You have fallen behind in making your house payments, the bank has called and written, you have listened and tried to do what they ask but nothing has been worked out. Time passes, next thing you know there’s a knock on your door and a process server, someone who officially delivers lawsuits, hands you a paper. You’re confused, uncertain, what is this big official looking document with your name at the top? The person who gave it to you really can’t help. Their job is just to get it to you. Hopefully they’re polite and respectful but in the end they are of no use in offering any advice.

You have been sued for foreclosure. The process of the bank taking your house away has started. You are now in the court system and it’s up to a judge to decide what happens.

First question: do you even want to save the house? Do you have any desire to stay there? A lot depends on the value of the property and how much you owe. If you’re ‘upside down’, that is, you owe a lot more than the place is worth, it may be better to just let it go. If you feel that the house does have some value equal to or more than the debt, you may want to save it.

If you think that there’s no point in trying to keep your home, way too much is owed to the bank and the value will never be there, then there are two more questions for you: how long do you want to stay in the house before you’re forced to move. And what about the money owed over and above the market price, the deficiency, the difference between the debt and the value? The bank does have the right to collect this from you after they take back the property.

If you want to keep the house, or stay in it as long as possible, or avoid that deficiency, you need to see me, discuss your choices, find out what you can do to protect yourself.

Once the lawsuit is handed to you, you have twenty days to file something in court to respond to the complaint, an answer. Most often this requires a lawyer to make sure that the language is correct and the procedures followed. If you fail to respond then the court says that you admit the charges against you, like that you’re in default, that you owe all that money, that the bank did nothing wrong, that you should lose your house. Maybe that is all true but by a proper answer, or response, you can buy time to negotiate and protect yourself.

If you don’t answer, the banks attorney will ask the court for summary final judgment, a quick ruling that you lose and that your house should be sold to pay off the mortgage or as much of it as possible. When this ruling is made depends on how fast the lawyer works. Some don’t even ask for the judge to decide until months, or even years, have passed. Maybe the bank is in no hurry, maybe they already have too many houses for sale and want to wait until some are gone, maybe they like you living there and protecting the property so they don’t have to. Who knows?

On the other hand, the bank could move quickly, get to the judge and get you out in a matter of only a few months.

If you do answer, it slows down the process because the banks attorney now has to deal with your claims. It also gives you at least a little control over the situation.

Sooner or later, if nothing is worked out between you and the lender, the final hearing will come before the judge. You have missed many payments by then and almost certainly you will lose and the judge will issue a ‘judgment of foreclosure’. This is a ruling that says how much you owe in principle, interest, late fees, costs, attorney fees, etc. It also says that if you don’t repay it by a certain date, usually thirty to sixty days later, your house will be sold to the highest bidder, usually the bank since no one else wants it at that price. Ten days after that sale takes place the bank gets the title or clerks deed to the house and you have to leave.

As you can see, a foreclosure lawsuit is a long process. Even if the bank goes as fast as possible it will take about six months before you’re required to get out. Most often it takes a year or two. All the time you can live in the house; until that courthouse sale, the place is still yours. It may be stressful but it’s your choice.

This article is, of course, a quick summary and a lot more information is needed before any real choices can be made. If you are faced with the problem of being in foreclosure, call Your Florida Lawyer, Michael J. Cooper, at our Ocala, Marion County, Florida law office set an appointment, let’s talk about what plan works best for you.