Tuesday, March 31, 2009

FTC Shuts Down Scam Loan Modification Companies

The Minnesota Home Ownership Center has warned - and will continue to warn - Minnesota consumers about the number of for-profit loan modification companies that are beginning to make their appearance in Minnesota.

NOW, we've received notice that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has shut down a number of Loan Modification Companies that were taking advantage of homeowners throughout the country, by falsely claiming to be a part of the HOPE NOW Alliance.

The complete story can be found at the FTC's website,


The Minnesota Department of Commerce requires that anyone who engages in the work of loan modifications... attorneys, loan officers, lenders or private individuals... have a residential mortgage originator license pursuant to Minnesota Statutes Chapter 58.

According to the state of Minnesota... individuals offering or negotiating loan modifications are indirectly acting as mortgage originators. Additional information can be found

SO… if ANYONE offers to assist you with a loan modification, PLEASE check their license status with the MN Attorney General’s office FIRST.

BUT, WHY PAY FOR SOMETHING, when BETTER services are available free of charge? If you think a loan modification may help keep you in your home, please contact one of our FREE non-profit foreclosure prevention specialists for help.

Partnership With Minnesota Credit Union Network

The Minnesota Home Ownership Center is proud to announce that it is teaming up with the Minnesota Credit Union Network to provide credit unions access to a certified network of foreclosure counselors to help struggling members.

We here at the Center have gone on record as stating that the vast majority of Local Credit Unions and Minnesota-based regional banks were NOT part of the causes of our current foreclosure crisis in Minnesota... but we are EXTREMELY pleased to have these local contacts be a part of the solution!

Here's a brief snippet of the press release:
“Since credit unions are not-for-profit and have a true concern for their members’ financial well being, this relationship with the Home Ownership Center can enhance credit unions’ existing efforts and can be a win-win for all parties involved,” said Mark D. Cummins, MnCUN President & CEO. “Oftentimes consumers at risk of foreclosure are scared or embarrassed of their situation. By publicizing this counseling network to their members, credit unions can position themselves – yet again – as a go-to resource for their members.”
The entire press-release is available here.

This relationship goes beyond just a simple referral. The MN Credit Union Network is working to prepare newsletter inserts for member Credit Unions to use in their newsletters and websites, and will make marketing materials, including print and web-ready pieces, available to those who are interested.

In addition... a member of the Communications department from the MNCUN will be joining the Minnesota Home Ownership Center's Board-Level Marketing Committee to assist us in our outreach efforts to Minnesotans!

The Center is excited about this new relationship!

If you'd like to learn more about how your organization or company can partner with the Minnesota Home Ownership Center, contact Ed Nelson for more details.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Workshop at Brooklyn Park City Hall - Tonight!

In partnership with Hennepin County, Hennepin County Libraries and the City of Brooklyn Park, the Center is offering workshop tonight at Brooklyn Park City Hall.

At tonight's workshop, homeowners and renters, can learn about the foreclosure process, what kinds of helps and assistance are available in Minnesota and meet with Non-profit Foreclosure Specialists, representatives from Hennepin County Taxpayer Services, and attorneys specializing in Renter Advocacy. In addition, attendees will be able to set up an appointment for a more personalized, in-depth discussion at a later time.

Additional information, from the City of Brooklyn Park's website is here: http://bit.ly/4h4L9t

The workshop will be held at City Hall:
5200 85th Ave. N.
Brooklyn Park, MN 55443

From 6:30pm - 8:00pm

Friday, March 27, 2009

One lonely household: helped by Hope for Homeowners

Three Dog Night once sang that "one is the loneliest number"... and in the case of the much-hyped Hope for Homeowners act of 2008... it really is the truth.

According to Brian Sullivan, a spokesman for the Federal Housing Authority, the program has only received 752 applications, of which only 1 mortgage was able to be insured. ONE.

Here's the CNN article that carried the story:

One fear we have when homeowners hear that a much-hyped program like Home For Homeowners is less-than-successful, is that they instantly assume that NO program can help them in their situation. THIS IS NOT TRUE.

The real message for any Minnesota family that is struggling to make mortgage payments is this: Don't wait for a magic bullet from Washington to help!

