In this volatile real estate market and recession economy, many homeowners are faced with the difficult decision of choosing between filing a bankruptcy and defending a foreclosure. Unfortunately, the dominant thought among most attorneys is that bankruptcy is the proper remedy to address foreclosure. Our law firm handles both foreclosure defense and bankruptcy, so we have the benefit of seeing both sides of the coin.
For many individuals with extensive consumer debt or medical debt, as well as debt relating to real estate, bankruptcy is an option. (however, one should never forget the power of negotiating debts).For those individuals who are mainly dealing with debt relating to their real estate holdings, it is often a poor decision to file a bankruptcy prior to defending a foreclosure.For those individuals trying to save their homes or real property, a Chapter 7 bankruptcy will do little to save a home, except briefly delay a foreclosure case. In fact, Chapter 7 is designed to liquidate debt. For those individuals considering Chapter 13 bankruptcy, they will be met with an often difficult and lengthy repayment plan. Bankruptcy judges are not endowed with the authority to modify mortgages; therefore, Chapter 13 is often not helpful to homeowners.
A clearer way to protect a home is to pursue one of the many foreclosure alternatives including loan modification, reinstatement, or refinancing. Often these alternatives take time and may take skilled legal advice. While in the process of pursuing foreclosure alternatives, property owners may be sued for foreclosure. A skilled foreclosure attorney can help defend the foreclosure and advise borrowers regarding foreclosure alternatives.
Many people are not interested in saving their homes. Perhaps they have no equity or are upside down, where they owe far more than the property is worth. Perhaps they do not have the financial means to qualify for a loan modification, reinstatement, or refinancing. Or perhaps they are simply tired of the system- they are fed up with dealing with banks. Many people fear a deficiency judgment more than anything else. A deficiency judgment may arise where a borrower’s property sells at a foreclosure auction for less than the amount that is owed on the loan. In such a scenario, the borrower could be held responsible for the difference owed or the “deficiency” amount.
While the potential for a deficiency judgment is a valid fear for homeowners, there are tools and options that will avoid a deficiency without filing bankruptcy. First, the homeowner may enter into a short sale, where the bank approves the sale of a home for less than the amount owed. In a short sale, the bank forgives the difference owed and the borrower is relieved of any liability.
Another solution to avoid a deficiency judgment is a “deed in lieu of foreclosure.” In a deed in lieu scenario, the borrower turns the deed over to the lender in lieu of foreclosure; this means that the lender promises they will not file a foreclosure or seek a deficiency judgment against the borrower. A deed in lieu avoids a deficiency judgment, without the need to file bankruptcy.
Finally, for those individuals already facing a foreclosure lawsuit, a skilled lawyer should be able to defend foreclosure cases and negotiate a favorable “consent judgment.” In such a consent judgment, the borrower consents to the entry of a foreclosure judgment in exchange for the banks promise and guaranty to waive any deficiency against the borrower. Many of our clients want us to time the entry of such a consent judgment so that they are able to get the maximum time in their home. This arrangement affords our clients the maximum use of their property and also allows our clients the opportunity to pursue other options as they see fit, including loan modification or reinstatement. There is a great deal of value for those borrowers that choose to pursue a consent judgment- the borrower essentially walks away from the property without owing money to the lender, and without having to file a bankruptcy.
While not every homeowner may be able to pursue a loan modification, short sale, deed in lieu or consent judgment, these are excellent options to avoid debt and avoid filing a bankruptcy. Moreover, while borrowers pursue these options they are able to continue living at the property, or renting the property to tenants. This usually means that money is saved or money is earned. Finally, if these foreclosure options do not work out in the long run, bankruptcy is always a failsafe option- it can always be filed if everything else fails.