Thursday, December 29, 2011

In Support of Counseling...

Yes. We admit it.

The MortgageKeeper team has had a long love affair with foreclosure counseling. Some our best clients are counseling agencies. And some of us have even been counselors ourselves.

Unbiased on this subject, we are not.

So don't be surprised that we are issuing a loud "amen" to a recent article from DSNews. It highlights a NeighborWorks America study saying that counseling lowers redefault rates--that folks counseled through the National Foreclosure Mitigation Counseling Program are more than 67% more likely to be current on their loans 9 months after loan modification.

Now, the usual argument against counseling is that it is a costly way to save struggling homeowners. But if a homeowner gets out of default quickly and remains on track afterwards...isn't it worth the costs involved?

The combination of a personal touch + access to local resources is a one-two punch that helps to develop a sustainable household budget for struggling homeowners--the first step to staying in a home and staying current on a loan.

This seems to be worth supporting.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

The Secret Sauce

How many of you out there have purchased a new "widget," only to find out two months (or two weeks...or two days) later, that your technology is no longer the latest and greatest thing on the planet?

Now imagine that you have 6,000 widgets. And your job is to keep all of them updated at all times. Sound like a job for a super hero?

Welcome to MortgageKeeper...with a database of 6,000 resources around the country and around the corner for struggling homeowners. We are only as good as our data. And our "secret sauce" is our data team, who keeps our current data up to date.

So what qualifies someone to research 6,000 community-based, nationally-based, or government agencies to determine if they are best in class? All members of our team have:

* a college education
* worked extensively for nonprofit organizations.
* experience with community organizing and education. (Yes, just like the President...)

Nearly all are published writers. Some have graduate school experience. Others work for top national universities. A few are fully bilingual (they make our MKEspanol--our database, translated into Spanish--a reality). One holds a U.S. patent. Another served in the Peace Corps. They live all over the United States. And they have a tenacious gift for finding and tracking down agencies that can make a huge difference to those who need financial or personal help.

But, sadly, they can't leap tall buildings or fly invisible jets. At least, they don't mention this in their resumes...

Got a question about how we keep our data up to date? Post it here...

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Congressional Cuts Hurt Struggling Homeowners

Add the MortgageKeeper gang to the 445+ housing counselors asking Congress to restore the HUD funding for counseling.

Now we understand that cutting has to happen somewhere. The U.S. budget is a bit too big to remain viable forever. But cutting funds for counseling in the midst of a housing crisis such as our country's never seen? Seems a bit off to us.

And to the research that says "housing counseling doubles the likelihood of receiving a loan modification"? Please add our stats to the mix...

One of our top 20 servicing clients wanted to be sure they saw results with MortgageKeeper. They conducted a study in July 2010, comparing clients who had access to MortgageKeeper's local resources and counseling, vs. those who weren't given this access. 38% of their borrowers who were referred by MortgageKeeper to local resources improved their mortgage loan's performance. Only 15% performed better without access to these resources.

Now, the MortgageKeeper folks aren't necessarily the rabble-rousing types, but if you feel as passionate about these cuts as we do, we encourage you to contact the Congressional leaders involved. You can find their name, and the letter sent by the 445 agencies here.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Endless Winter?

Those of us living in here in the Upper Midwest are still talking about last winter: record snowfalls, cold temps, and what seemed like a longer season than usual. And elsewhere, folks aren't easily forgetting "Snowmageddon"--the February 2011 storm that shut down most of the eastern U.S.

Then there was the summer of 2011--with high temperatures in Texas and Oklahoma well over 100 degrees F. for several months in a row.

Here at MortgageKeeper, our stats tell us that 2011's extreme weather left not only bad memories, but also high heating and cooling bills that have yet to be paid.

In Q3, MortgageKeeper referred nearly 224,000 homeowners--more than ever before--to local, best-in-class services to get financial and personal help. Of those hundreds of thousands of referrals, 15% were asking for help with their utility bills. This beat out food assistance (13%) and employment services (12%) as the most requested referral type.

Solutions aren't easy, with predictions that a winter of similar magnitude is heading our way. We'll continue to batten down the hatches, and hope that local organizations can offer help to those still fighting the weather changes months in arrears.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Why We Come to Work

Every once in a while, a story comes across the collective MortgageKeeper desk that reminds us why we do what we do.