If you're having difficulty with your house payment... or think you may have difficulty soon, There are already professionals available in Minnesota to assist YOU. If you'd like to speak with a Foreclosure Prevention Specialist, click here.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Fun "Commercial" For Home Stretch

Yes... I admit it... I'm a geek.

I couldn't sleep last night, so I put together this short "commercial" for Home Stretch. It tells the story of a woman named Jill on her journey to buy her first home:

If you're thinking of buying your first home... or know someone who is... think HOME STRETCH first! You don't want to become another statistic of the housing crisis!

Thanks to http://stripgenerator.com/ for the cartoon characters.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Video Question #1 - First time home buyer

The Center has started work on a series of video-responses to on-line questions we've received.

Our first question comes from Tom in Bloomington:

I'm looking to buy my first home, and I found a site on the internet that can sell me a listing of HUD owned foreclosed properties for only $99.00... is this a good deal?

Our answer via video, is here:

1/2 Price Tuition at Anoka-Ramsey Community College

The Minnesota Home Ownership Center has worked closely with the Anoka-Ramsey Community College on a number of outreach efforts to families in foreclosure in their service area.

We've just been informed that the college has renewed its Workforce Retraining Initiative Grant into the Summer Semester of 2009.

What is the Workforce Retraining Initiative Grant (WRI)? WRI provides summer courses at half price to those who qualify for unemployment!

Anyone who is eligible for unemployment benefits, and has documentation from the Minnesota Workforce Center, is eligible to take advantage of the half-priced tuition option.

For additional information, visit the College's website at: http://www.anokaramsey.edu/news/Story_604.cfm

If you're having difficulty making your house payment due to a reduction in work hours or unemployment - - don't despair! Contact a non-profit Foreclosure Specialist at once to discuss the options you have available to you. Services are FREE and CONFIDENTIAL!

Monday, March 23, 2009

Coordinated Plan to Address Foreclosures - Updated

The Minnesota Foreclosure Partners Council has produced an updated report to the Coordinated Plan to Address Foreclosures in Minnesota.

The updated report reviews the "Successes to Date" of foreclosure intervention in Minnesota and highlights a number of "Calls to Action" to keep Minnesota moving forward with its efforts to stem the tide of foreclosures in Minnesota, and to undertake recovery efforts.

As we mentioned in the last post, we're not going to see the end of the foreclosure issue any time soon... but Minnesota continues to be 'ahead of the curve' as far as the coordinated effort of public, private and non-profit entities working together for the good of homeowners.

A complete copy of the updated report can be found here.

Disclosure: The Minnesota Home Ownership Center is a participant in the Foreclosure Partners Council.

MetLife Study on the American Dream

MetLife has released their 2009 study on the American Dream that is chock full of great information about consumers and their spending plans in 2009.

One of the 'scarier' quotes I found in the report is related to savings and job loss:

"50% of Americans say they could not meet their financial obligations for more than a month — and, of that, a disturbing 28% couldn’t support themselves for more than two weeks of unemployment."

In addition:

With concerns about job loss at an all-time high, Americans are putting a premium on protection and stability. Across generations, eight in ten say having a personal safety net will be more important this year than last. Despite this, nearly three-quarters (74%) of the public — and 81% of GenXers — admit to not having an adequate safety net.
Why is this important for the work we do here at the Center? It's obvious that, despite the fact that Minnesota is FAR ahead of the curve in its response to the crisis, the foreclosure issue is NOT going away any time soon. AND, in this current market, it's even MORE important to understand the financial aspect of homeownership - before you buy your first home.

If you are worried about making a future house payment, whether do to job loss or any other reason, please contact one of the Center's Foreclosure Prevention Specialists ASAP.

If you are thinking about buying your first home, and want to make sure that you understand all the economic aspects of homeownership - including how much home you can really afford, how to prepare a household budget and understanding the TRUE costs of homeownership, please join a Home Stretch workshop or speak with one of our Pre-Purchase counselors.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Hope Now Workshop - Informational Session

The Minnesota Home Ownership Center is pleased to announce that, in partnership with the Hope Now Initiative and the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, there will be a HOPE NOW BORROWER WORKSHOP held on June 4th at the St. Paul River Centre.

