Resources for Homeowners and Homebuyers in the Time of COVID-19

By Anthony SanFilippo
March 2020

Just because you are stuck inside and can’t go anywhere because of the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic, doesn’t mean that there aren’t resources out there for you if you need help.

That’s right, although it might seem like the country is completely shut down, it’s not and if you are a property owner and you are uncertain of what assistance there might be for you during this uncertain time, then look no further.

Courtesy of the National Association of REALTORS®, all the links below can be resourceful tools for you to seek aid or assistance for yourself and your property while waiting for the coronavirus outbreak to subside.

Click on a link below to navigate to specific topic:

Title and Settlement Companies
Banks
Your Credit
Drinking Water
Foreclosures and Evictions
Taxes
Student Loans
Veterans


Title and Settlement Companies

Are you worried about closing on the sale of a property during the pandemic? According to the American Land Title Association (ALTA), title and settlement companies are unified in enacting the following protocols to ensure these property transactions can still take place at a time when social distancing remains paramount:

  • When arriving at closing: guests are encouraged to use hand sanitizer and/or wash their hands.
  • Symptomatic Clients: Any guest who exhibits symptoms that may be like coronavirus, even if it’s not coronavirus   –  fever, cough, shortness of breath, for example – should notify staff upon arrival and they will immediately be taken to a private closing room.
  • Post-Closing: After each closing, the entire room will be disinfected – including the chairs, table and door handle – and will be wiped down with disinfecting wipes or bleach solution.
  • At the closing table: Any extraneous materials will be removed. Pens used for signing documents will be disposable and one-time use only.
  • Lobby Items: Anything that is non-essential that could be re-usable by guests – such as reading materials or coffee mugs – will be removed.
  • Children’s Play Areas: Games and toys for children meant to provide a distraction while business is process have been removed.
  • Hand Sanitizer: While supplies last, hand sanitizer is being provided in closing spaces and common areas.
  • Social Distancing: Even in the closing room, the practice of staying approximately six feet from others will be in effect and done to the best of everyone’s ability.
  • Workforce Dispersion: Only necessary personnel will be on the premises to conduct business while others will be working remotely to ensure service continuity but also public health safety.

The National Notary Association has created health screening forms for both the signing agent and the borrower to fill out to protect all parties during a closing.

ALTA is tracking the operating status of every recording jurisdiction in America by county. They are maintaining it in a Google spreadsheet where you can check and see what your county’s operation status is, and if it has been modified, how so.

Banks offering help to homeowners

Bank regulators, like the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) and the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (Fed) have all put out their own guidance for banks and servicers to be more proactive in extending help to homeowners who need it during a struggling economy created by the pandemic.

The FDIC has information for both bankers and consumers on its homepage.

The Fed has daily updates on its homepage regarding COVID-19 and its impact on the interest rate, among other economic impacts to consumers.
Meanwhile, the banks have posted their own policies and ways for consumers to contact them for assistance:

Outside of the banks, servicers who act as an intermediary between banks or investors and the consumers – such as Mr. Cooper and Flagstar Bank are also providing important information for homebuyers who are in need of assistance as they try to purchase a home during this trying time.

In addition, the mortgage insurer Genworth is providing information on how servicers can help consumers.
Mortgage Insurers are also providing information on how servicers can help consumers:

Protecting your credit

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) is urging consumers to protect their credit during the pandemic.

They have outlined the following steps as ones all consumers should take, especially those who are feeling the crunch financially as a result of COVID-19’s impact on the economy.

Get a copy of your credit report

If you haven’t requested your free annual credit reports, you can get copies at AnnualCreditReport.com. Each of the three nationwide credit reporting agencies (also known as credit reporting companies) – Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian – allow you to get your report for free once every twelve months. You can request additional reports for a small fee if you’ve already received your free report. Be sure to check your reports for errors and dispute any inaccurate information.

In addition to your free annual credit reports, all U.S. consumers are entitled to six free credit reports every 12 months from Equifax through December 2026. All you have to do is get a “myEquifax” account   or call Equifax at 866-349-5191.

If you can’t make payments, contact your lenders

Many lenders have announced proactive measures to help borrowers impacted by COVID-19. As with other natural disasters and emergencies, they may be willing to provide forbearance, loan extensions, a reduction in interest rates, and/or other flexibilities for repayment. Some lenders are also saying they will not report late payments to credit reporting agencies or are waiving late fees for borrowers in forbearance due to this pandemic.

If you feel you cannot make payments, contact your lenders to explain your situation and be sure to get confirmation of any agreements in writing.

