Sometimes, homeowners aren’t able to afford the fees that an attorney would charge to represent them during a foreclosure. (To learn what to do—and what not do—if you’re facing a foreclosure, see Foreclosure Do's and Don'ts.)
If you’re facing a foreclosure, but don’t have money available to hire a lawyer to work with you throughout the process, you might want to consider:
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. (To learn more about foreclosure legal fees, see How Much Will a Foreclosure Attorney 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 what steps are involved, how long a foreclosure typically takes in your state, and exactly when you’ll have to move out of your home. (Learn more about how foreclosure works where you live in Nolo’s Summary of State Foreclosure Laws.)
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 it know you would like to apply for a modification. The servicer will tell you exactly what you need to do to submit an application. (To learn more about how to apply for a loan modification, see Do It Yourself Mortgage Loan Modification.)
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 you 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.
When you should consider hiring an attorney. 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. This means that it is usually better to hire an attorney than to go it alone if you want to successfully save your home. (Learn more in Do I Need a Foreclosure Attorney?)
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.
Setting expectations. Before going into the meeting, make sure you know how much time the attorney will spend with you, what he or she will help you with—for example, the lawyer may be willing to answer questions about foreclosure, but not about filing for bankruptcy—and how much the attorney charges for the consultation.
The consultation. At the meeting, you might want to ask the lawyer to provide you with details about foreclosure procedures, to review the facts of your case, and determine whether you might have a defense to the foreclosure. The lawyer can also help you decide your next steps and explain your legal rights.
If you can't afford to hire an attorney—even for just one meeting—then 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.
A legal aid office might be able to help you for free if you qualify financially. 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 and/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, mortgage modifications, and foreclosure rescue scams. You might be able to speak with an attorney one-on-one or you might be part of a large group.
The bottom line is, even if you can’t afford to hire a foreclosure lawyer, there are other options that might be available to you so that you can get prepared for the process.