One Dover homeownership agency has been refocusing its counseling services from pre-purchase to default in response to the housing crisis and with the help of grant money they recently received.


    One Dover homeownership agency has been refocusing its counseling services from pre-purchase to default in response to the housing crisis and with the help of grant money they recently received.

    The National Council on Agricultural Life & Labor Research Fund, Inc. or NCALL, has two housing counselors now focusing primarily on dealing with calls from homeowners who are in danger of foreclosure. The counseling doesn’t cost anything to homeowners, beyond a $20 maximum fee to pull a credit report.

    Karen Speakman, deputy director for the agency, said those kind of calls have gone from virtually none to a total of 110 in the quarter of October to December 2007. That number has leveled off since, but she added she doesn’t expect it to go down any time soon.

    “The bottom dropped out,” said homeownership specialist and counselor Nathaniel Horsey of the change.

    The counselors help the callers learn what their options are and make any subsequent decisions. Speakman said homeowners need to make a call to NCALL or a similar housing agency before the default and foreclosure process has gone on too long.

    “If a sheriff’s sale is scheduled, it’s too late,” she said.

    At the same time, the number of pre-purchase calls have decreased slightly — another indication that the housing market is in trouble. According to information provided by the Office of the State Bank Commissioner, state foreclosure fillings increased 30% from 2,395 to 3,124 in the past 10 months as of April 30.

    Horsey said often people who call in don’t undergo the formal counseling because they are embarrassed or have a hard time asking for help. Of the 110 calls the agency received from October to December, 32 of those became clients.

    He tries to work with homeowners to overcome those feelings as they participate in a foreclosure workshop, which explains the foreclosure process, and later attend Growing Your Money, a financial literacy class.

    “They realize it’s not just them. They’re not alone,” he said.

    Not only has fewer pre-purchase customers and more homeowners in trouble led NCALL to refocus, but two grants they recently received from the Speer Trust of the New Castle Presbytery and Neighborworks America helped as well.

    The Speer Trust grant for $32,000 was awarded in January to provide education, counseling, analysis and access to intervention products for families experiencing a mortgage crisis that could lead to default and foreclosure. Neighborworks America, a national nonprofit organization created by Congress, also awarded a grant for $44,951 in April.

    In addition, Speakman said a number of banks are considering requests to support the agency’s counseling.