We've heard a few great stories recently. One is below. It was shared by a foreclosure counselor in San Francisco who used MortgageKeeper's vetted, localized data to help a struggling homeowner in another part of the country.

Hope you enjoy it.

A homeowner ("Sue") was referred to a food bank in her area and also received one-time assistance on her energy bill which helped her catch up on other past due expenses that month. Her monthly budget now has a surplus of a few hundred dollars and she has started building an emergency savings fund. She didn't have a fund prior to her mortgage crisis, but now realizes this is an important priority. She's continuing to pursue the referrals she received for prescription drug assistance to see if she might qualify for regular assistance from a local agency.

In the words of her housing counselor:

"As a new counselor, I'm often hesitant to believe that my recommendations can make any meaningful impact on my clients' lives, but after my 30-day follow-up call with one of my first clients, I realized that my clients not only listen to me but trust my expertise and rely on me to help them turn around their difficult situations. This client was so excited to let me know that she was taking advantage of the local referrals she got as a result of my [help]. Her voice exuded a relieved confidence as she realized she felt more in control of her finances and her future."

Monday, August 22, 2011

Great News from MortgageKeeper!

We here at MortgageKeeper have taken great pains not to boast on our blog. But we are about to throw that out the window, just for today.

MortgageKeeper is profiled in this week's column by Lew Sichelman. He writes on consumer real estate matters for United Feature Syndicate. It's a perfect article, and we are thrilled that Lew honored us with a feature like this.

Here's a look at this week's column, as it appears in the Los Angeles Times.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

14 Million Jobless in America. How Do You Get Help?

Gruesome unemployment numbers (9.2%) reverberated across the country this week.

Odds are good that you know one of the 14 million folks who aren't working. Here in Minnesota, our state shutdown just added 20,000 more people to the UE lines. And Treasury Secretary Geithner says hard times will continue.

So how do the unemployed find work in such a dismal market? Or do they?

Friends of mine are returning to school in droves, gambling that an MBA or a Ph.D. will pay off down the road. Some are retraining, networking, learning new skills, living on and, and interviewing for whatever comes up. MortgageKeeper's database offers searchers programs for training, resume writing, interviewing, and job sourcing. It also offers links for unemployment claims filing in the searcher's local area.

One Facebook friend of mine--a trained nuclear engineer--summed up the current job search frustration in a post a few weeks ago:

"Somebody hire me...." it said.

Comments on his post were as follows:

"Somebody hire me too..."

"I wanna get hired too!"

I could only comment, "I wish I could hire all of you!"

Are you searching for work, or have you been successful finding a job? What search methods worked for you?

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Simplicity in the Housing Crisis

When it comes to large, complex problems, the search for simplicity sometimes leads to the search for who's to blame.

The housing crisis, now entering its fourth year, is no exception. Did homeowners use credit unwisely? Did the financial institutions make foolish investments? Did the government ignore the warning signs and drop the ball on their role as regulator?

Yes to all...and no to all.

All are innocent. All are at fault. All at the same time.

We all want the silver bullet--the solution to the crisis that ends it quickly and finally. Sadly, despite Herculean efforts and experimenting, this hasn't been found.

We are of the mind that solutions for homeowners may be modest and simple. For example, some folks who have used MortgageKeeper's database to find referrals to local organizations for help have saved up to $250 per month on their monthly budgets. For some, that's made it possible to qualify for a loan modification, pay their current mortgage, heat their home, or feed their families.

Many mortgage companies have solutions out there that are working. The government is re-tooling their efforts. And homeowners are learning that if it is too good to be true, it probably is. No doubt the lessons we are learning will make us stronger, and while they might not end the housing crisis with one blow, perhaps with many small steps we'll all end it together.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Community Organizations Lead the Charge After Twisters

We see the photos and watch the videos, but in person, it's all different. Last week, two of us here at MortgageKeeper saw parts of our own city destroyed when an F2 tornado hit the north side of Minneapolis.

Thousands of homes, apartment buildings, and businesses were damaged or destroyed. Add to that power outages, gas leaks, and tragic loss of life and property. More than 2,000 people are temporarily homeless.

What struck me with this latest disaster was the benefits of local, neighborhood assistance in the 24 hours after the tornado touched down at 2:15 CT last Sunday afternoon. The Facebook entries from the City of Minneapolis relate the following, after the first responders cleared the area:

4:15 pm: a shelter was set up at a local armory, and busses were running between the shelter and the affected neighborhood. The shelter offered food, medical care, mental health counseling and chaplain services.

