Monday, December 17, 2012

Home for the Holidays

Ah yes.  There's no place like home for the holidays.  Many of us are cautiously optimistic that more struggling homeowners will be able to stay in their homes in 2013.

Why the glass-half-full thoughts?  Foreclosure prevention efforts are making their mark.  Reports hint that more jobs are out there.  Foreclosure starts are at a 71-month low.

What keeps the glass only half full are some stats that give us pause...including some of our own.  MortgageKeeper referrals are up--way up--at the end of this year.  This is due to several factors, but also shows us that help is still needed.  Stats from RealtyTrac show that bank repossessions are on the rise.  So perhaps we've just been enjoying a foreclosure "holiday" while changes in servicing and foreclosure policies are implemented.  As with all statistical information, time will tell if we are all-knowing or all wet.

From all of us at MortgageKeeper, we wish you the very best of holidays, and hope that 2013 brings more relief and assistance for those struggling to keep their homes.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Housing Crisis Opportunities

Mistakes are the portals of discovery.  ~ James Joyce.

Ah yes, mistakes.  We all make them.  We hate them--especially their inevitability.  But even the most negative of folks know that they don't leave us where they found us.

So it goes with the Housing Crisis. No matter what your politics, if you are servicer or foreclosure counselor, struggling homeowner or landlord, we can agree that the mortgage and housing markets needed to be repaired.

A recent article in The New York Times made us think about housing system flaws that are coming to the forefront.   It discusses how a Catch 22 is sending quite a few widows into untimely foreclosure:  these women can't get help lowering their payments until they are named on the mortgage note...but they can't add their name until they are current on payments.

No doubt surviving spouses have been battling this issue for years.  However, it took the Housing Crisis, the focus on foreclosure, and the sheer number of victims to cause consumer advocacy groups and even some heavy hitters in the mortgage servicing industry to take notice.  And change, while perhaps slow to come, is coming.  Crisis always leads to opportunity.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Feeding the Hungry

After last week's Thanksgiving feasting, we read a thoughtful article in the New York Times about hunger.  It mentioned that 1 in every 8 Americans is hungry.

(This humble blogger once worked for an organization in Ohio that focused on feeding hungry children.  There the stat for hungry children was 1 in 4.)

It seems inconceivable.  With the focus on obesity and keeping weight down, it's hard to fathom that others--likely people we see in line at the store, walk past on the street, or even work with--might be going without the food they need.

Here at MortgageKeeper, our experience supports these troubling numbers. Our application's "food assistance" category is consistently one of our top 5 most utilized.  Specifically:

*  Referrals for food assistance have reached nearly 100,000 in 2012--an average of more than 300 every day.

*  14% of households who worked with a nonprofit financial counselor needed help to afford food.

*  A straw poll of counselors who use our product validates a point made in the New York Times article:  that many people--especially families with young children and seniors--don't know that they qualify for food assistance.

This holiday season, instead of worrying about how to keep those extra pounds off, we do better by donating to our local food banks.  Or, better yet, volunteering.  We encourage you to find your local food bank and see how you can help.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Interview: Rick Harper, Consumer Credit Counseling Service of San Francisco

This week, we present an interview one of our clients, Rick Harper.  Rick is Senior Vice President of Program Services with Consumer Credit Counseling Service of SanFrancisco.  He’s worked for CCCS since 1994, and holds his J.D. and real estate brokerage license from the California Department of Real Estate.  We consider him a housing expert, and someone who understands first hand the impact of the housing crisis on struggling homeowners.  We hope you enjoy his insights.

Some studies are showing the housing crisis is nearing an end, while others say it is still going strong.  What’s your take on things?

Definitely we have seen less demand for foreclosure and loss mitigation counseling this year than in the previous four years.  With that said, we anticipate 2013 to be another difficult year for over a million families who are still trying to recover from this great recession and who run the risk of losing their homes to foreclosure.

What’s the best and most rewarding part of the counseling process for you?

Recognizing and appreciating the successes that my staff has each day working with families who are struggling to save their homes.  Our foreclosure prevention counselors have the hardest job within our agency.  Every day they must face family after family in crisis.  They are the real heroes and I take a great deal of pride in observing their genuine kindness towards the families who come to them for assistance. 

What advice would you give someone who is struggling to pay their mortgage loans?

Seek help as early as you can in the process and don’t be dismayed if your initial attempts are unsuccessful.  Contact yourlocal HUD approved housing counseling agency and/or call the 888 995HOPE hot line.   The process itself eliminates many families that might otherwise qualify for assistance.  It is heavily “paper laden” and as unreasonable as it might seem to a family in crisis, the collection and submission of this paperwork is absolutely essential.   Without a complete package of documentation, no decision for help will be made.  Every document requested, no matter how superfluous, must be provided.   Families should seek out HUD approved counseling agencies for assistance with the documentation and the process in general.

