With two earthquakes east of Los Angeles and Tropical Storm Barry flooding communities along the Gulf Coast in July, natural disasters have already disrupted the lives of tens of thousands of Americans. And with the heart of hurricane season just around the corner – August through October – we can expect plenty of additional damage and heartache. There are six hurricanes during an average hurricane season, including three major ones.
While the devastation caused by these events will destroy property and upend the lives of many individuals and families, the ability to quickly communicate any damage by using technology is helping people get financial relief and back on their feet more quickly than in the past.
Right after an earthquake or hurricane, nearly everyone is focused on the safety of their families and loved ones, as well as the safety of their property. Once everyone is secure, technology can help report any initial damage in less than five minutes. And doing so allows a homeowner to begin compiling a record that can be used when filing an insurance claim or other request for financial assistance.
Making certain a homeowner’s mortgage servicer knows about any damage is critical, as well as requesting a forbearance or other delay in making their upcoming mortgage payments.
HLP’s HomeownerConnect.org website and mobile app is an easy way for homeowners to reach servicers with a request for assistance following any natural disaster. Once a homeowner files information on HomeownerConnect.org, HLP will immediately forward the information to the homeowner’s mortgage servicing company.
People may not have access to a computer right after the natural disaster. In that case, the HomeownerConnect.org mobile app allows homeowners to submit documents and upload photos of damaged property directly to their mortgage company. A homeowner can also update their contact information so mortgage servicers can contact them day or night. This site has helped thousands of people recover quickly. Following Hurricanes Harvey and Irma in 2017, more than 5,000 homeowners in Texas and Florida that had mortgage loans with more than 20 mortgage companies filed their requests for help via HomeownerConnect.org. By using this portal, mortgage companies quickly discovered that they could eliminate wait times on the telephone and serve customers faster by using HomeownerConnect.org.
There is ample evidence that servicers responded quickly to help their customers. Approximately 85 percent of homeowners using HomeownerConnect.org were given a forbearance within a short period, providing relief from an immediate mortgage payment as they worked to recover financially.
While technology is important, we know those in need also want help from a real person. For people that would prefer to speak with someone about their damage, an internet “chat” counselor is available on the HomeownerConnect.org website to provide assistance and answer any questions.
These are nonprofit housing counselors who work daily with homeowners seeking to navigate tough financial issues, so they understand the importance of filing an immediate request for help. People who may be unfamiliar with filing documents online will receive the help they need from these counselors.
What Comes Next?
While reporting damage quickly and getting financial relief is important, some people may need additional financial help within days of a natural disaster. At www.MyLoanHelp.me, people can find solutions available from government agencies, mortgage companies, nonprofit organizations and others. After submitting only six pieces of information, people can learn about various programs that may offer solutions.
This is a national database that brings together all these resources and provide free access to homeowners, counselors and mortgage servicers. Funded by a grant from the Finance of America Foundation, MyLoanHelp.me is a free, central source of information about financial aid programs nationwide, including state and federal government programs and private charitable resources. It is free for everyone. And no one searching or applying for help will ever have their personal information or data sold to a third party.
Once homeowners find a program that may offer help, they can apply for many of these programs via HLP’s secure online channel, if they so choose. Just as with HomeownerConnect.org, anyone can chat online with a nonprofit HUD-approved housing counselor. Counselors trained to help distressed homeowners are able to help applicants understand how these programs work and if one offered by a government agency or mortgage lender that is right for them.
All of us need to be prepared to react quickly after a natural disaster, especially since they seem to occur more regularly now than in the past. Knowing how to file for assistance could help you save money on mortgage payments and get the help needed to repair your home as quickly as possible.
Mark Cole is Chief Executive Officer of HLP, a nonprofit mortgage technology company based in Baltimore. HLP’s web portal is a one-stop technology solution to help homeowners nationwide ensure that critical documents from distressed homeowners reach mortgage companies. To find out more about HLP’s services, visit www.hlp.org.