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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

DNA tests are cool, but are they worth it?

(OPINION EDITORIAL) DNA tests are all the rage currently but are they worth potentially having your genetic makeup sold and distributed?

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Over the last few years, DNA testing went mainstream. Companies like Ancestry.com and 23andMe have offered easy access to the insights of your genetics, including potential health risks and family heritage, through simple tests.

However, as a famously ageless actor once suggested in a dinosaur movie, don’t focus too much on if you can do this, without asking if you should do this.

When you look closely, you can find several reasons to wonder if sending your DNA to these companies is a wise choice.

These reasons mostly come down to privacy protection, and while most companies do have privacy policies in place, you will find some surprising loopholes in the fine print. For one, most of the big players don’t give you the option to not have your data sold.

These companies, like 23andMe and Ancestry.com, can always sell your data so long as your data is “anonymized,” thanks to the HIPPA Act of 1996. Anonymization involves separating key identifying features about a person from their medical or biological data.

These companies know that loophole well; Ancestry.com, for example, won’t even give customers an opt-out of having their DNA data sold.

Aside from how disconcerting it is that these companies will exploit this loophole for their gain at your expense, it’s also worth noting that standards for anonymizing data don’t work all that well.

In one incident, reportedly, “one MIT scientists was able to ID the people behind five supposedly anonymous genetic samples randomly selected from a public research database. It took him less than a day.”

There’s also the issue of the places where that data goes when it goes out. That report the MIT story comes from noted that 23andMe has sold data to at least 14 outside pharmaceutical firms.

Additionally, Ancestry.com has a formal data-sharing agreement with a biotech firm. That’s not good for you as the consumer, because you may not know how that firm will handle the data.

Some companies give data away to the public databases for free, but as we saw from the earlier example, those can be easy targets if you wanted to reverse engineer the data back to the person.

It would appear the only safe course of action is to have this data destroyed once your results are in. However, according to US federal regulation for laboratory compliance stipulates that US labs hold raw information for a minimum of 10 years before destruction.

Now, consider all that privacy concern in the context of what happens when your DNA data is compromised. For one, this kind of privacy breach is irreversible.

It’s not as simple as resetting all your passwords or freezing your credit.

If hackers don’t get it, the government certainly can; there’s even an instance of authorities successfully obtaining a warrant for DNA evidence from Ancestry.com in a murder trial.

Even if you’re not the criminal type who would worry about such a thing, the precedent is concerning.

Finally, if these companies are already selling data to entities in the biomedical field, how long until medical and life insurance providers get their hands on it?

I’ll be the first to admit that the slippery slope fallacy is strong here, but there are a few troubling patterns of behavior and incorrect assumptions already in play regarding the handling of your DNA evidence.

The best course of action is to take extra precaution.

Read the fine print carefully, especially what’s in between the lines. As less scrupulous companies look to cash in on the trend, be aware of entities who skimp on privacy details; DNA Explained chronicles a lot of questionable experiences with other testing companies.

Above all, really think about what you’re comfortable with before you send in those cheek swabs or tubes of spit. While the commercials make this look fun, it is a serious choice and should be treated like one.

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Opinion Editorials

How to deal with an abusive boss and keep your job, too

(OPINION EDITORIAL) Sometimes bosses can be the absolute worst, but also, you depend on them. Here’s how to deal with an abusive boss and, hopefully, not get fired.

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Nothing can ruin your work life like an abusive boss or supervisor. But when you’re dependent on your boss for assignments, promotions – heck, your paycheck – how can you respond to supervisor abuse in a way that doesn’t jeopardize your job or invite retaliation?

A new study to be published in the next Academy of Management Journal suggests an intriguing approach to responding to an abusive boss. As you might expect, their study shows that avoiding the abuser does little to change the dynamic.

But the study also found that confronting the abuser was equally ineffective.

Instead, the study suggests that workers in an abusive situation “flip the script” on their bosses, “shifting the balance of power.” But how?

The researchers tracked the relationship between “leader-follower dyads” at a real estate agency and a commercial bank. They found that, without any intervention, abuse tended to persist over time.

However, they also discovered two worker-initiated strategies that “can strategically influence supervisors to stop abuse and even motivate them to mend strained relationships.”

The first strategy is to make your boss more dependent on you. For example, one worker in the study found out that his boss wanted to develop a new analytic procedure.

The worker became an expert on the subject and also educated his fellow co-workers. When the boss realized how important the worker was to the new project, the abuse subsided.

In other words, find out what your boss’s goals are, and then make yourself indispensable.

In the second strategy, workers who were being abused formed coalitions with one another, or with other workers that had better relationships with the boss. The study found that “abusive behavior against isolated targets tends to stop once the supervisor realizes it can trigger opposition from an entire coalition.”

Workplace abuse is not cool, and it shouldn’t really be up to the worker to correct it. At times, the company will need to intervene to curb bad supervisor behavior. However, this study does suggest a few strategies that abused workers can use to try to the tip the balance in their favor.

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Opinion Editorials

Avoid the stack, conquer busy work as it comes

(PRODUCTIVITY) It’s easy overwhelmed with emails and a stack of real mail. But tackling as it comes may help to enhance organization and productivity.

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A few weeks ago, I was walking through my office (also known as my bedroom after 5 p.m.) and I noticed a stack of mail that I had tossed aside over the course of the last few months. While they were non-urgent, this collection of paperwork had been opened, read, and left unattended.

Now, this was a classic move of mine – leave a mess for Future Taylor to clean up. So, imagine my surprise when Present Taylor woke up and decided to put an end to “the stack.”

I sat down, went through everything, and took care of what needed to be done. Even though my wallet took a few hits, it felt great to have this cleared up and off my desk.

Right then and there, I made it a rule to let things only cross my desk once (unless there’s some extenuating circumstance in which it requires me to come back to it; i.e. my favorite sentence on this paperwork “This is not a final bill.”) There’s no point in drawing out the stress that “the stack” induce.

This led me to finally attacking something that’s been on my to-do list since I created my Gmail account in 2009 – create an organizational system.

I set aside some time to create folders (for individual projects, people I communicate with frequently, etc.)

While this is all stuff that you may have already implemented, my point is that this increase my productivity and lifted a weight off of my shoulders I didn’t acknowledge was there.

So, I encourage you to find one of those menial tasks that has been on your to-do list forever and tackle it.

This can include, organizing all of your electronic files into folders, updating your phone and email contacts, or going through all of your desk drawers to get rid of unneeded items. Organizing and freshening up your workspace can help increase your focus.

Once you’re organized and in gear, try the “let it cross your desk once” method. When an email comes in, respond to it or file it. When a bill comes in, pay it. You may be surprised at your rise in productivity.

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