How do you think local resources help struggling borrowers?  Do you have any anecdotes?

Families in crisis often turn to those they know and trust as a first response. Local community resources can assist clients in crisis by ensuring that there is a safety net available. Some organizations can help transitioning families find suitable and safe rental housing, while other resources that help reduce the cost of things like utilities, prescription drugs, and good are great and have tangible value for many homeowners.

With changes made during the housing crisis, do you think struggling borrowers have more options available to them than before?  Or is the climate for a struggling borrower unchanged?

There have been across-the-board improvements over the initial government programs designed to assist these families.  The HAMP and HARP programs have been modified to allow a greater number of families to participate.  Enhanced financial incentives to servicers with such incentives tied to specific timelines and outcomes, have also given rise to greater retention and non-retention options for homeowners.  There has been an attempt at the standardization of the loan modification and short sale processes and this also has had a very positive impact.  In summary, there are more options today for the foreclosure counselor and his or her clients, than there were four years ago.

Who is your favorite James Bond?

This is a no brainer – Sean Connery – the original.

Monday, October 29, 2012

A Tool to Give You Super Powers (almost...)

We work hard here in the MK Blog Department to give you insights into the housing and mortgage industry.  But today, we thought we'd give you some insight into our company.

A good place to start is by taking a look at our latest razzle-dazzle--a new release of MKDesktop.  The brand new version 2.0 is demonstrated here via video by our dedicated VP of Sales.  You'll see how MKDesktop 2.0 gives housing counselors, single points of contact agents (SPOCs), customer service reps--anyone who offers a helping hand to those in need--a tool that gives them super powers.

MKDesktop gives reps lists of vetted, best in class, completely reputable nonprofit and government agencies who are in the business of easing the path for struggling homeowners. In most cases, these uber-helpful agencies are located within a few miles of the homeowner in need. On top of that, these referrals can lead to monthly savings of $100-$400 for the homeowner.  (Sounds pretty super, doesn't it?)  It's a great tool for any agent arsenal.

In fact, users have called it "invaluable" and "a total game changer."

See for yourself.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Housing Silence at the Conventions

The MK gang loves politics.  We've personally met both candidates, we read about it, talk about it, and the conventions were almost as eagerly anticipated as season three of Downton Abbey.

But we asked ourselves after the conventions ended and we brushed the fictional confetti from our shirt sleeves--why didn't anyone talk about housing?  What about foreclosure?  Hello...short sales anyone?

Our heroes at The Wall Street Journal noticed the same thing.  And, yes, it wasn't our imagination...the whole issue went untouched by both parties.   Turns out although it is the issue largely to blame for our economic woes, it is also not a glamorous topic for the candidates to hang their hats on.

Let's hope it gets some airtime during the debates.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Collective Homeownership...Really?

Now here's an idea to beat the housing crisis blues:  collective homeownership.  Yep, that's right.  You and a friend, or you and your spouse and another couple, find a home and purchase it together.

National Public Radio's Marketplace program featured a story about two Brooklyn couples who are now proud owners of a home.  Together.  And some housing experts say that these couples might be crazy like foxes:

"...collective home ownership is not totally insane. And here's why: Mortgage rates are at an all-time low. Rents continue to rise. And banks, well, if you haven't heard the news, they're not handing out many loans these days. So to get the home you want, in the neighborhood you want to live in, pooling financial resources can actually make sense."
Now, my husband and I have never even vacationed with friends--let alone lived with them.  But the idea might have merit under the right circumstances.  The couples profiled by NPR lived in a darned expensive housing market, and this arrangement made their homeownership dream a reality.
What about you?  Could you live harmoniously with three or more other people in a home you all owned together?  Is this an option that would make sense?

Monday, July 30, 2012

411,000 referrals in 2012...and we are just getting started

There's some shameless horn-blowing going on here at MK.

In the first 6 months of 2012, we referred more than 411,000 folks to local, vetted, best-in-class resources--from all 50 states and D.C.

That's up 75% over the 235,000 referrals we made over the same period last year.

Thanks to global warming or just downright crazy weather, utility assistance (heating/cooling payment help) is most requested category for assistance.  Rounding our the top 5 are food assistance, employment services, housing counseling, and affordable housing options.

Our friends at did a great job covering this story.  Thanks, gang.

What slows down and stops the horn-blowing is knowing that millions of homeowners from all walks and all 50 states are trying to stay in their homes, or trying to exit them gracefully.  And so the work continues.

