Mortgage lenders pursue homeowners even after foreclosure

As terrible as it is to lose your house to foreclosure, at least it’s a relief to put your biggest financial headache behind you, right?

Wrong.

Former homeowners may still be on the hook if there’s a difference between what they owed on their mortgage and what the bank could sell it for at auction. And these “deficiency judgments” are ticking time bombs that can explode years after borrowers lose their homes.

It can even happen to people who got their bank to approve them selling their home for less than it is worth.

Vanessa Corey, for example, short sold her Fredericksburg, Va., home in April 2008. She and her husband built the house in 2004, but setbacks, both personal (divorce) and professional (housing bust), made it impossible for the real estate agent to keep her home. So she negotiated the short sale and thought that was the end of it.

“My understanding was that the deficiency was negotiated away,” she said. “Then, last November, I got a letter from a lawyer telling me I owed my lender $65,000. I had to declare bankruptcy. There was no way I could pay it.”

Many homeowners are now in the same boat. And not just those who took out bigger loans than they could afford or who did so called “liar loans” where they didn’t have to verify their income.

Because of falling home prices, borrowers who always paid their mortgage but who have run into unforeseen circumstances — like unemployment or a job transfer — can no longer sell their homes for what they owe. As a result, they are being forced to short sell or foreclose and are getting caught up in deficiency judgments.

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