So you've been thinking about seeking a mortgage loan modification through the Making Home Affordable (MHA) program, but have been discouraged by reports of long delays, conflicting advice and nonresponsive lenders? Well, all that may be changing.

Representatives of several HUD-approved consumer credit counseling agencies said they've recently seen an increase in the number of clients being approved for trial loan modifications under the program. And government officials report that 80,000 homeowners were approved for trial modifications in the first two weeks of June, representing 40 percent of the 200,000 mortgage modifications approved since the program was launched in early March.

"I would say things have gotten a lot better over the past two months," said Nick Demeester, a bankruptcy counseling supervisor with Greenpath in Farmington Hills, Mich.

Lenders now have better information

He said that previously, clients would report that lenders were giving them unclear answers or wouldn't know the guidelines for their situations. Now, he said, the loan servers have more information and a better idea of who's eligible for the program.

There are still some inconsistencies, Demeester said, but that often seems to be a matter of new staff who are still being trained on the program.

Part of the problem has been that it's taken some time for lenders to develop their own procedures for implementing the program and develop the software needed to process applications, said Kathy Virgallito, an official with the Consumer Credit Counseling Service branch in Columbus, Ohio.

Applications beginning to be approved

"It's really only now that we're beginning to see decisions being made," she said. "When you're dealing with these large servicers, it's like any large organization that needs to make a change, it takes a while to turn the ship, but we're beginning to see a change."

Rick Simon, a spokesman for Bank of America, the nation's largest mortgage lender, said the bank approved 35,000 trial loan modifications in the first eight weeks since signing on with the program April 20.

He said the program has been a challenge to implement given the very specific government criteria that must be followed for dealing with different situations, such as mortgage insurance and second leins. In some cases, he said, they're still receiving guidance from the government on how to handle specific situations.

Prioritizing those in greatest need

"Borrowers who are current on their loans, for example, that's something we're still working on, but we're working around it in some cases," Simon said. The bank is also prioritizing applications from borrowers who are seriously behind on their loans, he added, trying to help those with the greatest need first.

"This is a two- to three- year program," he said. "There's no way everyone can be served in the first eight weeks of a program like this."

He said the bank has also had a lot of interest in the mortage refinacing portion of the program, but suspects that the recent rise in interest rates has made that option less attractive to homeowners.

Malcolm Johannessen, a foreclosure prevention coordinator with Lutheran Social Services in Duluth, Minn., said that for the most part, the lenders who've signed up to participate in Making Home Affordable have been pretty good about processing applications for loan modifications. Some subprime lenders have been a bit lagging, he said, but he didn't want to generalize them all that way.

"Some pretty decent modifications"

"Ironically, some of the subprime lenders have been the best at stepping up and participating," he said, adding that those lenders have been doing "some pretty decent modifications."

As an example, Johannessen cited one client who was $3750 in arrears, whose lender arranged an MHA loan modification that cut the interest rate on his subprime loan from 8.75 percent to 5.75 percent, reducing his total mortgage payment from $1260 to $1012 a month.

"They're being fairly realistic, I think ," Johannessen said. "Making some money off an investment is better than foreclosing on it in this market."

"No mortgage company wants to own real estate - they're just facing the reality of the current market," he added.

Published on April 26, 2013