Making Sense of Loan Modifications

Losing one’s home is a gut-wrenching experience. It’s something no one should have to go through. Now, sadly, many, many people are having to do just that. In many cases, however, there is another answer.

The Home Affordable Modification Program, or HAMP.

Part of the Federal Government’s economic stimulus plan, HAMP is an option that has yet to pick up a head of steam. It’s possible that it hasn’t gotten the necessary publicity, which is a shame, because keeping homeowners in their homes is vital not just to their well-being, but to the well-being of our economy.

Here’s how HAMP works:

Not a refinance, which replaces your loan with a brand-new mortgage, a loan modification happens when your lender reworks the terms of your existing loan. Generally speaking, this lowers payments and makes the home more affordable for you. Often, the lower payments are the result of a lower interest rate, an extension in the loan term, a reduction in principal, or any combination thereof.

If your home is your primary residence and the balance of your first mortgage is less than $729,750, then you may qualify for the program. Additionally, you’ll have to demonstrate that you’re facing hardships that are affecting your ability to make payments on your mortgage. From there, your lender will ask for documentation about your income, bank statements, as well as other financial data. You’ll also be asked to complete a Hardship Affidavit, in which you’ll describe extenuating circumstances with which you’re dealing.

“I’m doing just fine with my mortgage payments. Why is this important for me?”

Why? I’ll tell you why. The prospect of tens of thousands (yes, that many) homes suddenly appearing on the market is a pretty gruesome specter for our economy. Part of the problem of “shadow inventory” that we mentioned several weeks ago – a tidal wave of foreclosed homes entering the marketplace – would be a crushing blow to a real estate market that is only just showing signs of recovery.

Also, unoccupied homes are blights on communities. Too many can splinter a neighborhood, driving down everyone’s property values — not just those that are empty. And make no mistake: this isn’t just a problem of lower-income communities. No. Foreclosure is just as much of a problem in higher-end neighborhoods.

As Bloomberg reported late December – Homeowners with mortgages of more than $1 million are defaulting at almost twice the U.S. rate. This brings the rate of default for these considerable loans up to a skyrocketing level of 12 percent as of September, compared with 6.3 percent on loans less than $250,000 and 7.4 percent on all U.S. mortgages. This is quite a jump from the year prior where the rate for default on the $1 million dollar plus mortgages as only 4.7 percent.

So, take a look at HAMP. HAMP is offering distressed homeowners a second chance. A chance to keep a roof over their family’s head. A chance to keep the sense of pride instilled by owning your own home.

It’s not a cure-all. But it’s a place to start.

By Gino Blefari
President and CEO
Intero Real Estate Services