5:00pm: the local 311 number for the City, usually closed Sunday afternoon, was up and running to take non-emergency calls.

8:00am, next morning: Two community organizations had set up clearinghouses for volunteers and donations.

Other help came within 24 hours of the tornado touchdown:

* Animal Care and Control offered no-cost kenneling to victims
* The Salvation Army created a drop off point for food, clothing, and supplies, and opened a mobile canteen.
* Community development agencies publicized free computer and phone access

And this is just a taste of how many organizations jumped into the phone booth and emerged ready to take charge.

Of course the federal and state agencies arrived on the scene as quickly as possible. But it was the neighborhood organizations--the local folks--who brought the goods and the comfort that were appropriate, fast, and, well, neighborly.

Now, odds are good that unless you live in Minnesota, you haven't heard much about our natural disaster. An F4 tornado hit Joplin, Missouri, later that same day, and (rightly) pushed us out of the news. Local help is making a difference there, too.

In fact, when we think of any disasters--natural, or man-made--local help usually gets there faster and knows the need better than help from larger entities like the state and federal governments.

The current mortgage crisis is no exception.

Local help is a great way to reach struggling homeowners, helping them right their financial ship and keep their homes. Intuitively, we know this. But sometimes it takes other disasters to remind us of the potency of the locals.

(Here's how to donate to help those in Joplin and Minneapolis.)

Thursday, April 28, 2011

El Sueño Americano--The American Dream

Way back before getting tangled in the mortgage biz, I had a great summer job with the U.S. Census Bureau. My title? "Non-Response Follow-Up Enumerator." (Best job title ever!)

I was assigned to Hispanic neighborhoods in Aurora, Illinois, to complete census forms for households that hadn't responded to the Census mailing. I was a young, white, upper middle class kid from the Chicago suburbs who spoke not a lick of Spanish. But it didn't matter.

At house after house, I was invited in and offered a cool drink to ward off the hot summer sunshine. I was treated as an honored guest, which gave me the confidence I needed to ask the tough questions on those long Census forms.

With the children in the household translating, I learned about their lives (birthdays, countries of origin), but also about their homes. Number of bedrooms. Age of the house. Mortgage payments. Utility costs. The works.

What the forms didn't ask, but became clear to me as a guest at those kitchen tables, was the pride these homeowners had in their homes. It was palpable. I remember thinking that they had a far better understanding of the American Dream than I did.

A recent poll points to that dream becoming more illusive for the Hispanic population. More than 1 in 3 Hispanic homeowners worry about losing their home in the next year. And since minority groups tend to have 2/3rds of their savings tied up in home equity, this could mean less money for education, retirement, and healthcare.

It's never been more important to reach out to the Hispanic population, in their own language. MortgageKeeper is doing its part, now translating its 20+ service category, 6,000+ agency database into Spanish. Financial institutions, foreclosure counseling services, and others are recognizing this need and throwing more funding and support behind the Hispanic population.

No one can deny that the American Dream of homeownership has taken a beating--especially among Hispanics and other minorities. But this poll revealed another interesting statistic: 40% of those questioned believe the Dream can be achieved without owning a home.

Do you think that the American Dream requires homeownership? Tell us what you think.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

So How Many is 32 Million?

It’s the total number of vending machines in the world.

…the population of Uganda.

…and, according to Harris Interactive, the number of US mortgage holders who are having difficulty making their payments.

Even for those of us who make it our business to know about struggling homeowners, 32 million is a shocking number. It means odds are quite good that you personally know someone who could be sliding toward foreclosure.

As a company that helps businesses help struggling homeowners, we here at MortgageKeeper did a little research ourselves.

We found that of the 1,500 people daily who use our database of 6,000 vetted nonprofit and government agencies, about 20% were searching for help with heat and utility payments. Another 18% were looking for food assistance. (You may wonder where the big category—job assistance—landed. The answer: third.)

So the stats are showing that there are an awful lot of people looking for help. Basic, Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs-type of help.

But if we can satisfy those basic needs—get those 32 million the help they need to relieve the financial pressure that boils over into no heat, no food, no jobs—we might be on to something.

Know of nonprofit in your community who is meeting basic needs with professionalism and great customer service? Let us know about them.

(And welcome to our blog! More to come!)