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Opinion Editorials

HUD-approved counseling program puts homeowners at risk – opinion

While the federal government advises against any entity advising borrowers stop making payments in order to get a loan modification, one HUD-approved counseling program is doing just that.

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Enter the crazy season on the North Coast

ESOP, Empowering and Strengthening Ohio’s People, is a HUD certified counseling agency focusing on foreclosure prevention program for homeowners. They also participate in neighborhood, and state-wide advocacy programs regarding predatory lending and foreclosures. Unlike other HUD-approved counseling agencies such as NID however, ESOP does not have any programs for buyers, homeownership in general, budgeting, rental assistance, or information on reverse mortgages. 

As of last week, ESOP is “encouraging” and “urging” homeowners in Ohio with negative equity to go on a “mortgage strike.”

ESOP would like the 39% of underwater homeowners in Cuyahoga County (their stats are from Zillow.com not individual appraisals) as well as those state-wide, to place their monthly mortgage payments with a lawyer, in an escrow account, instead of paying their lender/servicer directly. The monthly mortgage payments would be held by a lawyer of ESOP’s choosing, who has promised to verify the interest and principal to the servicer, but there is no mention of how PMI would be handled. Property taxes and homeowners insurance would become the owners’ responsibility to pay separately.

The basis for this bad idea

While, the basis for this (bad) idea is rooted (kind of) in the Ohio Revised Code, (ORC 5321) it is actually landlord/tenant law, not mortgagee/mortgagor law. It basically says both the landlord and tenant have certain obligations in addition to those set forth under the lease agreement. 

If said obligations are not being met, (tenants need to keep things safe & sanitary, operate electric & plumbing properly; landlords need to comply with health, building, and safety codes, etc) the tenant can give notice, in writing, specifying which acts aren’t being met and deliver the notice where rent is usually paid. If the landlord doesn’t fix things within a reasonable time frame, the tenant can begin to deposit rent with the county or municipal court in an escrow account, until a remedy is made, or the lease is broken. 

During this process, tenants cannot be evicted while making payments to the escrow account. This is the short version of how it works; there isn’t anything in the ORC pertaining to mortgage payments, i.e. pissed off homeowners trying to retaliate because they haven’t gotten a principal reduction or a loan modification.

Why would a HUD-approved agency promote this?

HUD approved counseling agencies have done wonders for homeowners, for buyers, and for financial education. When it comes to foreclosure prevention, they are, and should be the link, the buffer, and trusted source for the homeowner. Never should a HUD approved counseling agency be giving crap advice, such as not paying a mortgage, or going on “mortgage strike,” a term and action that doesn’t even exist. 

The CFPB themselves recommends reporting anyone who tells a borrower to stop making their payment in order to get a loan modification. 

What ESOP is suggesting now, is total BS, and will only cause damage to homeowners. By not making their mortgage payments, owners will suffer negative marks to their credit, rack up late fees, and most likely launch them into the foreclosure process, and that usually doesn’t have a fairy tale ending.

Katie Cosner, occasionally known as Kathleen, or KT, is a Realtor® with Cutler Real Estate and is active in her local Board of Realtors® on the Equal Opportunity & Professional Development Committee. She has been floating around online for a number of years, and is on facebook as well as twitter. While Katie has a few hardcore beliefs, three in the Real Estate World to live and die by are; education, ethics, and the law - insert random quote from “A Few Good Men” here. Katie is also an avid Cleveland Indians fan, which really explains quite a bit of her… quirks.

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7 Comments

7 Comments

  1. PiedmontHousing

    October 8, 2012 at 4:48 pm

    @JimDuncan PHA adheres to the National Standards and would not advocate any rental programs to a homeowner!Our clients-extremely successful.

  2. PiedmontHousing

    October 8, 2012 at 4:53 pm

    @JimDuncan PHA 2011 Housing Counselors help preserve: Albemarle County $5,203.300! These residents did no lose their homes to foreclosure!

  3. PiedmontHousing

    October 8, 2012 at 4:55 pm

    @JimDuncan 2011 Housing Counselors helped preserve: Charlottesville $1.685,100. These residents did no lose their homes to foreclosure!.

  4. PiedmontHousing

    October 8, 2012 at 4:55 pm

    @JimDuncan 2011 Housing Counselors helped preserve: Fluvanna $2,533,500. These residents did no lose their homes to foreclosure!.

