If a lender is trying to foreclose on your home or real estate, you may be wondering if it’s worth hiring a foreclosure lawyer to represent you against the mortgage company. Before you decide to hire an attorney to handle your foreclosure, you’ll want to consider many factors. This article will address why you might want to hire a foreclosure attorney and if you do, what you can expect it to cost.
Written by Attorney Curtis Lee.
Updated October 19, 2021
Foreclosures are complicated. And if you’re facing one as a homeowner, they can be scary, too. If a lender is trying to foreclose on your home or real estate, you may be wondering if it’s worth hiring a foreclosure lawyer to represent you against the mortgage company. The answer to that question is similar to many other legal questions: It depends.
Before you decide to hire an attorney to handle your foreclosure, you’ll want to consider many factors. These include, whether you’re trying to keep your home, whether you have a strong legal defense, and what the federal and state laws are that apply to your foreclosure. You’ll also have to consider how much it’ll cost to hire a foreclosure defense attorney. This article will address why you might want to hire a foreclosure attorney and if you do, what you can expect it to cost.
A Foreclosure Defense Lawyer
If a borrower defaults on a mortgage, then the lender may decide to foreclose on the property since it secures the mortgage loan. Foreclosures can be either judicial or nonjudicial and often arise when a homeowner is unable to make their mortgage payments
When a bank or mortgage company forecloses on a property, they’re usually represented by a foreclosure attorney. But homeowners often represent themselves during foreclosure proceedings. If a homeowner decides to get a lawyer to give them legal advice, it’ll be a foreclosure defense attorney, not a plaintiff’s attorney. It might seem like hiring an attorney only makes sense when the homeowner is trying to stop the foreclosure. But that’s not always true. Foreclosure lawyers can do more than just help fight a foreclosure.
Do You Need To Hire a Foreclosure Attorney?
Legally speaking, you don’t need to hire an attorney to represent you for your foreclosure. Many homeowners go “pro se,” which means they represent themselves without an attorney. Often, they make this choice because they can’t afford to hire an attorney. Other times, it’s because they don’t feel it’s worth the money. But in the following cases, it’s a good idea to consider hiring a foreclosure lawyer:
You’re on active duty in the military. Being an active duty member of the United States armed forces doesn’t prevent your home from being foreclosed. But servicemembers on active duty have special rights under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA). This law aims to reduce some of the legal and financial struggles someone on active duty might have to deal with. It’s an intricate law that’s difficult to fully understand, so it’s good to have an attorney to ensure your lender is following it.
You want to do everything you can to keep your home. Whether you want to keep your home because it’s been in the family for several generations or because you’re in a great school district for your kids, it’s a good idea to hire a lawyer to help you prevent foreclosure.
Your loan servicer made a significant error with your foreclosure or your mortgage. The foreclosure process is complicated — not just for homeowners, but for lenders, too. Sometimes they make mistakes or intentionally violate a law. The average homeowner often doesn’t know when this happens, but a foreclosure attorney will.
You have one or more valid defenses to foreclosure. The lender suing you in a foreclosure may not own your mortgage loan. Or they tried foreclosing too soon after your first missed monthly payment. You’ll need to assert these legal defenses at the right time and in the right way. If you don’t, you might lose your ability to use them.
You have a government-backed loan. Homeowners with these types of mortgages may be eligible for certain foreclosure alternatives, like special loan modification programs. If you’re interested in taking advantage of one of these options or your lender has prevented you from doing so, it might be worth hiring an attorney to help you.
If none of these situations apply to you, you may be better off not hiring a foreclosure lawyer. For example, if you’ve accepted the idea of losing your home or you know that there aren’t any valid defenses you can use to stop the foreclosure.
How Can a Foreclosure Attorney Help?
One major benefit of hiring a foreclosure lawyer is that you don’t know what you don’t know. A foreclosure lawyer has the experience to identify things to help your case, like a legal defense you aren’t aware of or a legal misstep by your mortgage company.
Another major advantage of having an attorney represent you is that they already know how the foreclosure process works and what it takes to get through it. For instance, let’s say you’re facing a judicial foreclosure and your lender has served you with a complaint. There are a host of questions you now need to answer, such as:
Do you file an answer or a motion to dismiss?
How do you draft a motion to dismiss or an answer?
Once you draft your motion to dismiss or answer, how do you file it with the court?
Do you need to serve your lender with a copy of your answer or motion to dismiss?
The answers to these questions will depend on your case, your goals, and the applicable state and local procedural rules. While you can learn all this on your own, it’ll probably take a lot of time. What takes a foreclosure attorney 40 minutes to do could take you 20 hours.
Your attorney will also handle negotiations and talks with your lender. Foreclosure attorneys are likely also experienced negotiators, and they have the time and resources to handle these matters on your behalf. This is particularly helpful for homeowners who are pursuing loss mitigation. Your attorney will talk to your lender and can also quickly spot if they don’t follow the rules or they make a mistake that could stop the foreclosure.
