Homeowners often try to fend off foreclosure by hiring a lawyer to represent them. Not all foreclosure attorneys are the same and it can be difficult to know which one to hire.
Some of the attorneys who represent homeowners in foreclosure actions actually specialize in other areas, such as real estate transactions or bankruptcy. On the other hand, as a result of the recent mortgage crisis, a growing number of attorneys have started specializing primarily in foreclosure defense and related matters.
Read on to learn more about the different types of attorneys who assist homeowners in foreclosure, which of these types of attorneys may be appropriate to handle your situation, and how to select an attorney.
What Types of Attorneys Handle Foreclosure Matters?
Depending on your situation and what you hope to accomplish, one of the following types of lawyers may be able to help you if you’re facing foreclosure.
Foreclosure Defense Attorneys
Over the past few years, a growing number of attorneys have begun specializing in foreclosure defense and related areas.
Foreclosure defense involves litigation. If you believe you have a defense and want to fight the foreclosure in court, you want to choose an attorney who:
- is very familiar with your state’s foreclosure process
- is knowledgeable about what defenses exist in foreclosures (learn more about defenses to foreclosure), and
- can litigate the case in court.
Foreclosure defense attorneys may also be willing to help you obtain a mortgage modification (where the bank agrees to change the terms of your loan), arrange for a deed in lieu of foreclosure, or facilitate a short sale. (Learn more about these options and other alternatives to foreclosure.)
Real Estate Attorneys
Real estate attorneys typically deal with residential and commercial real estate purchases, sales, and leasing. In addition, they may also assist with homeowners' association matters, landlord-tenant disputes, and, in some cases, foreclosures.
When to use a real estate lawyer. This type of attorney can certainly assist you with a short sale or a deed in lieu of foreclosure. A real estate lawyer will also likely be comfortable analyzing the loan paperwork and working with the lender on a loan modification.
When not to use a real estate lawyer. However, a real estate attorney might not be the best choice if you want to fight the case in court, unless that attorney also does litigation.
If you are thinking about filing bankruptcy, a bankruptcy attorney could be a good choice to help you deal with the foreclosure. Bankruptcy is a complicated area of the law, and few non-bankruptcy attorneys are familiar with all of the ins and outs of the process. But, if you have decided that you don’t want to file for bankruptcy, you probably don’t want to choose this type of lawyer to represent you in a foreclosure. (Learn more in Nolo’s Bankruptcy & Foreclosure topic area.)
Some bankruptcy attorneys, however, also specialize in foreclosure defense.
Other Types of Attorneys
Other types of attorneys sometimes take on foreclosure defense work in addition to their primary specialties, such as criminal defense, divorce cases, or probate, for example. For these attorneys, foreclosure cases are not the main focus of their law firm. (Beware -- while many attorneys who practice predominantly in other areas are competent to help you with your case, some of these attorneys became foreclosure “experts” overnight during the financial crisis and may not have enough experience to handle your particular situation.)
How to Select a Foreclosure Attorney
When picking an attorney to represent you in your foreclosure, you should speak to several different lawyers to get more than one perspective and learn about all of the options available to you.
Your main goal when first meeting with an attorney is to learn:
- what course of action the attorney recommends in your case
- how much it will cost (learn more in Nolo’s article How Much Will a Foreclosure Attorney Charge?), and
- how much experience the attorney has specifically in foreclosure, including recent cases. Keep in mind that you probably don’t want to select an attorney who recently took up foreclosure work simply to drum up some more business during tough times. But an attorney with decades of experience may not necessarily be more qualified to handle your foreclosure issues unless he or she has kept up with all of the changes in foreclosure law in recent years.
Make Sure You Understand What You’re Paying For
Sometimes when homeowners hire an attorney to assist them in dealing with a foreclosure, they assume that the attorney will assist with all aspects of the matter, such as handling both the foreclosure case in court and negotiating a mortgage modification. However, this is not always the case.
For example, a particular attorney may only be willing to take on tasks such as filing a response to a foreclosure lawsuit and attending all hearings, but not providing assistance in obtaining a loan modification or other alternative to foreclosure -- or the attorney may charge more for these services. (Keep in mind that you can request a modification on your own without an attorney’s assistance. Learn more in Nolo’s article Do It Yourself Mortgage Loan Modification.)
To avoid any confusion, be sure to read the fee agreement carefully and ask the attorney questions if you’re unclear about exactly what services are included before you make your decision about who to hire.