Homeowners aren't always able to afford the fees that an attorney would charge to represent them during a foreclosure. If you're facing a foreclosure but don't have money available to hire a lawyer to work with you throughout the process, you have options.
For example, if you feel pretty confident in your ability to deal with a legal matter, you could handle the situation on your own or pay for just one consultation with a lawyer to get an idea of what to do. You could also look for a pro bono (free) attorney or get assistance from a free legal aid society or a foreclosure prevention clinic in your area.
Most foreclosure attorneys structure their fee agreements by charging an hourly rate, collecting a flat fee, or charging a monthly rate. The amount you'll pay in total could range from several hundred dollars to several thousand dollars.
Exactly how much you'll have to pay varies based on a number of factors, including the attorney's level of experience and how much other attorneys in the area charge.
Here are a few alternatives if you can't afford to hire a lawyer to assist you throughout a foreclosure.
If you don't want to fight the foreclosure, you can probably deal with it on your own. You should educate yourself about the steps involved in the foreclosure process, how long a foreclosure typically takes in your state, and exactly when you'll have to move out of your home.
You're also allowed to challenge a foreclosure, for example, by filing an answer in a judicial foreclosure, pro se (without an attorney). But you'd probably fare better with a lawyer's help.
You should seriously consider hiring a foreclosure attorney if you think you have a valid defense to the foreclosure, like the servicer didn't follow the law or made a serious error with your account. In most cases, you'll have to raise the defense in court, either by filing your own lawsuit (if the foreclosure is nonjudicial) or responding to the lender's lawsuit (if the foreclosure is judicial), which can be complicated. So, it's usually better to hire an attorney than to go it alone if you want to save your home.
You can apply for a mortgage modification during foreclosure without an attorney. You probably don't need an attorney to help you apply for a mortgage modification. A "modification" is a permanent change to the loan terms, such as an interest rate reduction, to make the monthly payments more affordable.
To get the ball rolling, call your loan servicer and let them know you'd like to apply for a modification. The servicer will tell you precisely what to do to apply. If you need help with the application, you can make an appointment to talk to a free HUD-approved housing counselor.
Why you might want to apply for a modification. If you apply for a modification, you might be able to work out an agreement that will allow you to keep the home. Even if you can't work out a deal, applying for a modification will buy you some time to stay in the home before the lender completes the foreclosure. Generally, under federal law (and some state laws), a foreclosure must stop while the servicer evaluates your application.
You might want to schedule at least one consultation with a lawyer, even if you can't afford to hire an attorney to represent you through the entire process. A lawyer can tell you exactly how foreclosure works in your state and how much time the process will likely take. A lawyer can also give you an idea of some strategies you might take for handling the foreclosure.
Setting expectations. Before going into the meeting, make sure you know how much time the attorney will spend with you and what the lawyer will help you with. For example, the lawyer might be willing to answer questions about foreclosure but not about filing for bankruptcy. Also, find out how much the attorney charges for the consultation.
The consultation. At the meeting, you might want to ask the lawyer to provide details about foreclosure procedures, review the facts of your case, determine whether you might have a defense against the foreclosure, and tell you about other options. The lawyer can also help you decide your next steps and explain your legal rights.
That said, not every foreclosure lawyer will agree to provide just a single consultation. The lawyer might only accept you as a client if you hire them to represent you through the entire foreclosure process.
If you can't afford to hire an attorney, even for just one meeting, you could try to find a pro bono (free) attorney. Some attorneys take on a certain number of pro bono cases to help people who have little or no income or based on other factors. Contact your state bar association to get help finding pro bono attorneys who might be willing to assist you with your foreclosure case.
You can also investigate whether you qualify for free or low-cost legal assistance from a legal aid society. Most states have legal aid programs for low-income individuals who need assistance. You can find a list of various legal aid programs near you on the Legal Service Corporation's website.
Also, some housing agencies offer free foreclosure prevention clinics. At the clinic, volunteer attorneys or housing counselors will answer your questions and provide advice about the foreclosure process, which might include guidance on how to prepare and what documents to take to court, modifications, and foreclosure rescue scams. You might be able to speak with an attorney one-on-one or be part of a large group.
The bottom line is that even if you can't afford to hire a foreclosure lawyer, other options might be available to you so that you can get prepared for the process.