ProPublica asked a simple question of more than 700 homeowners dealing with the administration's mortgage modification program: Knowing what you know now, what tips would you give someone who's struggling with a mortgage payment?
Their advice: Get help, stay organized, and don't give up.
In total, 718 homeowners, all of whom applied for a loan modification through the Home Affordable Modification Program, volunteered tips and tricks for struggling homeowners. While more than a third of respondents were skeptical about the value of program, the majority of respondents suggested simple steps homeowners should take to survive the process of applying for a modification. Culling through the hundreds of responses, three pieces of advice stood out.
Don't do it alone.
The most popular suggestion was a simple one: Don't be afraid to ask for help. One hundred thirty-five respondents advised struggling homeowners to hire lawyers, contact their elected representatives, alert the media and file complaints with a variety of government agencies; they also advised homeowners to rely on emotional support from friends, family and other homeowners in the same situation. As one California homeowner put it, "Find others to talk to, or you will go crazy."
One of the most recommended resources for struggling homeowners was the HOPE Hotline, at 1-888-995-HOPE. The Treasury Department-sponsored hotline, operated by the nonprofit Homeownership Preservation Foundation, helps connect callers with HUD-approved counselors who can provide struggling homeowners with information and support. Homeowners who suspect their servicer of making mistakes can escalate their case to a special HOPE Hotline team. The Hotline can also connect homeowners to local HUD-approved counselors; homeowners can access the list of counselors directly at HUD's website.
Research and organization were important themes among respondents, with 125 of them advising homeowners to take notes, to do online research, and to get everything in writing during their campaign to get a loan modification. For many respondents, the process of applying for a loan modification stretched across months, involving an ever-changing parade of customer representatives that 64 percent say gave them contradictory answers at times. Respondents recommended everything from pen and paper to certified mail, phone recorders and video cameras to keep track of the process. As one New Mexico homeowner explained, "document your journey thoroughly -- you will never be able to recall or communicate all the madness you will go through."