The CFPB has resources to help you discuss the impact of COVID-19 on your financial situation with your lenders.

Routinely check your reports

If you’re working with lenders on payment assistance programs or forbearance, routinely check your credit reports to make sure they are accurate and reflect your agreements. For example, if your lender agreed to let you skip one month’s payment, make sure they didn’t report it as delinquent or a missed payment.

There are other reports you may want to check too, such as reports that monitor your bank and checking account history, among others. The CFPB has a list of consumer reporting companies where you can learn more about which reports might be important to you, depending on your specific situation.

Report and dispute inaccurate information

If you find inaccurate information on your credit reports, use the CFPB’s step-by-step guide to dispute that information with the credit reporting agency and the company that provided that information to them, also known as a furnisher.

If an investigation doesn’t resolve your dispute with the credit reporting company, you can ask that a brief statement of the dispute be included in your file and included or summarized in future reports. You can also submit a complaint to the CFPB.
Protect Yourself Financially: The CFPB has a number of resources focused on financial protection, both short and long term, such as paying bills, income loss, and scam targeting.  Resources include contacts for housing and credit counselors, debt collectors, and state unemployment services.

Tap water is still safe

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Americans can continue to use and drink water from their tap as usual. The EPA has provided important information about COVID-19 as it relates to drinking water and wastewater to provide clarity to the public. The COVID-19 virus has not been detected in drinking-water supplies. Based on current evidence, the risk to water supplies is low.

Foreclosure and Evictions Relief for Homeowners

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has authorized the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) to implement an immediate foreclosure and eviction moratorium for single family homeowners with FHA-insured mortgages.
The FHA is also continuing to run single family business operations and has created a Q&A form available on their website to keep interested parties updated on their procedures during the COVID-19 crisis.

The Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) has instructed Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and their servicers to be proactive in providing assistance to homeowners including forbearance. In addition, FHFA imposed a moratorium on eviction and foreclosures on mortgages backed by the GSEs.

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have issued similar guidance:

  • Homeowners who are adversely impacted by this national emergency may request mortgage assistance by contacting their mortgage servicer
  • Foreclosure sales and evictions of borrowers are suspended for 60 days
  • Homeowners impacted by this national emergency are eligible for a forbearance plan to reduce or suspend their mortgage payments for up to 12 months
  • Credit bureau reporting of past due payments of borrowers in a forbearance plan as a result of hardships attributable to this national emergency is suspended
  • Homeowners in a forbearance plan will not incur late fees
  • After forbearance, a servicer must work with the borrower on a permanent plan to help maintain or reduce monthly payment amounts as necessary, including a loan modification

Fannie and Freddie have also created pages with additional information for consumers.

You Have More Time to Do Your Taxes

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has extended the income tax filing and payment deadline in light of COVID-19 crisis. On March 21st, an announcement was made that extended the income tax payment deadline for individual returns (as well as all other entities) until July 15, 2020. Two days later, the IRS also extended the tax filing deadline to July 15, 2020. Additional forms do not need to be filed to qualify for these extensions.

Rural Property Owners getting much needed relief

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has informed lenders of a foreclosure and eviction moratorium for all USDA Single Family Housing Guaranteed Loans Program (SFHGLP) loans, in connection with the Presidentially declared COVID-19 National Emergency. Additionally:

  • Rural development (RD) will continue to provide loans and grants to rural communities across all of their programs.
  • ReConnect applications will continue to be accepted with a March 31st deadline, and RD will then begin the review and award process.
  • RD has granted authority to lenders that participate in their Single-Family Housing Guaranteed program so that these lenders can work with borrowers to ensure that homeowners will stay in their houses if they are having difficulty making payments.
  • RD will issue guidance to their Single-Family Housing Direct borrowers to ensure they can also seek payment assistance if needed.

Student Debt Relief Available

The Department of Education announced that it will allow forbearance on federally-backed student loans beginning on March 13, 2020. Likewise, all interest on student loans has been waived for this same time period. You must contact your loan servicer to bring a forbearance.

Servicers are sharing information how borrowers can seek remedies.

Protecting Veterans and their homes during the pandemic

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is providing information to keep Veterans and stakeholders safe while continuing the mission of the VA Home Loan Program.


Visit our COVID-19 Page for the latest news and information from Home Ownership Matters on COVID-19 and its impact on homeowners, housing and communities across the country.

Guidelines and protocol surrounding COVID-19 are changing quickly. For the most up-to-date information we recommend visiting the CDCWHO, and your local health department websites.


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