Homeowners will be able to meet with their lenders (we expect more than a dozen national lenders and servicers to attend) talk with foreclosure prevention counselors, and visit a homeownership resource fair.

The workshop will be free and open to the public. We hope to serve more than 1,500 homeowners at the event.

If you are encountering distressed homeowners in your line of work, you are invited to join us at the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis on April 13 to hear more about the Hope Now workshop, underlying foreclosure crisis, and the availability of existing foreclosure intervention services in Minnesota. We will ask for your help in strategizing ways to ensure that the workshop meets the needs of your clients, and how to best reach those clients.

If you have provided assistance to distressed homeowners, your input will be valuable in helping us identify what additional resources to make available at the event.

Space at the April 13th informational session is limited.

For additional information, including how to register for the info session, please view the complete invitation here.

Report on Mortgage Fraud

Chris Snowbeck from the Pioneer Press has written an article about the Mortgage Asset Research Institute's (MARI) 11th annual report on Mortgage Fraud to the Mortgage Banker's Association.

The article can be viewed here.

The Complete MARI report can be viewed in PDF format here.

The report describes the three most prevelant mortgage-related fraud schemes that have emerged in the last year. Here at the Center, we've already written extensively about the #1 new scam: Foreclosure Rescues. (Here, Here and Here).

If you're having difficulty with your house payment - or think you might have some difficulty in the future - contact a FREE Foreclosure Specialist today... waiting limits your options.

Disclosure: Ed Nelson from the Center was quoted in the Pioneer Press article.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Another Homeowner Scam: Fake HUD websites

As we mentioned in an earlier post here, the Center will be publishing information about the ever-increasing number of scams that are popping up in Minnesota designed to separate homeowners, or future homeowners, from their hard-earned money.

Scam #2: Fake HUD websites

The Center has learned of a number of deceptive websites that have been created that are ‘posing’ as some iteration of the HUD website. In most cases these websites include the initials 'hud' in the URL, but are also include other terms like 'bailout.hud' or 'stimulus.hud' or 'down-payment-help.hud-gov'. Many times the URL's also end in .us or .info.

All of these sites are fakes.

These websites either try to dupe people into giving out personal information (known as “phishing”) or are an underhanded link to an unscrupulous broker/lender.

Because the layout and design of these sites appear make the page appear as though they are an “official" U.S. government website, it would be easy for people may fall prey to these scams. HUD’s Inspector General’s Office and the MN Dept. of Commerce have been notified, and are investigating.

The ONLY official HUD website is: www.hud.gov and for Minnesota specific information, visit: http://www.hud.gov/local/index.cfm?state=mn

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Photocopy Your Wallet

Whether you are trying to save for the downpayment on your first home, or cutting costs in order to avoid foreclosure, the Minnesota Home Ownership Center would like to help. Over the coming weeks, we'll be sharing with you some tips, hints and techniques that can help you get your finances in order, and help you reach your long-term financial goals.

Our first personal finance tip is this: Photocopy Your Wallet!

Sounds strange... but here's the thing: If you were to lose, or goodness forbid be robbed of, your wallet or purse... would you know how to contact your bank regarding your credit or ATM card(s); your credit card companies and any stores that have given you credit? How long would it take for you to find all the statements and emergency contact information for each of those cards? And how much damage could an identity thief do in that amount of time?

A quick and easy solution? Photocopy ALL of the contents of your wallet - front and back - so you have an easy reference for all the emergency numbers (they're generally found on the back of the card) and the account numbers for all your cards.

NOW, here's the key - - hide those copies in a SAFE LOCATION!! Losing the copy could be just as dangerous as losing the cards themselves!

Succesful home ownership starts with successful money management. If you're thinking of buying your first home, think Home Stretch first. If you're having difficulty with your house payment, don't delay, contact a Foreclosure Counselor now!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Financial Quicksand: Payday Lending in Minnesota

Isn't that a great name for a symposium!

