The word foreclosure is darkening a lot of doors here in Marco and around the country these days. It is a real threat to the American dream of home ownership, with scary consequences if it happens and chilling results if it is ignored, hoping it might just go away.
We got some expert advice on the foreclosure situation around here from our old friend Pat Neale, a long-time Marco and Naples resident, an attorney who’s been focused on foreclosure law for several years.
A member of the Collier County Foreclosure Task Force, Pat was invited recently to testify before the Florida Senate Banking and Insurance Committee, giving his perspective on the ongoing foreclosure crisis.
There, and in conversation with us, Pat offers some valuable information to homeowners here.
“If someone who is homesteaded here gets a foreclosure notice on their house, it will include a notice offering mediation. That’s probably as important a thing as there is to get out. It hasn’t been publicized as well as it should have. They need to jump on it right away and go for the mediation. They also need to file a response to the foreclosure suit. They’re two separate things.
“So, if your homestead is being foreclosed on, you have the ability to go and the banks have to offer and pay for the mediation. Mediation is a very valuable tool. Instead of sitting and waiting forever on a phone and trying to get through the mess of an 800-number, it allows you to actually sit down one-on-one and talk with a bank representative who has the authority to make a decision. I often represent people in these mediations.”
We asked Pat about the blur of media ads urging people to contact this or that person or entity for help in a foreclosure crisis. He said the ads often have disclaimers, but that in general, most of those ads are absurd on their face.
“If you go to someone to try to get information about your foreclosure or your mortgage situation there are only two tracks that you should take on that. Either see an attorney who is experienced in that area or a HUD (Department of Housing and Urban Development) certified housing counselor. Here in Collier County that’s the Housing Development Corporation. Either one of those can help you out.
“You can reach the HDC by phone at (239) 434-2397. They are really outstanding people. They do the best job around. They are HUD certified counselors which is important because that means they are for real. It’s no charge. They will work with people for no charge. If it gets to foreclosure, they’ll refer them to an attorney through the lawyer referral service.
“The other place people can turn to if they get served with a foreclosure complaint is either Legal Aid, if they qualify, or the Collier County Bar Association Lawyers Referral Service.
“The more people know the better off they are, the less likely they are to have a sheriff show up and knock on their door and throw them out in the street, which can happen.”
Pat reflected on the way the foreclosure crisis, this trail of homeowners’ tears, developed.
“It has changed dramatically over the past three years. The first group that fell out were the negative amortization loans that should probably have never been made. Speculators, flippers, people who should not have had mortgages, such as people of advanced years who had four different investment properties and had negative cash flow of $9K a month. They should not have been given those loans.
“The problem with the system was that the banks were allowed to set up this system so that there was no risk in the system except to the person taking out the loan and the investors who bought the mortgage-backed securities. Nobody had risk.
“Today a lot of the real junk loans have been washed out of the system and already have been foreclosed on or the process has started.
“The demographic of the client I’m seeing now is more and more people who are small business people, Realtors, people who had jobs in banks, construction companies, home decorators, who had a nice income before but that has been dramatically reduced or gone away.
“So if you can get the bank to work with them, and that’s a huge problem, if we can get a mortgage modification done for those people, a sensible mortgage modification, they may be able to keep their homes.”
Pat Neale’s Marco office is at 950 N.Collier Blvd. Phone: 239-642-1485. email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Chris Curle is a former news anchor for CNN and for ABC-TV stations in Washington, D.C., Atlanta and Houston. E-mail email@example.com.
Don is a former ABC News correspondent and bureau chief and a former news anchor for CNN and ABC-TV in Atlanta. His Farmer File column appears Wednesdays in the Naples Daily News. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.