For Sonoma County fire victims: Here’s what you need to know about your mortgage
Brett Gripe said he wants to rebuild after losing his house in Larkfield’s Mark West Estates neighborhood to the Tubbs fire.
“I think so. Still, it’s too early to tell,” said Gripe, a retired police officer who teaches at Santa Rosa Junior College’s police training academy and referees youth sports. He and his dog escaped from the fast-moving fire thanks to a family friend who knocked on his door at 1:30 a.m. on Oct. 9 to wake him up and tell him to flee.
As part of the recovery process, Gripe has had several phone conversations with officials at his insurance company, Safeco. He’s also been in touch with his mortgage lender, Exchange Bank, where he had just recently refinanced his home loan.
Mortgage lenders are urging the thousands of displaced homeowners like Gripe to reach out to them in the aftermath of the devastating wildfires so fire victims can begin the process of either rebuilding or moving on, leaving behind the home they once had.
“Most of us haven’t been through anything like this before,” Gripe said. “I have lived in Santa Rosa most of my life. Hopefully, they will rebuild the neighborhood.”
While homeowners do reach out to their insurance agents right after natural disasters, mortgage lenders may be an afterthought. But those banks also play a critical role in the recovery process and can aid loan holders as they start down a path that will be new and foreign to the vast majority of them. Most notably, the homeowner is still responsible for their mortgage and property taxes as they go through the claims process.
“People really need to reach out. At Redwood, we want to help people,” said Diane Berthinier, senior vice president of lending at Redwood Credit Union, which had customers who lost their homes. “Everybody is here to help.”
Mortgage holders could be eligible for immediate relief, depending on their circumstances. Redwood, for example, is willing to defer mortgage payments if borrowers are financially strapped as a result of the fires. “There are a lot of people living just paycheck to paycheck,” she said.
Wells Fargo Bank is offering a 90-day relief period for its mortgage customers in areas where residents are eligible for individual assistance by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said spokesman Ruben Pulido. Homeowners outside those areas could be eligible for relief and should contact the bank. The company has 53,000 home lending customers in Northern California who could have been affected by the wildfires.
Wells Fargo will suspend all negative credit bureau reporting, late fees, collection calls and foreclosure referrals and sales during this post-fire period. Those who are still unable to make payments after the 90-day period will be evaluated for further assistance, Pulido said.
Bank of America will offer assistance based on a customer’s specific need, which could range from waiving fees on its credit cards to temporary forbearance of home loans, according to a statement by spokeswoman Colleen Haggerty.
Borrowers who have loans backed by government-regulated mortgage holders Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac also are eligible for certain relief, those two agencies have announced. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has granted a 90-day moratorium on foreclosures of mortgages insured by the Federal Housing Administration. HUD also has a 203(h) loan for disaster victims, a mortgage that provides 100 percent financing for the reconstruction of their homes, and a 203(k) loan program that allows the displaced to finance the purchase or refinance of a house and its repair through a single mortgage. Those are offered by licensed lenders.