Stretching Your Dollar: Foreclosure Awareness

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COLUMBIA - There's good news and there's bad news when it comes to your home ownership or dreams of getting a new house. The bad news is that the real estate and foreclosure catastrophe that's consumed other parts of the country have now migrated to the Midwest. But the good news is that Mid-Missouri looks much better off than most in the U.S. So it's important for you to understand the foreclosure market and learn some good advice on avoiding all the scams that are popping up.

There's already been 65 foreclosed on homes in Columbia's surrounding area this year. At this rate, we are well on the way to beating last year's 203 sales. These numbers dwarf the 26 foreclosures in 2008...before the recession hit. 

However, foreclosures can represent an opportunity to get a deal. Banks have no emotional attachment to a house and negotiate with business in mind. Even at times agreeing to take a loss by selling a property for less than it owes. 

Realtytrac, a foreclosure tracking company, projects banks this year will foreclose on more than a million homes. So with more to choose from than ever before, the foreclosure market might be your new best option in your house hunting. But it's important to keep in mind that foreclosures are sold "as is" and don't come with the same inspection protection as a traditional real estate deal. 

If you're one of the many Americans trying to fight a foreclosure, the recent government programs launched to help you keep your house has also caused a huge surge in scams. Here are some red flags that scream scam:

1) A company or person asks for a fee in advance to modify, refinance, or reinstate your mortgage.
2) Someone guarantees they can stop a foreclosure or get your loan modified. Only your lender can do that.
3) They say you should pay them instead of your lender. 
4) They ask you to sign over the title to your home or sign any paperwork you haven't read or don't understand. 
5) They claims to offer "official government" loan modifications. Scam artists often pretend to be affiliated with the government.
6) Or they ask you to release personal financial information.

There are several legitimate agencies that can help if you're near or in foreclosure, but that help is free. If there's any doubt, you can check anyone's credentials with your mortgage lender.