Monday, June 18, 2012

More Home Equity? Yes, Please!

The news from the housing trenches is still mixed--this glass seems to be both empty and full at the same time.  But this article from Bloomberg caught our eye:  home equity (your home's worth minus any debt you owe on the home) saw its biggest jump in 60 years last quarter--up $6.7 trillion, or 7.3%.

Homeowners, clearly, have had it with mortgage debt.  They are moving to refinance, and bringing as much cash as they can to pay down their home principal.  Simply, they want to be on stronger financial footing.

As our world reels from debt crises on an individual, corporate, and even national level (think Greece or Spain), this shift in thought is darned encouraging.

What's your take on home equity?  Are you making efforts to decrease your home equity, either by paying more every month or refinancing?  Or are you just holding firm?

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Congratulations! You're a Homeowner!

I moved across town this week to a new home, and started the seemingly endless phone calls and emails to change my address, establish utilities, and generally get my new life in a new community in order.

My call to the local power company was especially interesting.  Every customer service rep I talked with (and there were quite a few), asked if I owned my home (I do) and then congratulated me.  Heartily and with feeling.  

In MortgageKeeper's business, we help homeowners who might believe their homes to be more burden than blessing.  It made me wonder--how do homeowners feel about their homes?  Did enthusiasm for homeownership go the way of the housing bubble, interest only mortgages, and zero down payments?  Or is it cause for celebration and housewarming parties?

A recent study by Coldwell Banker showed that homeownership is still a vital part of the American Dream.  In fact, even though a home is perhaps worth less than it was during the housing bubble, folks still believe their homes are a crucial part of who they are.  You can read more about their findings here.

How about you?  Do you see your home differently now than you did 5 years ago?

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Two Surprises Might Be Two Too Many

Intriguing doesn't begin to cover it.  Twice in two days we've seen the campaign topic du jour--student loan debt--tied to the housing crisis.  But in two very different ways.

The New York Times ran part one in their series "Degrees of Debt" that detailed how an entire generation is losing out on life, marriage, children, etc. because of the cost of college and the debt they've assumed.  This quote from the article caught our eye:

“If one is not thinking about where this is headed over the next two or three years, you are just completely missing the warning signs,” said Rajeev V. Date, deputy director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the federal watchdog created after the financial crisis.
Mr. Date likened excessive student borrowing to risky mortgages. And as with the housing bubble before the economic collapse, the extraordinary growth in student loans has caught many by surprise. But its roots are in fact deep, and the cast of contributing characters — including college marketing officers, state lawmakers wielding a budget ax and wide-eyed students and families — has been enabled by a basic economic dynamic: an insatiable demand for a college education, at almost any price, and plenty of easy-to-secure loans, primarily from the federal government.
Then, here comes the reference again, but in a different context.  American Public Media's "Marketplace" cites the trend before the housing crisis for low-and middle-income families to use their home equity for (wait for it...) college education costs for their children.  But they chose, with this extra money, to send their children to more expense, selective schools than they otherwise would have.

We here at MortgageKeeper can't help but it possible that some families were ensnared by both crises--first using housing equity that's now gone to fund college, and then finding college too expensive, and assuming out of sight loans to pay for the rest?

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Foreclosures Increase in Top 100 US Metros

Sometimes it's hard not to judge the world by what you see around you.  Case in point:  in Minneapolis, where a few of us MortgageKeeper folks live, the economy seems to be improving--considerably.  Homes that have had "for sale" signs in the yard for two or even three winters are now boasting shiny new "SOLD" hangers. More and more "help wanted" signs are finding their way into shop windows.  Things seem to be moving along.

But new findings show that the nation's 100 largest metros are suffering from more foreclosures--not fewer.  Judicial back-up, temporary delays, and--yes--the economy, are all blamed.

We are pleased the MortgageKeeper is keeping pace with the needs of metros across the United States.  Our data team recently added local, vetted referrals for Bakersfield, Stockton, and Santa Ana, California; Colorado Springs, Colorado; and Tulsa, Oklahoma.  Here's hoping that our help won't be needed...but we are there if needs arise.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Why Bailouts Fail

For the most part, MortgageKeeper folks are "glass is half-full" types.  But a recent rather "glass is half empty" commentary by Neel Kashkari, head of global equities for Pimco and a former assistant Treasury secretary who ran the Troubled Assets Relief Program (TARP) until 2009, turned our heads.

