Homeowners facing foreclosure seem to be desperate to buy again.
Frequently, I receive letters from someone who hasn’t yet lost their home to foreclosure but anticipates they soon will, and wants to be able to get back into the market, quick-like.
Many claim their haste is because they don’t want to miss out on today’s bargain housing prices or interest rates. Yet neither seems poised to rise significantly any time soon.
In the same breath, many of these folks say they’re ready to pay top dollar for their next home, and pay an additional premium if they are forced to rely on lease-to-own, seller financing, or a hard-money mortgage.
Others claim they don’t want to miss out on the opportunity to build equity in a home instead of paying rent, or cite the tax advantages of homeownership as the piece they particularly want to retain.
My advice is almost always this: Slow down! Most legitimate loan programs now impose a three-year-plus waiting period after a borrower loses a home to foreclosure, even if they would otherwise qualify for a mortgage based on their credit score, income and assets.
Here are my four suggestions for how you can wisely use that waiting period to recover from a foreclosure — these steps also do double duty in terms of setting you up for success and sustainability the next time you buy a home.
1. Feel the pain.
Many folks who write to me are still in the early stages of grief at the loss of their home: anger and denial. They are angry at the bank, and in denial about the loss of their home and its advantages, from status to tax write-offs.
What I know is that getting through this grief is an essential first step to truly moving forward. Inherent in grief is an acknowledgement that something is dead and over. The acceptance of that finality is what allows you to move forward and learn the lessons that such experiences can teach.
As long as you’re stuck in the emotional protestations of how unfair it was that you lost your home, or spinning in a place of outrage about the Wall Street bailouts, you’re probably not making emotional progress to the point where you can begin to learn from your experience.
2. Metabolize the loss.
Henry Cloud, bestselling author of "Necessary Endings: The Employees, Businesses, and Relationships That All of Us Have to Give Up in Order to Move Forward" (Harper Business, 2011), recommends that we treat our painful past experiences as our bodies do food, metabolizing them by taking away the lessons we can distill from them that will fuel our future decisions, and leaving behind the pain and other toxic wastes from the experience.
Individuals and couples should take time out to acknowledge what has happened, and distill and discuss mistakes that were made and insights you’ve gained so that you can avoid repeating them in the future. It’s a meaningful method for progressing past grief and repositioning yourself to make smarter decisions about your money and your mortgage for the rest of your life.
3. Avoid rebound home purchases.
There’s a whole lot of what I call tuition — the price we pay to learn life lessons — involved in the loss a home to foreclosure. If rush in too quickly to the next home purchase, chances are good we’ll miss the lesson and get nothing for the tuition. This is evident in the gymnastics many foreclosed homeowners are considering going through in order to buy a home at all costs. These may mirror their willingness a few years ago to take on an unsustainable mortgage, which is what got some portion of them into foreclosure in the first place.
Trying to replace our losses on the rebound, be it after a breakup or after a foreclosure, is how people end up repeating their mistakes. Making new, unsustainable mortgage commitments and chronically overspending or over borrowing is no different from your friend who keeps repeating the same old dysfunctional relationship patterns, year after year.
4. Heal your finances.
My advice to foreclosed homeowners is to devote some real time to working on their finances, without worrying about buying another home. Get your debt paid down or off. Change your spending habits and your overall relationship with money. Get your taxes current and paid. Save some money. Create the habit of paying every bill on time every time. Eliminate unnecessary monthly expenses. Work the programs in "365 Days to Organized Finances or Financial Recovery," or some similar book, or both. Focus for awhile on your career development.