LSS Financial Counseling, one of the Center's partner organizations that offers counseling services to Minnesota families, and the University of MN Law Clinic, have teamed up to offer a symposium on the ever-expanding - and dangerous - world of fringe banking, more commonly known as Payday Lending.

The symposium will be held on May 1st from 9:30 am - 2:30 at the Center for Changing Lives in St. Paul.

For additional information, incuding maps and an agenda, visit the registration page here:

20,000 Minnesota Families Served in 2008!

I was working with the Center's Evaluation Manager yesterday on a press release I was reviewing for a new collaboration that the Center is involved with (sorry for being so cryptic, I can’t release the details of the collaboration until our partner makes their announcement… details coming soon!).

In the course of our conversation, she shared with me a ballpark figure for the number of Minnesota families that the Center’s network of housing counselors assisted in 2008:

Families Counseled for Foreclosure Prevention: 11,800+
(The complete 2008 Foreclosure Report is almost complete… check back soon for more details!)

Families Attending Home Stretch (Pre-Purchase) Workshops: 5,700+

Families receiving pre-purchase counseling: 1,500+

Families receiving post-purchase financial counseling: 200+

Families receiving Reverse Mortgage counseling: 400+

That means about 20,000 Minnesota Families benefitted from the free counseling services offered by the Center’s network of counselors!

Our counselors do amazing work! If you’d like to learn more about any of the services offered by our partners, please visit our website at

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Foreclosure Rescue Scams

Over the coming weeks, the Center will be highlighting on this blog, and it's web page, a number of posts about the rising number of scams and dangerous programs that are popping up throughout the state and country looking to separate distressed homeowners from their money.

Scam #1: Foreclosure Rescue Scams (Loss Mitigation Agents/Foreclosure Consultants)

In many cases these are the same predatory loan officers and agents that sold Minnesota homeowners a dangerous or unaffordable loan in the last few years, that have rebranded themselves as being able to "help" homeowners arrange a repayment plan or a reduced monthly payment on their existing home mortgage. The 'agent' will charge anywhere from $500 to $5000 dollars or more - promising to make some kind of payment arrangement with the lender. In other cases, the salesperson is working as an agent of "attorneys that specialize in real estate law" - many times located in another state.

In either situation, there are two MAJOR problems working with these kinds of programs:
  1. EVEN IF the 'agent' or 'specialist' is able to work out some kind of repayment plan with the lender... the service they offer is available FREE OF CHARGE to Minnesota homeowners through the Center's network of foreclosure counselors. In addition... the Center's network of non-profit counselors has MANY additional resources available to homeowners above and beyond what any for-profit 'agent' or attorney can offer. If our network of counselors determines that legal assistance is necesary, they have access to non-profit consumer advocate law firms that can help.
  2. In MANY cases these companies take desperate homeowners money up-front and do very little to help - and actually make the situation WORSE. In most cases these companies tell consumers to STOP contacting their lender - which is always bad advise - stating that they will handle all conversations with the bank going forward. In addition, they require homeowners to sign a "Power of Attorney" which grants them 'permission' to do just about anything they want with the home. As if that weren't enough... many times these companies take the money up front, and offer NO HELP at all to homeowners, leaving them in a WORSE situation with their lender, and with even LESS money than before.

This situation is becoming so pronounced throughout the country, including Minnesota, that a number of governmental agencies have even put out warnings to distressed homeowners:

  1. To view President Obama's warning about rescue scams, visit the President's "Financial Stability" page: www.financialstability.gov/makinghomeaffordable/
  2. To view Attorney General Lori Swanson's warning, visit the Attorney General's website.

What are some of the warning signs of a potentially dangerous foreclosure scam?

  • Calls offering you buyback or lease-to-own options
  • Offers to provide "Walk-Away" services
  • Requests for your social security number
  • 'Counseling' that requires fees for services
  • Offers for quick and easy fixes.
  • Requests to sign binding contracts - including Power of Attorney - from sources other than your mortgage lender or a Center, or HUD-Approved, Foreclosure Counselor.

