If we're foreclosed on, when do we actually have to leave our house?

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Question:

We just got a notice of default from our bank and can't afford to pay back what we owe. In fact, we're so deep in debt that paying rent again is going to be hard. If we let them foreclose, how much longer will we be able to stay in our house?

Answer:

Like many homeowners, you may be picturing your once-so-friendly loan office showing up at your doorstep, unannounced, to escort you out. That won't happen.

Your bank's actions at this point are governed by your state's laws, often with the help of the state court system. In most states, it takes somewhere between two and 12 months before you're given a date by which you must leave. That date is usually based on when the property has actually been sold. In fact, you may need to stay in your house until the sale is completed, so that you won't have "abandoned" it. Abandonment can bar you from access to local assistance programs. Also, some states have expedited foreclosure procedures for abandonded properties.

Some homeowners push matters and don't leave by the date they're supposed to. They wait for the bank to get an eviction order and send a sheriff to enforce the order. We don't, however, recommend that strategy, which is demoralizing and leaves you with very little control over your departure.

Do keep in mind that, if your financial circumstances take a turn for the better, you may be able to bring your mortgage up to date, pay off the relevant fees, and get your house back, up to and (depending on your state's "redemption" law), even shortly after the sale.

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