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How picking the wrong attorney costs you

Picking an attorney is a pretty big deal when you’re facing foreclosure. After all, if you’re already having money trouble, deciding where to put your remaining dollars is hugely important. Most people make the mistake of finding the cheapest attorney around, or waiting up until the very last moment before hiring an attorney. I’ve discussed the perils of waiting too long to hire an attorney at length, so I’ll spare you this time.

I get that when you’re looking for an attorney, price is going to be important. The most important thing you should be looking for is fit. You should be asking yourself what your goals are here. Are you looking to get into a modification? Are you looking to stall for as much time without paying your mortgage as possible? Do you believe that banks are inherently evil and want to make them pay for the pain they’ve caused you? Are you trying to get a free house by getting your mortgage discharged without paying it back?

Whatever your motivation is, you should be looking for an attorney who can come up with a game plan to help you accomplish whatever your goals are. If you’re looking for a free house, you should be able to ask your prospective attorney how to do it … and that attorney should tell you. Yes, right there on the spot. No hidden ball trick. No hesitation. No stuttering.

An experienced attorney knows that the free house situation is rare and that you probably don’t qualify for it. Within a few minutes, an experienced attorney will know whether you might qualify to get rid of that mortgage.

If you want to get a modification, you have to have income. Like, real, provable income. The kind that you get a paycheck for and that gets deposited in your checking account. The kind that you pay taxes on. If you’re an “off the books” employee, you have your own business (read: you find deductions to the point where you pay no taxes), or you claim that you don’t have a bank account “because of the high fees associated with maintaining one” (read: you have judgment creditors who are about to freeze your bank accounts), you’re probably not going to qualify (at least not right away) for a modification. Your prospective lawyer should be able to tell you that right away. Even better, your prospective lawyer should tell you what you have to do starting right now to get you on that path.

The thing is, many attorneys will tell you whatever you want to hear in order to grab your money. It’s unfortunate, because people are at a time where they’re most vulnerable. They need a solution and they think they’re in front of a person who can help them.

I have a very recent, very true story for you.

A borrower is facing down a foreclosure sale. He’s about 9 years into this foreclosure action, and the end is near. He needs to do something. He’s had an attorney who really did a great job at delaying this foreclosure action. There’s only so much delaying that you can do – 9 years is a long time. So the borrower hires a new attorney who decides to file an order to show cause one week before the auction is scheduled.

This would have been a great idea…8 years ago.

So it goes without saying that the new lawyer doesn’t know what he’s doing and I go in there and destroy him. The order to show cause doesn’t get signed.

There’s now 6 days before the sale, 2 of which are Saturday and Sunday where no work is going to get done.

Any decent attorney would have just filed bankruptcy. This foreclosure action has run its course. The case went to the Appellate Division. There was a trial. The borrower eventually lost. There’s nothing left in this case. Bankruptcy court is calling if delay is the objective.

The borrower’s new attorney decides to file another order to show cause the day before the auction. When he gets before the judge, the new attorney gets yelled at. Judges have had it with the last second order to show cause. I didn’t even have to beat up on the new attorney this time – the judge did it herself. Even worse than that, the judge signs the order to show cause but doesn’t stay the sale. The whole point of the order to show cause is that it stays the sale. What happened next? The borrower filed bankruptcy on the day of the sale.

You might be saying to yourself that this new attorney really tried his best to avoid a bankruptcy filing. The attorney did his best to spare his client’s credit score the 10-year pain of bankruptcy. What this attorney did was cost his client an extra $5,000.

There’s a clause in every mortgage that says that the bank is entitled to be paid its legal fees in connection with enforcing the mortgage. So, not only did the borrower have to pay his own attorney, but he had to pay the bank’s attorney. The $5,000 is an approximation; it could theoretically be more. This new attorney didn’t do what was best for his client.

When it’s time for you to pick your attorney, choose wisely.

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