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Understanding Foreclosures and How to Navigate Them in Texas

Understanding Foreclosures and How To Navigate Them In Texas

The Foreclosure Process: An Overview

In many states, every foreclosure must go through a court proceeding known as a judicial foreclosure. This process involves the lender filing a lawsuit to begin foreclosure on the mortgage. As the term 'judicial' suggests, this type of foreclosure is governed by the court system. As a result, the process usually takes longer and involves higher costs than other methods of foreclosure. This extended timeline may provide borrowers with opportunities to delay the foreclosure for several months or even years. 

Texas Foreclosure Laws: Non-Judicial Foreclosures

In Texas, most foreclosures aren't subject to a judicial process, except for home equity loans. Instead, foreclosures are primarily non-judicial, letting lenders foreclose on a mortgage without needing court approval. This approach speeds up the foreclosure process substantially. However, the lender must strictly follow a set of legal requirements and give the borrower certain required notices.

In Texas the mortgaging document is called a deed of trust, and it grants the lender the right to sell the property without court involvement if the borrower defaults on loan payments or other commitments, like maintaining property insurance or paying property taxes.

The Foreclosure Process in Detail

The non-judicial foreclosure procedure generally begins with a notice to the borrower that the loan is in default, indicating that the lender intends to demand immediate payment of the outstanding loan (known as acceleration) if the default is not cured. The time given to a borrower to cure or fix a default varies. The Texas Property Code requires a minimum of 20 days’ notice for primary residences, though some deeds of trust may specify a longer notice and cure period. Some loans secured by commercial property may not have a cure period at all. In practice, many commercial lenders wait a minimum of 120 days before starting the foreclosure process. Most private lenders will not wait that long.

If the borrower fails to cure the default within the given time, the lender will send the borrower a Notice of Acceleration and Intent To Sell the property at a foreclosure auction. Acceleration is an important concept: before acceleration, a borrower can cure the default by paying the unpaid payments. After acceleration, the entire loan balance becomes due, meaning the borrower must pay off the entire loan to prevent foreclosure. If a borrower intends to cure a default, it is critical to get it done during the initial cure period.

After the cure period ends and the loan has been accelerated, the lender posts a notice of foreclosure at the county courthouse. This notice stipulates the date of foreclosure and the four-hour window between 10 am and 4 pm when the foreclosure auction will take place. Foreclosures are public auctions and are open to anyone who wishes to bid, with the property awarded to the highest cash bidder.

If the property is sold for more than the loan balance, any excess proceeds are distributed according to the Texas Property Code. If no junior lien holders exist, these proceeds usually go to the borrower. Conversely, if the sale price is less than the loan balance, the lender may sue the borrower for the unpaid amount.

Alternatives to Foreclosure: The Deed-in-Lieu

To avoid foreclosure, borrowers can negotiate a "deed-in-lieu of foreclosure." It is crucial to understand the effect of a deed-in-lieu and weigh its pros and cons before agreeing to it. In this arrangement, the borrower voluntarily transfers the title of the property to the lender, in return for cancellation of the mortgage debt.

While this process bypasses foreclosure, offering advantages to both lender and borrower, it's not without drawbacks. For lenders, it can expedite proceedings; for borrowers, it can help avoid a foreclosure on their credit report. However, a deed in lieu still negatively impacts a borrower's credit score, although potentially less severely than a foreclosure.

In some instances, the lender may not agree to a full release of liability for payment of the loan, leaving the borrower liable for the difference between the fair market value of the property and the loan balance.

Both foreclosures and deeds-in-lieu can have substantial tax implications for both parties, however tax liability risk is usually greater for borrowers. Forgiveness of debt can result in taxable income to a borrower. How a deed-in-lieu transaction is structured can result in substantial tax savings or liabilities. You should always consult with a competent tax advisor when choosing between a foreclosure or deed-in-lieu.

How to Prevent a Foreclosure Sale

Paying off the default amount before the foreclosure sale is the most direct way to halt foreclosure. Once the lender receives payment, the foreclosure process is halted.

Filing for bankruptcy is another option. When a borrower files for bankruptcy, an "automatic stay" - a temporary halt on most creditors, including mortgage lenders, from pursuing their debts - goes into effect.

Wrapping Up

The non-judicial foreclosure process in Texas can be swift and overwhelming for borrowers. Understanding the procedure, the required notices, and how foreclosure sales are conducted can help Texans better navigate this difficult situation. Don't face it alone. Reach out to a legal or financial professional who can guide you through this challenging process.

Disclaimer: This article is intended for general informational purposes and is not legal, tax, or financial advice. The laws about these topics can be complex. For guidance about your specific situation, please consult with a licensed attorney, accountant, or financial advisor.