Home owners can avoid potential foreclosure scams by working with the Minnesota Home Ownership Center’s network of Foreclosure Counselors. The Center and our network of counselors at 24 non-profit partners throughout Minnesota are recognized by the Department of Housing and Urban development (HUD) for their high quality and dedicated service - and their help is absolutely FREE.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Working with clients in foreclosure - Video Available

As we posted earlier, the Minnesota Home Ownership Center, in partnership with Greater Twin Cities United Way and several other organizations hosted a webinar for social service professionals working with homeowners that are experiencing mortgage distress.

During the webinar, participants learned about the foreclosure situation in Minnesota, the statewide network of non-profit counselors, outreach tools that are available, and what is being done in Minnesota - at the statewide, county and even local levels to recover.

Several sections of the presentation are now available in video format on YouTube, and the entire presentation will be uploaded soon.

These videos will be a great help to any non-profit agency, librarian, clergy, etc... that is encountering families in mortgage distress and would like to do all they can to assist.

To view any of the videos, visit the Center's YouTube Channel: www.youtube.com/hocmn

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Read Japanese or Korean?

The Minnesota Home Ownership is looking for someone who fluently reads Japanese or Korean to volunteer a few minutes of their time to read/edit a one page timeline (Process Chart) of the foreclosure process in Minnesota.

This document will be distributed to a number of agencies throughout the state that are assisting us with our outreach to the Asian communities.

Copies of the documents to be read can be found here: http://www.hocmn.org/processcharts.cfm

If possible, we would like to have these documents edited and available for distribution by March 20th.

Any assistance you can offer is GREATLY appreciated!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Working with clients in foreclosure

On Tuesday, March 10th, the Minnesota Home Ownership Center, in partnership with United Way Twin Cities and several other organizations hosted a webinar for social service professionals working with clients - either homeowners or renters - who are worried about their house payment, are are being affected by a foreclosure.

The audio and PowerPoint presentation from the webinar, along with additional information about participants and an overview of the presentation are available at the Center's website:


Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Video: Foreclosure Prevention Resources

In the fall of 2008, the Minnesota Home Ownership Center worked with the Department of Public Affairs for Hennepin County and the Hennepin County Library system to produce a video of the information that is shared at our Library Workshops.

The Center was just informed that over 1,000 households have viewed the videos, available in both English and Spanish since the videos were posted online in the fall!

If you'd like to view the video in English: Click Here.

If you'd like to view the video in Spanish: Click Here.

If you'd like additional information about the workshops held in the Hennepin County Libraries: Click Here.

Foreclosure Telephone Seminar: TONIGHT

Do you think you should join us on our FREE - CONFIDENTIAL telephone seminar? Here are some questions to ask yourself:
  • At the end of the month, do you find yourself struggling to get ahead, or even keep up?
  • Are you questioning the future because you worry about how you will make ends meet today?
  • Are you concerned that if the real estate market doesn't improve soon, your current mortgage and home may not be a good fit for you?
If you answered "Yes" to any of these questions, the Minnesota Home Ownership Center would like to invite you to join a free, confidential telephone seminar - TONIGHT, Tuesday March 10th from 7 - 8pm. Feel free to join in for as long as you like.

Toll Free: (877) 850 - 7042

We'll discuss the current foreclosure situation in Minnesota, resources that are available to homeowners from their lender/servicer and from the statewide network of Foreclosure Specialists.

Have questions? You can join in too... and ask questions of our Foreclosure Specialists from the comfort - and confidentiality - of your home!

Thursday, March 5, 2009

2008 Foreclosure rates in Minnesota

A new report prepared by HousingLink shows that there were 26,265 foreclosures in Minnesota in 2008 - an increase of nearly 6,000 foreclosures from 2007.

The majority of counties in Greater Minnesota experienced more foreclosures than originally projected, while several metro-area counties had lower than expected numbers of foreclosures.

What were the "Top 5" counties with the highest foreclosure NUMBERS in Minnesota?

1 ..... Hennepin ..... 7,348 (32% increase over 2007)
2 ..... Ramsey ..... 3,027 (29% increase)
3 ..... Anoka ..... 2,285 (36% increase)
4 ..... Dakota ..... 2,063 (28% increase)
5 ..... Washington ..... 1,257 (43% increase)

What were the "Top 5" counties with the highest foreclosure RATES in Minnesota?

