Winning the Game of Real Estate
You’ve seen the headlines: house prices are down, foreclosures way up. Is there any good news? If you’re a first-time home buyer, yes indeed. From Chatham to Warwick, here’s the latest scoop on the Valley’s housing market
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Some experts predict a new wave of U.S. foreclosures starting this month, as hundreds of thousands of adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) loans reset across the country. If you’re at risk of foreclosure, Arnold Restivo of Tuthill Finance suggests taking action before the situation turns dire and can’t be resolved without property loss. Speak with your lender, and consider getting advice from other experts, too.
In February, President Obama announced a major plan to help up to nine million American homeowners either avoid foreclosure or refinance their current mortgages. Locally, Hudson Valley Foreclosure Prevention Services (HVFPS), a four-county initiative launched late last year, assists residents of Dutchess, Ulster, Orange, and Sullivan counties who are at risk of losing their homes. Mary Linge, the director of home ownership and education, says that the program fields an average of 17 calls a day from worried homeowners. “The first thing we do is make an appointment with them for a one-on-one consultation,” she says. Homeowners bring their income statements and other documents and fill out a detailed questionnaire “so that we can find out what caused them to be in default in the first place,” she says. “Then we can start to come up with a solution. Maybe they need to earn more income, maybe they need to find ways to cut back on other expenses.”
Linge estimates that about one-third of the callers have lost jobs or another major source of income, but many have just gotten into trouble for other reasons. “Maybe their other household expenses have suddenly gone up,” she says. “I know that, with the very cold winter we’ve had, many people were faced with very high heating bills that caused problems with their finances.” After figuring out an action plan, HVFPS often negotiates directly with the banks and lender on behalf of their clients. “We talk with them and try to get them to lower their interest rates,” says Linge. “Or perhaps we can talk them into converting an adjustable-rate mortgage into a fixed-rate mortgage. There are lots of things that we can do.”
The Empire State’s foreclosure woes are not nearly as bad as those of the hardest hit states — as of late last year, Nevada, California, Arizona, and Florida all had foreclosure rates five to 10 times higher than those of New York, according to the Office of the State Comptroller. Nevertheless, foreclosures do remain a significant problem. In the mid-Hudson region, foreclosures increased 350 percent from 2006 to 2008. The worst offender? Orange County, which last year had more foreclosures than any other county in the state. Why is that? “Lots of people are asking that question, but I don’t have a good answer yet,” says Linge, who notes that 46 percent of the calls her office receives stem from Orange residents (followed by 38 percent from residents of Dutchess County).
Linge also cautions homeowners to beware of the multitude of foreclosure rescue scams currently floating around. A scammer may pretend to be a “specialist” (and then charge outrageous fees for making a few phone calls), may try to get you to sign over the deed to your house, or use a variety of other tricks. To be sure you are dealing with a qualified housing counselor, visit the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Web site at www.hud.gov or call 1-877-HUD-1515. The Poughkeepsie-based HVFPS can be reached at 845-454-5176 or by visiting www.hudsonriverhousing.org.
Next: Median housing prices for the Valley