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Service members get mortgage advice and help

Northwest Guardian

Published: 01:24PM October 4th, 2012
Service members get mortgage advice and help

Scott Hansen/Northwest Guardian

Navy Lt. Cmdr. Joe Huffine his wife Heather and their son Noah, 6, visit with George Sierra, a foreclosure prevention manager with Fannie Mae, during a recent mortgage assistance outreach event at the McChord Field Collocated Club on JBLM.

Home from deployment by just one day and with permanent change of station orders to Pensacola, Fla. in progress, Navy Lt. Cmdr. Joe Huffine and his family were thankful to be getting advice about what to do with the house they own.

Making the drive from Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, Huffine, his wife, Heather, and children Noah, 6, and Holly, 13, attended a mortgage assistance outreach event Sept. 26 at the McChord Field Collocated Club hosted by the Joint Base Lewis-McChord housing office, in partnership with Hope Now, a nonprofit organization that provides free mortgage assistance.

Hoping to get information about their options, the Huffines already own another home in Florida and want to sell their house in Washington, which they bought in 2008. But getting help from their lender has not been easy. “Just trying to get the right information (from our bank) has been the problem,” Heather said. “We keep getting the run around.”

Realtors have been reluctant to help, Heather said, because the house can’t be listed for an amount anywhere near what they owe on their mortgage. To sell it themselves, they would have to take a $140,000 loss. But George Sierra, a foreclosure prevention manager with the Federal National Mortgage Association, also known as Fannie Mae, assured the Huffines they have options.

According to Sierra, the mortgage industry now considers PCS orders a hardship, meaning that the Huffines are eligible to short sell their house or forfeit it by a “deed in lieu.” In both instances, the bank usually takes a significant loss on the original home loan, but the homeowner is freed from obligation.

“(Service members) have no choice. They have to move,” Sierra said.

The bank told the Huffines since payments on their home loan are current, the terms cannot be changed. But Sierra disagreed, citing Huffine’s PCS orders.

“Because we’re cognizant of the PCS impact, even if you’re current, you’re eligible for a short sale or deed in lieu,” Sierra said. “Tell them you heard it from Fannie Mae themselves.”

Those options don’t come without a cost, however. There is a two-year waiting period to buy another home after a short sale, which along with deeds in lieu, can affect credit ratings and impact security clearances. But Sierra said recovery from the negative effects of a foreclosure take far longer. The Huffines luckily already own the home they’re moving into in Florida.

Mortgage assistance counselors were also working with Staff Sgt. Clifton Roberts, who wanted to lower the interest rate on a home he purchased locally in 2005 at the height of housing market values.

“We make all of our payments, but our interest rate is so high. Everything we’ve heard is that there is nothing (the bank) can help us with to lower the interest rate,” Roberts said.

Counselors introduced Roberts to the Home Affordable Refinance Program, a program designed to lower interest rates for homeowners whose mortgage payments are current. To be eligible, the mortgage must be owned or guaranteed by Freddie Mac or Fannie Mae, have been sold to Freddie Mac or Fannie Mae on or before May 31, 2009, and have a loss in value of no more than 20 percent of the home’s mortgage price.

“I found out a lot of options, and I’m waiting for a call back from my lender,” Roberts said. “To actually be able to sit down and talk to multiple lenders and find out what this can do and what that one does, it helps you to make a more informed decision.”

Eric Selk, deputy director of Hope Now, said the goal of this and other outreach events is to bring lenders together to assist military families with housing issues.

“We realized housing was going to be a challenge for service members who will be PCSing simply because of the market,” Selk said. “So how can we provide service and get (service members) to a better place so they don’t have to deal with a housing challenge along with everything else?”

Calling it one of Hope Now’s “better attended events,” Selk was happy with last week’s response from the JBLM community. More than 140 customers received on-site assistance refinancing or modifying current home loans or initiating the short sale process.

“I’m really happy because it just means we’re helping a lot of people today,” Selk said.

Greta Powell, JBLM chief of residential communities division, agreed.

“Our goal today was to empower service members to get the right information to make good decisions about their home mortgages,” Powell said. “This event is a rare opportunity for them to not only hear from their lender, but to hear from not-for-profits and government agencies, all of whom have their best interests at heart.”