Mr. Kashkari maintains that homeowners are losing their homes to foreclosure usually because they own more house than they can afford, or because they are out of work.  The latter idea supports what our MortgageKeeper Homeowner Status Report is telling us every quarter--more folks look to MortgageKeeper applications for job referrals than for virtually any other category.  While this may not be completely surprising in a down economy, the fact that Mr. Kashkari distilled the foreclosure problem down to "too much house + unemployment + too little savings" was an interesting take.

We wish Mr. Kashkari had mentioned that help with everyday bills and expenses--both beyond the scope of federal foreclosure programs--is much needed as well.  MortgageKeeper's applications work hard every day to fill in these gaps.

Check out Mr. Kashkari's article, and let us know what you think.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Financial Literacy Month Matters

We know Financial Literacy Month is half over, but we couldn't let the month go by without stressing how desperately it's needed in today's economy. The month of keen focus on how we should spend and save is sanctioned by our President and our Governor, and we wanted to spread the word, too.

In our business, we help folks who have already hit a significant financial speed bump. But we believe that good financial habits pay big dividends by helping folks avoid these bumps down the road.

A recent article in the Chicago Tribune agrees. It cites a program developed by Money Management International, a national credit counselor (and a MortgageKeeper client). Called "Thirty Steps," it helps anyone who wants to learn more about money take the steps they need to build strong financial habits.

We'd like to see fewer folks need the help we provide. Financial literacy is the best way we can think of to accomplish this.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Monthly Question

Imagine you are a struggling homeowner--barely making ends meet. (An all-too-common scenario these days.)

You have three bills to pay this month:
  • Credit cards
  • Mortgage
  • Car loan
You can only afford to pay one of them. Which one do you choose?

(Insert Jeopardy theme music here....)

According to a recent article in the Minneapolis StarTribune, 39% would choose to pay their car loan--even if they were delinquent on the mortgage. The article cites the need for transportation to look for or keep a job as the reasoning. Also credit cards put food on the table and gas in the tank when income is down or you’re out of work.

Thankfully, homeowners have options to avoid the tough question we've posed above. Local nonprofits and government agencies (found via MortgageKeeper) offer help with job searches, food, prescription drug costs, and utilities. So homeowners can find the breathing room they need to perhaps stay current on more than just their car. Credit counseling can also help reduce debt payments and build a sustainable budget.

We are proud to say that we help people find the resources they need to stay afloat. And we do it 2,700 times a day.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Support for Housing Counselors!

We see a lot of money tossed around to solve the housing crisis--sometimes to no avail. But HUD's new approach made us stand up and cheer...$42M to housing counselors. And NFMC followed suit Monday.

Great news for distressed homeowners trying to find unbiased solutions!

In all fairness, we should state here that MortgageKeeper is used by some of this country's largest counseling agencies to help their struggling clients. But we've partnered with them for years because we know counseling works...and works well. HUD has found that 9 of 10 troubled homeowners who receive housing counseling are still at the same address 18 months later.

They know what we know: housing counseling is a great investment.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Mapping Consumer Distress

We know that folks are struggling. When our database referrals jump from an average of 2,500 a day to 2,700 a day in just a few months, overall conditions aren't improving. It can be hard to understand the magnitude of consumer debt and net worth issues.

Sometimes a picture can illustrate what words never can.

Our clients at CredAbility have a map that shows what they call their Consumer Distress Index. It measures the financial condition of the average U.S. household.

Let us summarize it for you. Unless you live in North Dakota, your state distress level is a best weak. Many states are at the "distressed" level. And the poor folks in Nevada? Emergency crisis level.

We see glimmers of hope around. From a realtor's "SOLD" sign in our neighbor's yard, to lower interest rates for mortgages, to the "winter that wasn't" that's sure to lower utility costs--times are a-changing. But with more people looking for help than ever before, we cross our fingers that things are changing for the better.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Easing Financial Struggles--A Q1 Update

Just in time for the Mortgage Bankers Association Servicing Conference, and to drive our poor stats guy crazy, we ran the MortgageKeeper Homeowner Needs Status Report for the first half of Q1. This report tells us how much our data is being used, and the top needs of the struggling homeowners using our services.

We were pretty blown away by the numbers.

Requests for help on a daily basis? 2,700. That's up 25% from last year's average.

118,235 referral requests have been received. That's 17% of all referrals received in 2011.

The top 5 referral categories--the types of help who are struggling seem to need most--is virtually unchanged: (1) housing and credit counseling requests, (2) utility assistance, (3) employment help, (4) food assistance, and (5) affordable rental housing.

So perhaps in some areas foreclosures are dropping. Perhaps the consumer confidence levels are improving. But our stats show that those in financial trouble are turning to local help more and more to find the basics like food, housing, work, and counseling.

What do you think of our top referral categories? Any surprises? Let us know.