
They were a couple from Florida looking to start over after losing almost everything to several hurricanes and other setbacks when they decided to settle in Hudson. That was five years ago and at first things seemed to going well.
Mary, who does not want to use her real name, said they wanted to buy a home and settle down for good. They found jobs and a home they could afford based on their income, some of which came from a disability settlement. Their mortgage had an adjustable rate but they believed they could handle the payments based on their then circumstances.
But like so many others, those circumstances changed when the country’s did. Their home was reassessed and their taxes increased by a sizeable amount. They lost a part of their income and when the mortgage rate changed, they found themselves unable to make their new house payment.
Like so many others, the couple considered walking away from their house. But having already experienced a great deal of loss in her life, Mary made the decision to do whatever it took to keep her home.
“I decided it was worth fighting for and I was going to do whatever it took to keep it.”
She began by contacting her mortgage company. While she found a sympathetic ear in their loan officer, there was little they had to offer Mary in the way of help. Efforts to refinance their mortgage went nowhere when the housing market began to spiral down and problems of subprime mortgages started to surface.
Having some experience in banking, Mary explored any and all options but didn’t find much that could help them. She discovered that she wasn’t “poor enough.”
“We were working but weren’t making enough to cover the mortgage and other bills and keep food on the table. I was just so intent on keeping our house. I had to believe there was some help for us.”
She found it by asking. While at the Hudson food shelf, she inquired of someone working there if they knew of any help that was available for someone like her. She was referred to the First Presbyterian Church in Hudson. She explained her circumstances, always stressing that her plan was to find a way to refinance her mortgage so she could afford to keep her home. What she needed was help to keep up on her mortgage payments while she worked to find a better plan.
That was 18 months ago. Over that year and a half, Mary worked diligently to find out as much as she could about government and banking programs that might be of help to her. She watched news reports and researched mortgage assistance programs. The process involved countless telephone calls and hundreds of pages of paperwork not to mention documentation that needed to be collected, copied and submitted many times over. The information she found was sometimes confusing and finding answers to her questions was often difficult. At times she turned to that loan officer who helped them buy their home for answers and she helped them navigate through it all. By the end she had become a friend.
While always focused on refinancing, Mary also had to do whatever she could to keep current on the mortgage they had. That meant continuing to ask for financial help wherever she could find it. She found the help from a number of Hudson churches, the Salvation Army, the food shelf and others.
“It is hard to do and every month when I had to ask again, I sometimes felt like giving up but I knew what I had to do to turn things around and I was determined to keep at it. I believed in the end we could get there — where we could stand on our own.”
Mary found workshops and information programs about the mortgage and foreclosure problem but also found barriers built into them that can make them difficult to access. She found that a lot of them require people to give their name and social security number before they can get even the most basic information. Mary believes that can intimidate people who find it difficult enough making the call.
“It all can be an overwhelming experience. The trick is not to let it be. Break it down into steps and stay at it.”
Sitting in front of foot-high stack of paperwork, Mary smiles as she describes her new refinanced mortgage. It includes a 2 percent interest rate for five years with moderate increases over the next two years followed by a slightly higher fixed rate over the next 30 years. It is a deal strung out over a longer period but it is one Mary can live with.
Now that Mary has found her affordable mortgage, she wants to share what she has learned, sometimes the hard way. It’s valuable information she wants to share. She believes others can do what she’s done and has offered some tips for how to get through the process that appear with this story.
“There are lots of people like us out there. I heard it called a new generation of poor — people who work or want to but still can’t make ends meet. As unemployment benefits run out for a lot of people, things could even get worse than they are now.”
Beyond what she has learned about how to keep her home, Mary has found a community she wants to play an active role in. She regularly volunteers and is proud to be a board member of The SOURCE-Serving Our Underserved Residents Compassionately and Equitably. She plans on “paying forward” the help she received when she needed it most.
“I am never going to move again. This is our home, where we plan to stay.”
For more information about the SOURCE, go to www.thesourcehudson.com, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call (715) 386-1300.
Five tips for getting financial help
One Hudson homeowner spent 18 months working out a plan to hold on to her home. Here’s five things she recommends to others facing a similar crisis.
1. Ask for help. Look for information about assistance in places like food shelves, churches and community assistance organizations. Keep a list of people you contact.
2. Be honest about the situation. Talk about what help you need but also about what progress you are making or things you have tried. People want to know you are working on a plan.
3. Be organized. Keep track of all paperwork with copies and the dates you submit them. Keep the names, positions and phone numbers of people you speak with and a log of conversations and correspondence. You will often be asked to submit the same information or documentation multiple times. Create a filing system for all information and correspondence.
4. Seek out an advocate — someone to talk with about the process, your frustrations with it and who can offer advice and encouragement through what can be a long, difficult process.
5. Communicate with those you live with. It can be difficult to talk about but everyone involved should understand the situation and what has to be accomplished. People can take different roles in the process but everyone should know the facts about the financial challenges they face.