  5. PiedmontHousing

    October 8, 2012 at 4:57 pm

    @JimDuncan 2011 Housing Counselors helped preserve: Louisa $2,073,200. These residents did not lose their homes to foreclosure!.

  6. PiedmontHousing

    October 8, 2012 at 5:02 pm

    @JimDuncan 21 new first time homebuyers for 11/12. 17 of them received downpayment $! Our Counselors know how to get them in and to stay in.

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Opinion Editorials

Declutter your quarantine workspace (and brain)

(EDITORIAL) Can’t focus? Decluttering your workspace can help you increase productivity, save money, and reduce stress.

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decluttering

It’s safe to say that we’ve all been spending a lot more time in our homes these last few months. This leads us to fixate on the things we didn’t have time for before – like a loose doorknob or an un-alphabetized bookshelf.

The same goes for our workspaces. Many of us have had to designate a spot at home to use for work purposes. For those of you who still need to remain on-site, you’ve likely been too busy to focus on your surroundings.

Cleaning and organizing your workspace every so often is important, regardless of the state of the world, and with so much out of our control right now, this is one of the few things we can control.

Whether you’re working from a home office or an on-site office, take some time for quarantine decluttering. According to The Washington Post, decluttering can increase your productivity, lower stress, and save money (I don’t know about you, but just reading those three things makes me feel better already).

Clutter can cause us to feel overwhelmed and make us feel a bit frazzled. Having an office space filled with piles of paper containing irrelevant memos from five years ago or 50 different types of pens, has got to go – recycle that mess and reduce your stress. The same goes with clearing files from your computer; everything will run faster.

Speaking of running faster, decluttering and creating a cleaner workspace will also help you be more efficient and productive. Build this habit by starting small: try tidying up a bit at the end of every workday, setting yourself up for a ready-to-roll morning.

Cleaning also helps you take stock of stuff that you have so that you don’t end up buying more of it. Create a designated spot for your tools and supplies so that they’re more visible – this way, you’ll always know what you have and what needs to be replenished. This will help you stop buying more of the same product that you already have and save you money.

So, if you’ve been looking to improve your focus and clearing a little bit of that ‘quarantine brain’, start by getting your workspace in order. You’ll be amazed at how good it feels to declutter and be “out with the old”; you may even be inspired to do the same for your whole house. Regardless, doing this consistently will create a positive shift in your life, increasing productivity, reducing stress, and saving you money.

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Opinion Editorials

How to ask your manager for better work equipment

(EDITORIAL) Old computer slowing you down? Does it make a simple job harder? Here’s how to make a case to your manager for new equipment to improve your productivity.

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better equipment, better work

What is an employee to do when the work equipment bites.

Let’s be frank, working on old, crappy computers with inefficient applications can make the easiest tasks a chore. Yet, what do you do? You know you need better equipment to do your job efficiently, but how to ask the boss without looking like a whiner who wants to blow the department budget.

In her “Ask A Manager” column, Alison Green says an employee should ask for better equipment if it is needed. For example, the employee in her column has to attend meetings, but has no laptop and has to take a ton of notes and then transcribe them. Green says, it’s important to make the case for the benefits of having newer or updated equipment.

The key is showing a ROI. If you know a specific computer would be a decent upgrade, give your supervisor the specific model and cost, along with the expected outcomes.

In addition, it may be worth talking to someone from the IT department to see what options might be available – if you’re in a larger company.

IT professionals who commented on Green’s column made a few suggestions. Often because organizations have contracts with specific computer companies or suppliers, talking with IT about what is needed to get the job done and what options are available might make it easier to ask a manager, by saying, “I need a new computer and IT says there are a few options. Here are my three preferences.” A boss is more likely to be receptive and discuss options.

If the budget doesn’t allow for brand new equipment, there might be the option to upgrade the RAM, for example. In a “Workplace” discussion on StackExchange.com an employee explained the boss thinks if you keep a computer clean – no added applications – and maintained it will perform for years. Respondents said, it’s important to make clear the cost-benefit of purchasing updated equipment. Completing a ROI analysis to show how much more efficiently with the work be done may also be useful. Also, explaining to a boss how much might be saved in repair costs could also help an employee get the point across.

