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Staying put

by JOEL MARTIN
Staff Writer | September 9, 2022 1:25 AM

MOSES LAKE — It’s the nagging fear every homeowner has when economic times become hard: What if I can’t keep my home?

That’s something quite a lot of people are worried about, said Nik VinZant, an analyst with QuoteWizard in Seattle. According to a survey done by QuoteWizard, 17% of people in Washington state are worried about losing their homes in the near future.

“Basically, what we did is we looked into US Census Bureau data,” VinZant said. “This is part of the household pulse survey that goes out every couple of weeks and has been going out ever since the beginning of the pandemic. We were actually able to figure out, how many people are behind on their mortgage, how many people are behind on their rent? And then, of those people who are behind on either rent or their mortgage, how many of them feel that they should be either evicted or face foreclosure within the next two months?”

That’s not to say that those people are objectively in imminent danger. The same survey showed that only 2% of Washingtonians are actually behind in mortgage payments. But sometimes, perception looms large and can help bring about the very thing people are worried about, Vinzant said.

“People are essentially given a number of different choices (in the survey),” VinZant said. “They can feel, in terms of their confidence, they can have nothing, middle of the road, not likely at all, slightly likely, slightly worried, very likely. So we looked at only the “very likely” categories. I would say that even though this isn't a percentage that are actively in the foreclosure process if you're very worried about it, it's a significant chance that you're going to be facing it.”

Washington has the 13th highest proportion of worried homeowners, compared to a national average of 7%. Vermont comes in at the top, with 93% of homeowners worried about foreclosure, followed by North Dakota with 44%. But Washington has another statistic that VinZant feels is a significant piece of the puzzle: the high disparity between income and housing cost. Washington ranks fourth in the country in that regard, according to a survey done by QuoteWizard in April 2021. According to that survey, Washingtonians’ incomes have risen 26.5% between 2012 and 2021, while housing costs have gone up 116.3%. That’s a gap of 89.8 percentage points, and it spells trouble, VinZant said.

“We're seeing a high number of people that, once you get behind, it is very difficult to catch up right now,” he said. “And I think what's happening is that people are getting behind and there's just no way out.”

What can you do if you get in over your head? The Washington State Department of Financial Institutions has these tips for homeowners facing foreclosure:

• If you get behind on your payments, call or write your mortgage lender immediately. Clearly explain your situation to your lender. Clearly explain your situation to your lender. Write down who you spoke to, the date, and what was said.

• Stay in your home to make sure you qualify for assistance.

• Arrange an appointment with a housing counselor to explore your options. Free counseling and assistance is also available to Washington residents. (A list of options is given below.)

• You can stop the foreclosure by making up any delinquent payments plus any costs related to the foreclosure.

Something similar is happening with eviction rates for renters, according to the QuoteWizard study, although in that regard Washingtonians are much better off than many other people across the country. Currently, 9% of renters in Washington are living in fear of eviction, and the same percentage are behind in their rent.

There are no easy solutions, VinZant said; any change will have to be systemic and large-scale.

“I think that's what we're seeing now: long term, this math does not work. There has to be a bigger investment in affordable housing, both from a private business standpoint and from a governmental standpoint. And that has to happen on a local state and national level because it's not going to get fixed. The other way, you can't just tell people to make more money and you can't just tell landlords to charge less. But that's not a solution. It has to be done with incentives for affordable housing.”

Joel Martin can be reached via email at jmartin@columbiabasinherald.com.

Helping hands:

Northwest Justice Project Foreclosure Prevention Unit

Provides legal assistance

Web: http://nwjustice.org/get-legal-help

Phone: 1-800-606-4819

Washington State Homeownership Hotline

Free, state-sponsored counseling for Washingtonians facing foreclosure.

Web: http://www.dfi.wa.gov/consumers/homeownership

Phone: 1-877-894-HOME (1-877-894-4663)

NeighborWorks

National assistance group.

Web: https://bit.ly/NeighborWorksMortgage

photo

COURTESY IMAGE: GERD ALTMANN/PIXABAY

A recent study shows that 17% of Washingtonians are very concerned about having their homes foreclosed on in the near future.

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