1 ..... Isanti ..... 3.27% of ALL homes
2 ..... Sherburne ..... 2.65%
3 ..... Mille Lacs ..... 2.37%
4 ..... Wright ..... 2.35%
5 ..... Scott ..... 2.17%

Did you know that there were counties in Minnesota that saw 300% and 400% INCREASES in the number of foreclosures in 2008?

Which counties? You'll have to read the report: http://tinyurl.com/85nxvv

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Updated info on "Making Home Affordable Plan"

The Center has updated its website to include additional information about the "Making Home Affordable Plan," whose details were announced earlier today by President Obama. Most importantly, it includes information on where homeowners should turn for next steps.

Feel free to visit the new page: www.hocmn.org/Making-Home-Affordable.cfm

Center Media Sightings

Additional details of President Obama's "Making Home Affordable" plan were announced today. The Center is working on producing pieces that can assist Minnesota Homeowners with the details of the plan.

Staff from the Minnesota Home Ownership Center have been interviewed today by WCCO-TV, KARE-11, and FOX-9 News, and the St. Paul Pioneer Press regarding the plan.

Catch us on the news tonight, or newspaper tomorrow! We'll follow-up with links to any of the pieces that air or are published.

Over the next few days, the Center will be producing fact sheets and blog posts to help homeowners understand both the modification and refinance details of the plan... and whether or not this plan is the best option for them.

If you're behind in your payments... or fear you may fall behind soon, DON'T WAIT. Contact a Foreclosure Counselor today for help with determining YOUR next steps.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Minnesota Foreclosures - Where do we rank?

One of the questions we hear over and over here at the Center is... "Where does Minnesota 'rank' in foreclosures?" or "How does Minnesota compare to other states?"

As far as RESPONSE to foreclosure - - Minnesota ranks - WITHOUT A DOUBT - number one in the country. No other state has such a coordinated effort of non-profits, industry professionals, municipalities, state agencies, etc. working together to assist homeowners and alleviate the effects of foreclosure.

As far as NUMBERS or RATE of foreclosures - we can be proud NOT to be number 1. In this case, we are actually rank #27 in the country:

Source: USA Today

If you're facing foreclosure... it doesn't help to know that Minnesota ranks 27th in the country. But it DOES help to know that Minnesota is unique in the fact that there IS a COORDINATED network of partners that can assist. If you'd like additional information about YOUR mortgage situation, click here.

Resources for Renters in Foreclosure

Yesterday, MPR ran a story on a number of investor owned properties that have fallen in to foreclosure on the North side of Minneapolis.

These properties that have gone into foreclosure highlight another group of people affected by foreclosure through no fault of their own: renters.

The Minnesota Home Ownership Center's network of foreclosure prevention specialists can ONLY assist homeowners whose primary residence (no investment or second properties) is in foreclosure. But that doesn't mean that renters in a foreclosure situation are left to fend for themselves... There is a network of organizations that can assist!

Here's some important contact information if you are renting a property - and your landlord is unable to make the mortgage payments:

If you live in the city of Minneapolis, Contact:
Legal Aid of Minneapolis . . . . . 612-334-5970

If you live in Ramsey, Washington, Dakota, Scott or Carver Counties, Contact:

Southern MN Regional Legal Services. . . . . 651-222-4731

If you live in Southern Minnesota, Including Albert Lee, Mankato & Rochester, Contact:

Southern MN Regional Legal Services. . . . . 888-575-2954

If you live elsewhere in the State of Minnesota, Contact:

HomeLINE. . . . . 866-866-3546

Here are some additional resources you may find helpful:

The Family Housing Fund has published a brochure to help renters whose landlords are in foreclosure: Tenants and Foreclosure: Know Your Next Move

HousingLink has created a page with information for renters in a foreclosure situation, as well as a number of helpful links to additional services: http://www.housinglink.org/Renter_Foreclosure.htm

Another document, produced by the Legal Aid Society of Minneapolis, gives an overview of renter's rights and responsibilities during a foreclosure: When Your Landlord Loses the Building: Mortgage Foreclosure