Here at my law office in west Houston, we help a lot of people save their homes by filing Chapter 13 bankruptcy. We can stop a foreclosure from taking place, and then set up a plan whereby the client pays a chapter 13 trustee, who pays their regular payments to the mortgage company and also an extra amount to catch them up over a long period of time, usually 5 years.

The plan payments are deducted from my clients' paychecks. For the cases that I handled in 2005 (the last full year for which I have numbers), 66% of my clients that filed a Chapter 13, completed the case and received a discharge (or converted to chapter 7 and received a discharge). But not all of my clients can afford their house. Particularly during the "real estate boom" if you want to call it that, mortgage lenders were lending money to people to buy more house than the people could afford. In some cases, people were buying houses, when they should not have been allowed to buy any house.

Either they just didn't have the income to do so, or they were just not responsible enough to be ready for home ownership. Or in other cases, people bought a house that they could afford at the time, but something happened. Perhaps they were in the real estate business, or some other business that has become depressed, and they just cannot now afford to keep the house.

Or they became ill, disable, or divorced, or their business failed, the reasons are infinite, but some people can just no longer afford a house, if they ever could. Anyway, for some of our clients, we counsel them that in their particular case, it is not worth it, and to give it up. If you can't sell your house in the usual way because it is "underwater," i.e. you owe more than it is worth, it may be possible to do a "short sale" whereby you sell the house for the best price you can, and negotiate with the mortgage company to accept that amount in full satisfaction of the debt.

You will probably need help doing that, many real estate professionals can help you with that. For other people, just walking away from the house and letting it foreclose can be the best thing.

But in some cases, there is just no way. I had an older lady that had just bought a house before she retired (does that make a lot of sense?). In her case, some family members were going to stay with her and help her pay the mortgage. Well they had a falling out, and the family members left. So here she is, with a total of only $2600 per month or so in retirement income, and the house payment alone is $2000 per month!

But a house is not just a payment, there are taxes, insurance, maintenance, mowing the lawn, etc., etc. And as we get older, it is harder to keep a house up. Anyway, we finally talked her into letting the house go, and moving into a subsidized rent apartment, that is set up for senior citizens. She is much happier, has friends and activities, and her stress level is way down. She has much more disposable income each month, and can actually afford to eat a good diet, buy clothes and have recreational activities.

So while I encourage clients to try to save their house if is practicable, income some cases it just doesn't make sense. If it doesn't in you case, make the decision and let the bank have the place. Of course talk to an experienced consumer lawyer or consumer bankruptcy lawyer first, to be sure you know what consequences that you face if you give it up. My clients are typically already in bankruptcy, so they will face little or no further consequences by walking away. If you live in the Houston Texas area or surrounding counties, contact my law office and make an appointment.

J Thomas Black
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Board Certified, Consumer Bankruptcy Law- Texas Board of Legal Specialization
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