Mortgage counselors triumph in weak market

While the bursting of the housing bubble has crushed everyone from realtors to construction firms, one industry thrives amid the carnage: mortgage counselors.

The Consumer Credit Counseling Service of Palm Beach County conducted 1,487 pre-foreclosure counseling sessions with beleaguered homeowners in October, up a dramatic 44 percent from 1,035 in September. And the total soared nearly four times from 377 last October.

“I thought September was bad, and then I saw the October number,” said Jessica Cecere, the service’s president. “I was like, ‘woah, this is crazy.'”

The group can accommodate the increased work load since it has about doubled its counseling staff to 18 over the past two years. “We’ve been able to help about 65 percent of people resolve their situation,” Cecere says. “They might not avoid foreclosure. They might do a short sale, but that’s our definition of success.”

The most positive outcomes involve refinancing, loan modifications, repayment plans and forbearance agreements.

The Housing Partnership of Palm Beach County works a bit differently. It looks for people who have a good chance to modify their loans and works with them. It doesn’t consider foreclosure or a short sale as success.

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“In the past two months, we have helped 10 homeowners in foreclosure to modify their loans and have 20 more pending who have forbearance,” says Pat McNamara, the group’s chief executive. “We’re running at a 25 percent success rate, which is pretty good for a venture like this.”

Partnership personnel actually accompany clients in negotiations with their lenders to help them achieve a loan modification.

“The staff will look and see where the leverage points are to get a loan modification, such as a violation of the truth-in-lending act,” McNamara said.

Mortgage counseling is an industry that will keep growing as the housing crunch continues, experts agree.

“I keep waiting to see our numbers level off,” Consumer Credit Counseling Service’s Cecere says. “But I don’t see that happening for at least a year.”