Foreclosure is the legal process mortgage lenders use to take ownership of a house if the borrower doesn’t make the mortgage payments. How long foreclosure takes depends on many factors, but mostly on your state’s laws. This article describes the basic steps in the foreclosure process and a general timeframe for each step. It also highlights some of the vast differences in foreclosure timelines from state to state and explains some of the factors that lead to those differences.
Written by Attorney Paige Hooper.
Updated December 1, 2021
If you’re concerned about foreclosure, you probably want to have some idea of how long the process typically takes. But estimating a foreclosure timeline is very tricky. That’s because foreclosure laws vary from state to state, and many factors can affect the timeline.
This article describes the basic steps in the foreclosure process and a general timeframe for each step. It also highlights some of the vast differences in foreclosure timelines from state to state and explains some of the factors that lead to those differences.
Is Foreclosure a Lengthy Process?
Foreclosure is the legal process mortgage lenders use to take ownership of a house if the borrower doesn’t make the mortgage payments. How long foreclosure takes depends on many factors, but mostly on your state’s laws. Each state has different rules that affect the timeline, such as:
Whether the lender must file a lawsuit and get a court order to foreclose;
How much notice a homeowner gets before the sale;
What opportunities a homeowner has to dispute the foreclosure; and
Whether the lender and homeowner must try mediation before the sale.
Depending on your state and your lender, the amount of time between your first missed mortgage payment and a foreclosure sale could be as short as a few months or as long as several years.
There are also federal laws that apply to foreclosures in all states. For example, the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (RESPA) says that your lender can’t begin state foreclosure proceedings until your payments are more than 120 days past due.
Timeline Differences Among States
A recent report reflects the enormous range of foreclosure timelines for different states. For this report, the foreclosure timeline starts with the first public notice, such as filing a foreclosure action or publishing a notice of sale. The timeline ends when the foreclosure sale is completed.
According to the report, the states with the longest foreclosure timelines were:
Hawaii — 2,070 days
Nevada — 1,989 days
Kansas — 1,901 days
The states with the shortest foreclosure timelines were:
Montana — 94 days
Wyoming — 102 days
Mississippi — 133 days
In the states with the longest timelines, the average foreclosure took longer than five years. But in the states with the shortest timelines, the average foreclosure took less than five months. Why the huge difference? In states with longer timelines, state law usually requires judicial foreclosure proceedings. Judicial foreclosures require a lawsuit and a court order. They generally take more time than nonjudicial foreclosures, which happen outside the court system.
Nevada is the exception to this general rule. Most Nevada foreclosures are nonjudicial, but Nevada still has one of the longest average foreclosure timelines. This may be because of Nevada’s law that all homeowners must have a chance to participate in foreclosure mediation before their lenders can schedule a sale. Foreclosure mediation is when a lender and homeowner work with an independent mediator to reach a solution other than foreclosure.
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Foreclosure Timeline Basics
Foreclosure timelines can look extremely different in different states. Most states follow the same basic steps during the pre-foreclosure stage. After a lender starts the foreclosure process, though, more factors come into play. These factors can either lengthen or shorten the timeline.
The pre-foreclosure stage is the time after your first missed payment but before your loan enters foreclosure status. It’s important to act fast during the pre-foreclosure period even if you don’t want to keep your house. Once your loan is in foreclosure, it may be more difficult to communicate with your lender. You may also face additional charges, such as appraisal costs or attorney fees.
Missed Payment Notice
If you don’t pay your mortgage, your lender will probably send you a missed payment notice within 2-3 weeks. Your lender may have charged you a late fee or reported your late payment to the credit bureaus. If you contact your lender right away, you can usually work out a way to catch up on your payments without going any further in the process.
Under RESPA, your lender must contact you within 36 days after you miss a mortgage payment to discuss your loss mitigation options. And within 45 days after a missed payment, your lender must assign you a specific contact person who will help you navigate these options. Some states have additional rules that apply to this period. And some lenders may take additional steps to notify or work with homeowners.
Notice of Default
When you’ve missed enough payments to be considered “in default” according to your mortgage or deed of trust, your lender will probably send you a notice of default. This is usually around 3-6 months after your first missed payment. A notice of default is often the final warning your lender will send you before starting foreclosure proceedings. A notice of default contains:
Your past-due balance, including late fees.
The date you must pay this amount. It’s usually within 30-90 days after the notice date.
The next step your lender will take if you don’t pay the full amount by the deadline. The next step may be to start foreclosure.
Notice To Accelerate
If your mortgage contains an acceleration clause, you may also receive a notice to accelerate. You might receive this:
After you fail to pay the full past-due balance by the deadline in the notice of default;
At the same time you receive the notice of default; or
Instead of the notice of default.
An acceleration clause says that if you miss a certain number of payments, your lender can “accelerate” your loan’s due date and require you to pay the entire mortgage balance. The deadline to pay this is usually 30-60 days after the notice to accelerate. If you don’t pay the full balance — not just the past-due amount — by the due date, your lender can foreclose.
A judicial foreclosure begins when your lender files a lawsuit against you in court. The lender must notify you of the lawsuit. Then, you usually have between 20-40 days to file an answer with the court. If you don’t file an answer, the lender can get a default judgment against you, which means the lender automatically wins the lawsuit.
There will usually be a hearing date. You can go to this hearing and tell the judge about any defenses you have. At the hearing, a lawyer or representative for your mortgage company must prove you agreed to pay and then didn’t pay as you agreed. If the lender is successful, the judge will enter a judgment against you and sign a sale order.
Nonjudicial foreclosures usually move much faster than judicial foreclosures. Instead of filing a lawsuit, the lender publishes a notice of sale setting the date and time your home will be sold. Most lenders will send you a copy of the sale notice, though it’s not required in all states. In some states, the lender must file the notice in the local land records.
Notice of Sale
Whether the foreclosure is judicial or nonjudicial, most states require the lender to publish a notice of the sale in a local newspaper, online, or at the courthouse. The lender must usually publish the notice for 3-4 weeks in a row. Some states also require the lender to post a notice of sale on the property.
Other Factors To Consider
Federal law requires lenders to stop the foreclosure process while there is a pending loan modification. This can significantly increase the overall timeline. Some states require lenders and homeowners to participate in mediation before proceeding with foreclosure. This can also affect the timeline.
Recently, temporary moratoriums and other emergency relief measures have also affected foreclosure times. The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act allowed homeowners to use mortgage forbearances if they were experiencing hardship due to COVID-19. Many states enacted emergency moratoriums at the start of the pandemic that prevented mortgage lenders from foreclosing. Most of those measures have ended in most states, except for Oregon (expires December 31, 2021) and New York (expires January 15, 2022).
Some states also have a redemption period after the foreclosure sale, which can alter the foreclosure timeline. A redemption period is a set amount of time after the sale when you can take back ownership of your house by paying either the sale price or your mortgage balance (depending on your state). State redemption periods range from 30 days to a year or longer.
If you’re facing foreclosure and aren’t familiar with the rules in your state, it’s a good idea to speak to a foreclosure attorney in your area.
The length of the foreclosure process is hard to estimate because it’s affected by so many factors. In 2021, the timeframe for an average foreclosure ranged from over five years in Hawaii to just three months in Montana. Most states follow the same pre-foreclosure steps, though there are variations. Once foreclosure begins, a judicial foreclosure process typically takes much more time than a nonjudicial foreclosure. Other factors, such as modification, mediation, emergency relief, and redemption periods can also affect the foreclosure timeline.