Finally, hiring an attorney can help you slow down the foreclosure. You might want to do this to find a potential short sale buyer for your home or if you need more time to make new living arrangements.
How To Find a Foreclosure Attorney
If you plan to go without an attorney, it’s still a good idea to contact a few to get a sense of how much it’ll cost to hire them and what services they offer. You can probably get a free consultation to better understand what you’re dealing with.
But how do you find the right foreclosure attorney? Well, you can start by searching online. Type in your location and the words, “foreclosure attorney.” This will give you a general idea of the law offices that are nearby. You can also talk to friends, family, and coworkers for recommendations or referrals. There’s a fair chance you’re not the only one you know who’s faced a foreclosure. Next, contact your local or state bar association.
A bar association is a professional organization made up of lawyers. Depending on where you live, there could be a city or county bar association in addition to your state’s bar association. Many of these organizations have special referral programs. At the very least, most state bar associations will have online attorney lookup tools where you can search for an attorney close to you.
Lastly, there are HUD-certified housing counselors who can help you understand your resources and legal options.
Foreclosure Attorney Costs & Fees
Now that you know how a lawyer can help you with your foreclosure, it’s time to figure out how much that legal assistance will cost. For most homeowners, the cost of hiring an attorney will be the single most important factor in deciding whether or not to do so and who to hire.
How Much Does a Foreclosure Lawyer Cost?
The price of a foreclosure lawyer will depend on many variables, including:
The complexity of the foreclosure case
The skills and experience of the attorney
The cost of living where the attorney practices law
What other foreclosure lawyers in the area charge
Court rules concerning how to file documents and the cost of doing so
The type of fee structure the attorney uses
Attorneys bill clients using different fee structures, including an hourly, flat fee, or monthly fee arrangement. With hourly billing, the attorney charges a set amount of money for each hour worked on a case. Most attorneys will measure their time in six-minute increments and round up to the nearest tenth of an hour.
As a client, the biggest advantage to hourly billing is that your attorney puts in the same amount of effort for your case, whether it takes them a few hours or several years. The biggest disadvantage of hourly billing is that it’s difficult to predict the total cost of their services.
With a flat fee arrangement, you pay your attorney a set amount of money to handle your case. The largest benefit of flat fee billing is that you know exactly how much your foreclosure attorney will cost. They’ll receive the same amount of money regardless of how much time and effort they put into your case. While it’s nice to know what you’ll owe your attorney for their work, there are two potential risks of agreeing to a flat fee.
First, your attorney might underestimate how much time and effort they’ll need to put into your case. If this happens, they might be tempted to cut corners later in your case. Second, because of the risk of underestimating how much time your case will take, attorneys sometimes “pad” the flat fee by charging a little bit more to protect them financially. This means there’s a chance you’ll end up overpaying your attorney for their work.
Finally, there’s the monthly rate. This is a hybrid of an hourly and flat fee arrangement in that you pay your attorney by the month, not the hour. It’s like a flat fee in that the amount your attorney can charge each month is capped. The advantage of the monthly rate fee structure is that it allows you to know how much you’ll need to pay your attorney each month. The disadvantage is that you don’t know exactly how many months you’ll need your attorney to handle your foreclosure case.
Given all these considerations, the attorney fees to handle a foreclosure from start to finish can range considerably. Some may cost as little as $1,500, while others cost as much as $20,000.
What To Do if You Can't Afford To Hire an Attorney
Hiring a foreclosure attorney doesn’t come cheap. And most homeowners facing foreclosure don’t have much cash sitting around to pay for an attorney. If they did, there’s a fair chance they wouldn’t be facing foreclosure to begin with. That being said, if you want legal help with your foreclosure, but can’t afford an attorney, you still have options.
One option is to schedule an initial consultation. Many attorneys offer free consultations, which give you 15 to 30 minutes to explain your situation, ask a few questions, and then get an overview of your legal options. Once you know what you should do, you can take those steps on your own. Remember, one of the biggest reasons for hiring an attorney is to spot legal issues that you aren’t aware of. During an initial consultation, the foreclosure attorney can help you understand the major issues in your case.
Another option is to do some legal research and handle your foreclosure on your own. Numerous online resources explain the legal process and approaches to foreclosure. Also, most statutes are available online and you can find many legal cases for free online using tools like Google Scholar. Your local courthouse should also have a free law library for you to use.
Finally, you may be able to get free legal representation from a legal aid society or other nonprofit or public interest organization. If they can’t establish a client relationship with you, they can at least review your case for free and help you with a few basics.
You don’t need to have an attorney handle your foreclosure, but hiring one can be a big help. This is especially true if you have legal defenses, are an active-duty servicemember, or plan on fighting the lender to stop your foreclosure. By hiring a foreclosure attorney, you have someone to spot legal issues you may not know about. They’ll also know the foreclosure laws and how to litigate and negotiate. The cost of a foreclosure attorney will depend on several factors, but you can expect to pay anywhere from $1,500 to as much as $20,000.