Managers may want to take note because, according to results of a Gallup survey, when employees are asked to meet a goal but not given the necessary equipment, credibility is lost.

Gallup says that workgroups that have the most effectively managed materials and equipment tend to have better customer engagement, higher productivity, better safety records and employees that are less likely to jump ship than their peers.

And, no surprise, if a boss presents equipment and says: “Here’s what you get. Deal with it,” employees are less likely to be engaged and pleased than those employees who have a supervisor who provides some improvements and goes to bat to get better equipment when needed.

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Opinion Editorials

How to build a company culture while working remotely

(OPINION EDITORIAL) It seems that even a post COVID-19 world will involve remote work, so how can you build and maintain a strong work culture that ensures growth and satisfaction?

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culture remotely

New startups and existing companies are starting to transition to a fully remote (or nearly fully remote) model, but what does this mean for work culture? If you’re not careful, your work culture could easily become diminished as you transition to a remote environment, and if you’re building a company from the ground up, you may not have a strong culture to begin with.

Culture isn’t something you can afford to give up, so how can you build and maintain your company culture while working remotely?

The importance of a strong work culture

Maintaining a strong, consistent company culture is vital, even if your company is operating remotely. With a strong work culture, you’ll enjoy benefits like:

  • Better recruiting potential. A company with strong work culture will seem more attractive to talented candidates. The best people in the industry will want to work at a place with a great team and a great set of values.
  • Like-minded teammates. Establishing a consistent work culture allows you to selectively hire, then maintain employees who are like-minded. Employees with similar goals and mentalities, even if they come from different backgrounds, will be able to collaborate more efficiently.
  • Smoother communication. A strong foundational work culture that establishes goals, values, and beliefs within an organization can enable smoother, more efficient communication. Staff members will be on the same page with regard to high-level priorities, and will be able to exchange information in similar patterns.
  • Lower stress and less turnover. Better work cultures generally mean lower stress for employees, and accordingly, less employee turnover. Of course, this assumes you’re hiring good fits for the organization in the first place.
  • A better public reputation. Your work culture can also boost your public reputation—especially if you emphasize core values that are important to your target audience.

How to build company culture remotely

Traditionally, you can use in-person team-building sessions, regular meetings, and workplace rules to establish and maintain your company culture, but while working remotely, you’ll need to employ a different set of tactics, like:

  • Hiring the right candidates. Building a great culture starts with hiring. You have to find candidates who fit with your organization, and already share your core values. If someone doesn’t agree with your high-level approach, or if they don’t like your rules or workflows, they aren’t going to do their best work. These same considerations should be applied to your third party hires as well; agencies and freelancers should also fit into your values.
  • Hosting virtual team-building events. You can’t host in-person team-building events, but that doesn’t mean that team-building is inaccessible to you. Consider hosting a video conference to introduce your team members to each other, or bond over a shared event. You could also host virtual game nights, or provide team lunches to celebrate wins. Any excuse to engage with each other in a non-work context can help employees feel more connected and part of the team, and there are plenty of options to make it work virtually.
  • Streamlining communication. Good communication is both a constituent factor and a byproduct of effective company culture. If you want your culture to thrive, you have to set good standards for communication, and encourage your employees to communicate with each other consistently and openly. People need to feel heard when they speak, and feel comfortable voicing their opinions—even if they don’t agree with their superiors. There should also be easily accessible channels for communication at all levels. Over time, this foundation will help your employee communication improve.
  • Improving transparency. Workplace transparency is important for any employer, but it’s especially important for remote businesses trying to build or maintain a strong culture—and it’s challenging if you’re operating remotely. If you’re open and honest about your goals and how you operate, employees will feel more trusted and more engaged with their work. Strive to answer questions honestly and disclose your motivations.
  • Publishing and reiterating company core values. One of the biggest factors responsible for making a company culture unique is its set of core values. Spend some time developing and refining your list of core values. Once finished, publish them for all employees to read, and make time to reiterate them regularly so employees remember them.
  • Making employees feel valued. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, make your employees feel valued. Take the time to show your appreciation however you can, whether it’s through a simple thank-you message or an occasional cash bonus, and be sure to listen to employee feedback when you get it.

Building a work culture in a remote environment is more challenging, and requires consideration of more variables, but it’s certainly possible with the right mentality. Spend time setting your priorities, and make sure you’re consistent in your execution.

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