Help for the foreclosed

It may not seem obvious at first, but the worst thing about receiving a dreaded notice of foreclosure in the mail is not the prospect of losing one's home. What's worse, experts says, is the sudden sense of helplessness and uncertainty that engulfs homeowners and their families.

That's where Judy Plank comes in. An Olmsted County home ownership counselor, Plank's job is to make people facing the possibility of losing their homes aware of information and options.

And as surprising as it might seem, a person struggling to make mortgage payments is not without options. Indeed, one could argue that of all the places to potentially lose one's home, Minnesota is not a bad place to be. State law and existing programs combine to offer a bit of breathing space not always available in other states.

Most people don't realize, for example, that even after a home is sold through a sheriff's sale, a homeowner still has a six-month redemption period, a grace period during which they might secure new financing or sell the home.

"Six months is a lot of time," said Plank, who for the last dozen years has served as a home ownership coordinator for the Community Housing Partnership, a nonprofit agency. "It's time to start saving money for a deposit for rent. It's trying to make sure that your utilities are in order, so that if you're going to rent, you have some positive credit."


Under a state law passed last year, a homeowner can seek to postpone a sheriff's sale for five months if he or she is about to land a job and improve their ability to make their mortgage payments. That amounts to a potential grace period of nearly a year for a homeowner who has received a foreclosure notice.

Plank leaves little doubt that she is seeing more distressed Olmsted County homeowners come to her office at 2122 Campus Drive in southeast Rochester. Before the bursting of the housing bubble, Plank said she received on average 50 calls a year from homeowners. Last year, she fielded more than 400 of them.

Plank said most people who seek her counseling are not aware of the possible options available to them.

"The lender tells them that the foreclosure is going to take place and you have to be out immediately. That's not Minnesota statute. So they get a better understanding of the process," Plank said.

Local real estate officials also are working to do a better job in linking people to such counseling agencies.

With the help of a $5,000 grant, the Southeast Minnesota Association of Realtors is planning to host a foreclosure prevention workshop on March 5. The goal: To educate social service agencies and faith communities about how they can steer harried homeowners to the right resources and counseling. A Web site with a list of agencies homeowners can turn to will be unveiled at the workshop.

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