In some instances, panicked homeowners move out after falling behind on their mortgage bills or once a foreclosure starts. But you don't have to leave your home simply because you miss a couple of payments. If you miss one or two payments, your lender or loan servicer will likely send you a few letters reminding you to get caught up.
After your payment is around 90 days overdue, the lender or servicer will probably send you a notice informing you that your loan is in default and that you need to bring it current. The letter will inform you that foreclosure proceedings will begin if you don't cure the default by paying the amount specified in the letter by a specific time, usually within 30 days.
The servicer will officially start the foreclosure process if you don't cure the default by paying the amount specified in the breach letter. Then, you have the legal right to remain in your home until the foreclosure process is completed.
Foreclosure procedures can take a few months or, in some cases, as long as a year or more. And during this time, you probably don't have to make any payments.
Depending on state law and the circumstances, the foreclosure will be either judicial or nonjudicial. With both judicial and nonjudicial foreclosures, you'll have some time between notification of the foreclosure and the sale.
You may stay in the property during this time, typically a couple of months to a year (sometimes more). Judicial foreclosures usually take longer than nonjudicial ones.
Judicial foreclosures go through the state court system. You'll receive a complaint and summons informing you that a foreclosure lawsuit has been filed against you. You will have a certain number of days to respond, frequently 20 or 30.
If you don't file an answer to the lawsuit, you'll automatically lose the case, and the court will issue the lender a default judgment permitting it to proceed with a foreclosure sale.
With judicial foreclosures, a court is involved in all parts of the foreclosure. Judges' schedules, hearings, and required paperwork all contribute to a lengthy process. In some states, judicial foreclosures can take several years to complete.
In a nonjudicial foreclosure, the lender doesn't have to go through court to foreclose. In a nonjudicial foreclosure, you'll receive (depending on state law):
Nonjudicial foreclosures are generally much shorter than judicial ones.
While the servicer is working its way through the judicial or nonjudicial foreclosure process, you can remain in the property. You own your property until the title goes to a new owner, usually the foreclosing lender, as a result of a foreclosure sale. You generally may continue living in the home until then.
In some states, you may stay in the property through the expiration of a post-sale redemption period (if state law provides one) or until some other action, such as ratification of the sale, occurs. Talk to a local lawyer to find out exactly when you have to leave your home during the foreclosure process in your state and get advice specific to your circumstances.
Also, keep in mind that you might be able to delay the sale and extend the amount of time that you can live in your home by:
You might also have the option to reinstate the loan and stop the sale altogether.
Once your legal right to stay in the home ends, if you don't vacate the property, the new owner (again, often the lender) will start eviction proceedings to remove you from the property. Depending on your state's laws and the circumstances of your case, the lender might have the option of initiating the eviction as part of the foreclosure action.
Other times it might have to file a separate eviction action with the court. Sometimes, in certain states and under some circumstances, the lender must send you a notice before commencing the eviction. Commonly called a "Notice to Quit," this notice will give you a specific amount of time, like three days, to vacate the property. Generally, it's best to leave the property by this deadline, before a formal eviction action starts.
Every now and then, the lender doesn't finish the foreclosure process. For some reason, the foreclosure is canceled, a foreclosure sale is never held, or ownership is never officially transferred to a new person or entity.
Meanwhile, the house languishes, and the property's ownership (title) remains in the absent homeowner's name. This type of situation is commonly called a "zombie foreclosure," and can lead to some pretty horrifying consequences for a homeowner who's already moved out.
In a zombie foreclosure, because the home's title isn't transferred out of the homeowner's name, the homeowner still has the legal obligation to pay certain debts and expenses like property taxes, HOA dues, and maintenance on the property. The following things, among others, could happen months or even years later.
Debts associated with these responsibilities can go unpaid for years and then come back to haunt people who have no idea that the foreclosure process was never completed. The lender might not even be legally required to inform the homeowner that the foreclosure has stopped, or it might not be able to locate someone who has moved out.
When vacant properties show obvious neglect, it can drag down the entire neighborhood's value. These unattended homes are also susceptible to vandalism, squatters, and crime.
Often, zombie foreclosures occur in low-income areas where the lender isn't anxious to assume responsibility for the upkeep of the property and wants to save on taxes and other costs. Other times, the process stalls due to servicer error or another reason. For instance, if squatters occupy the property or it falls into severe disrepair, the lender might wash its hands of the property.
Or a lender might have other reasons for not following through with a foreclosure like it already has too much inventory, the costs of foreclosing don't justify completing the foreclosure, or in some cases, maybe the foreclosure paperwork was simply lost.
During the foreclosure crisis, which peaked in 2010, multitudes of properties went into foreclosure, with thousands being zombie foreclosures. At one point, RealtyTrac reported at least 300,000 zombie properties in the United States. Though, the actual number might have been considerably higher because a conservative methodology was used to come up with this data.
But in the fourth quarter of 2022, according to ATTOM Data Solutions, just 7,722 abandoned residential properties were facing possible foreclosure—although some states (and particular zip codes) still have relatively large numbers of zombie homes, like Pennsylvania, New York, Florida, Ohio, and Illinois.
So, the possibility of a zombie foreclosure provides another reason for you to remain in your home for as long as possible during a foreclosure. You're much more likely to avoid becoming the victim of a zombie foreclosure if you stay through the entire process and wait for an official notice to vacate before moving out.
To make sure you aren't the victim of a zombie foreclosure, it's a good idea to confirm that title has been transferred out of your name following a foreclosure sale. Don't leave the property until that happens.
Go to the county recorder's office where the property is located to make sure a new deed has been recorded. You can also check your local county recorder's website; an online search tool might be available for finding out this information.
If you need help finding out the status of a foreclosure, consider talking to a local foreclosure lawyer.
Talk to a local foreclosure attorney for more information about foreclosure timelines, procedures, and evictions in your state and particular situation.