What should I know about foreclosure in Georgia?
Foreclosure laws in Georgia
What is foreclosure?
Foreclosure is the legal process that allows your mortgage lender to sell your house and use the money to pay back unpaid debt.
In Georgia, almost all foreclosures happen without a court hearing. The mortgage company usually does not need to take you to court to foreclose on your home. The legal term for this is non-judicial foreclosure. To foreclose, the lender only has to follow special rules to notify you.
In Georgia, foreclosure sales occur on the first Tuesday of each month between 10:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m on the courthouse steps.
What are my rights?
Remember: Foreclosure is not the same as eviction. You cannot be evicted until after the foreclosure sale. You don't have to leave your home until you are legally evicted.
For most foreclosures, a notice must be sent to you by certified, registered, or overnight mail no less than 30 days before the sale.
The foreclosure sale must be advertised in the local newspaper once a week for four weeks in a row before the scheduled foreclosure sale date. The notice must state the name, address, and telephone number of someone connected with the mortgage lender who has the power to make changes to your mortgage. This person might be able to help you avoid foreclosure.
What are my responsibilities if a foreclosure sale has already taken place?
After a foreclosure sale, you are no longer the homeowner. The buyer is the new owner and can seek an eviction if you fail to leave after a written demand to do so.
The Post-Foreclosure Dispossessory Process:
- The company or individual who purchased your home at the foreclosure sale must go to court and file a dispossessory (eviction) warrant. The county marshals will deliver the warrant or post it on your home's front door.
Once you have been served, you have seven days to file an answer in court. If you do not file a timely answer, you could be evicted immediately.
Generally, a trial in court is scheduled about a week or so after the answer is filed.
If you attend the trial, even if the judge rules against you, the judge will give you seven days to move.
- If you stay in your home after the judge's deadline, the county marshals can come at any time without warning. They can put you, your family, and your belongings on the street.
How do I protect my rights?
Talk with a lawyer immediately if you believe you have legal claims for wrongful foreclosure. If your goal is to remain in the home, your lawyer will need to act quickly.
How can I stop a scheduled foreclosure sale?
You could try to work out a payment agreement with the mortgage company. Get a written confirmation from the mortgage company or the foreclosing lawyer that the scheduled sale has been cancelled.
Here are a few examples of possible payment agreements:
Pay off your mortgage: The legal term for paying off the amount overdue on a mortgage is arrears. In most cases, the mortgage company will accept payments to stop foreclosure.
Repayment plan: You may be able to continue making your regular payments and pay extra each month until you catch up.
Forbearance agreement: For a short time, you may be allowed to make reduced payments or to not make payments. The total of all your missed payments is usually due at the end of the forbearance period.
Reverse mortgage: If you are a senior homeowner, you may get time to pay off your mortgage using the proceeds of a reverse mortgage. Contact a lawyer or a HUD Certified housing counselor to understand how reverse mortgages work.
Loan modification: If you do not have enough money to pay the full amount each month, your lender may agree to change the terms of your loan. Your lender could lower the monthly amount. For example, they might reduce your interest rate or extend the length of your loan. As soon as you think you may have trouble making your regular payments, apply for a loan modification.
If you do not work out a payment agreement with the mortgage company, consider filing bankruptcy or a lawsuit before the foreclosure sale.
- File bankruptcy: You may be able to file bankruptcy before the foreclosure sale. Notify the foreclosure lawyer. The bankruptcy may include a repayment plan. Make sure to get an attorney to represent you.
- File a lawsuit: If you have legal claims to challenge the mortgage loan or foreclosure, speak to a lawyer right away. You can file a lawsuit in superior court where you may be able to get a temporary restraining order to stop the scheduled foreclosure sale.
What can I do if I cannot afford to keep my home?
Sell the home before the foreclosure sale: You may have to think about selling your home. Make sure to get an experienced real estate agent. You should give this serious thought if you have equity in your home. You have equity when your home is worth more than what you owe on the mortgage. If you have equity, do a “full” sale. This means that the sale proceeds will pay off the mortgage loan(s) completely, pay the real estate agent commission, and pay you the rest of the proceeds.
Deed in Lieu of Foreclosure: This is an option when there is no equity in the home. It means that your lender agrees to take ownership of your property. In exchange, they forgive the money you owe.
Cash-for-Keys: The buyer may offer to pay you to move out all family belongings by a certain date. Consider this option if you believe you can obey the written terms by the deadline given. Make sure the agreement releases you from all liability on the mortgage loan. Otherwise your lender could sue you for the rest of the money or you could face income tax problems.
Bankruptcy: Bankruptcy law is complex. If you are considering this option, you should find an attorney to represent you.
Please note, any option that results in the transfer of your home may have tax consequences. You should talk with a tax professional if you have any questions.
Tips & Terms
- Apply for a loan modification in writing. If you qualify, a loan modification may reduce your interest rate and/or your monthly payment. It could also extend the loan term, and reduce some of the principal balance.
Keep copies! Keep copies of your application and all supporting documents. This includes fax cover sheets, receipts, and tracking numbers.
