Local News

State tries to help more homeowners avoid foreclosure

Posted November 14, 2008 5:33 p.m. EST
Updated November 14, 2008 7:24 p.m. EST

— The state banking commission hopes a new state law regulating banks will help it more quickly find and assist homeowners facing foreclosure.

The law, which took effect Nov. 1, requires lenders to notify the North Carolina Banking Commission 45 days before they file foreclosure paperwork.

"Some people simply wait until it's too  late. They don't take any action," said Jim Richardson, of Wilson, a disabled veteran who had faced foreclosure until the commission helped him get his interest rate reduced.

Mark Pearce, the state's deputy commissioner of banks, said that behavior is why the new law is crucial.

"The eariler we can get in touch with people struggling to pay their mortgage, the more time it gives us and the better the opportunities they will have to avoid a foreclosure," Pearce said.

In October, the commission received 5,000 notices of pending foreclosures and sent letters to all those homeowners urging them to fight foreclosure. Staffers connect homeowners with counselors and other resources who can help them try to renegotiate rates so they can make payments and keep their homes.

Banking officials said they have helped more than 200 homeowners avoid foreclosure so far this year.

Ultimately, however, the bank makes the final decision about foreclosure.

Gran Yarber, president and CEO of the Raleigh-based Capital Bank, said smaller, community banks such as his have an easier time negotiating with mortgage-holders.

"We do absolutely everything we can when we run into a situation like that to help that homeowner stay in that house," Yarber said.

Larger lenders have been coming under increased pressure to become flexible in negotiating.

"I think they're going to have to," Yarber said, though it will be a challenge. "I think it's going to be difficult for them to do that, because they deal in such huge volumes."

Pearce said that reaching and helping more homeowners facing foreclosure will take more action on the part of banks, as well as the government.

"To date, the evidence hasn't been convincing to me that we've reached as many homeowners as we sould be able to reach, and so we continue to urge lenders to do more than they have been doing," Pearce said.

(Help for North Carolinians facing foreclosure is available at www.ncforeclosurehelp.org or by calling 1-888-995-HOPE.)