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How to avoid foreclosure

February 11, 2009|By HEATHER KEELS

Foreclosure auction unsuccessful

WASHINGTON COUNTY -- Foreclosure activity remains high in Washington County, with 29 foreclosures reported in January, according to Sharon Disque, executive director of the Hagerstown Neighborhood Development Partnership.

That's the highest number since October, which also had 29 foreclosures, according to Disque's records. In 2008, there was an average of about 23 foreclosures a month in the county. In 2007, that average was about nine a month; in 2006, it was about four.

Barbara Spielman, a housing adviser with the Hagerstown Home Store, said she is counseling seven to 10 homeowners at risk for foreclosure each week. Over the past few months, she said most of those people are in the situation because of loss of income or a reduction in income.

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For example, Spielman has counseled families who had been commuting to jobs in the Washington, D.C., area, but found new jobs locally when gas prices rose, she said. Jobs here generally pay less than those closer to Washington, making mortgage payments more difficult, she said.

Spielman said she also has seen a couple of predatory lending cases, where the homebuyer did not understand what he or she was signing. One Spanish-speaker was talked into signing a loan with monthly payments of more than her entire monthly pay, she said.

"She brought in her mortgage statement and wanted to know what that big number was," Spielman said.

To avoid common foreclosure pitfalls, Spielman offered the following tips:

When buying a home:

o Understand what you're signing.

o Know what your payment is going to be and how it fits into your budget.

o Use local lenders and meet with them face-to-face.

o If you have any questions, see a HUD-certified counselor.

If you are having trouble making payments:

o Don't ignore letters from the mortgage company.

o Call the lender to see what options are available or let a housing counselor make that call for you.

o Do not risk the equity in your house to pay off credit cards or other debt.

The Hagerstown Home Store provides free counseling on avoiding foreclosure. For more information, call 301-797-0900 or visit www.hagerstownhomestore.org.

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