Stay in touch with your mortgage company. Keep calling and following up with your mortgage company. Keep records of your communications – including letters, emails. Write down the names, dates, times, numbers, and content of all telephone communications.
Watch out for foreclosure scams! Do not pay anyone for help in getting a loan modification - it is most likely a scam. Seek free help from a HUD-approved housing counselor. A housing counselor can determine whether you qualify for a loan modification. They can also help and see if you have other options based on your type of loan, hardship, and household budget. See the Home Scams Resource for more information about home scams to look out for.
Explore your options. Depending on your mortgage type, your options may vary. Check to see if you have an FHA or VA loan or a loan owned by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac. Your mortgage company may offer you a variety of workout options.
Consider applying for HomeSafe Georgia. For more information, visit the HomeSafe Georgia website or call 1-877-519-4443. You may qualify for the Mortgage Principal Reduction program if you are:
Struggling due to financial misfortune (including the death of a spouse)
Awarded full disability
Moved from involuntary unemployment to Social Security
If you are selling your home to avoid foreclosure, beware of short sales. This means selling the house for an amount less than the mortgage balance. Because the sale may not pay off all that you owe, your lender could sue you for the rest of the money or you could face income tax problems.
If you are facing foreclosure, take it seriously. Do not ignore a foreclosure letter, even if you are in the middle of getting a loan modification.
Always get a written confirmation if the scheduled foreclosure sale is cancelled. If you do not have written confirmation, have a back-up plan. For example, you can file a bankruptcy before the scheduled foreclosure. A completed foreclosure can be very difficult to reverse.
Be realistic. If you have savings or a retirement fund, do not exhaust them to hold onto a home with no equity or that you have little chance of keeping. Be realistic about your options. A home is important, but it is not worth sacrificing your entire financial future.
- Arrears (Arrearage): The amount overdue on a mortgage.
- Forbearance: A temporary agreement to postpone or reduce your loan payments for a set period of time.
- Deed in Lieu of Foreclosure: When your lender agrees to take ownership of your property in exchange they forgive the money you owe.
- Dispossessory: A warrant filed against you to vacate your home if you have failed to do so after being demanded
- Equity: The current market value of the property minus any debts owed on the property.
- Foreclosure: The legal term for what happens when the lender takes your house to pay your overdue mortgage payments and loans off.
- Loan Modification: When the lender agrees to change the original mortgage term so that you can afford to pay it each month. For example, your interest rate may be reduced or the length of your loan may be extended.
- Market value: The likely selling price of a home that is usually determined by an appraiser. The market value includes improvements you have made on the home, and the value of the surrounding homes.
- Non-Judicial Foreclosure: The mortgage lender does not need to take you to court in order to foreclose.
- Short sale: Selling the house for an amount less than the mortgage balance, in which case your lender could sue you for the rest of the money or could result in income tax problems.
- Call the Home Defense Program of Atlanta Legal Aid at (770) 648-4290.
- Seek free help from a HUD-approved housing counselor.
- View our Facing Foreclosure brochure to learn about what to do if you are faced with foreclosure.
- View our Struggling to Pay Your Mortgage brochure to learn about your options when you cannot pay your mortgage.
- View our How to Avoid Foreclosure and Keep Your Home brochure to learn what to do if you have fallen behind in your home mortgage payments.
- View our What to Know if Your Home is in Foreclosure brochure to learn what happens when your home is in foreclosure.
- View our Tips for Homeowners Facing Default or Foreclosure brochure for more information and tips for loan modifications.
- View our Can Bankruptcy Help Me Save My House brochure for more information on bankruptcy.
- Find help with expenses, housing counseling, and legal advice.
- For more information on figuring out the equity in your home, visit the FAQ's on Home Equity page.
- Visit the Home Scams Resource for more information about home scams to look out for.
- Visit the National Consumer Law Center’s Steps That Advocates Can Take to Help Prevent Foreclosure brochure for more information about preventing foreclosure.
- Visit the Federal Trade Commission to view videos and read brochures for homeowners facing foreclosure.
- Visit HOPE NOW, an alliance between counselors, servicers, investors, and other mortgage market participants that reaches out to homeowners in distress to help them stay in their homes.
- Visit Making Home Affordable, an assistance program for homeowners to help them make their mortgage payments, while attempting to prevent the destructive impact of foreclosures on families and communities.
- Visit Neighborhood Assistance Corporation of America ("NACA"), a non-profit, community advocacy and homeownership organization, to learn more about their work building about strong, healthy neighborhoods in urban and rural areas nationwide through affordable homeownership.
- Visit ClearPoint Credit Counseling Solutions if you need services in budget counseling, educational programs, debt management assistance, and housing counseling.
- Visit the Homeownership Preservation Foundation, a non-profit that operates a free 24-hour helpline for people with mortgage problems.
- Visit the HUD.gov resource for service men and women for questions about mortgage relief, lease termination, and eviction issues under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act.
- Visit the HomeSafe Georgia website or call 1-877-519-4443 to find out if you are eligible for HomeSafe Georgia’s Mortgage Principal Reduction program
- View the National Consumer Law Center’s Home Improvement Scams Alert brochure to learn more about how to avoid scam artists who target low-income elderly homeowners.
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