If you happen to see a contractor walking around your house, taking pictures, don't panic. It's just your lender "inspecting" your property.
According to new rules announced by Fannie Mae this week, mortgage servicers will be required to "order" a "property inspection" no later than 45 days after a homeowner misses a mortgage payment. "The servicer must continue to obtain property inspections every 30 days thereafter" until the delinquency is resolved.
If the servicer determines that the property is abandoned "the servicer must perform an interior inspection upon confirmation of abandonment," according to Fannie's guidelines, which go into effect on Sept.1
Fannie's current policy requires inspections only when servicers are unable to reach delinquent borrowers or when they determine the borrower isn't willing to try to work out a solution. But the inspections are not required until the mortgage is 135 days delinquent or the servicer begins foreclosure proceedings.
The new policy is an extra effort to try to protect Fannie's investment in these assets. But has Fannie heard of the widely reported stories of banks breaking into people's homes to "inspect" and "secure" them, claiming the homes are vacant when they are not?
For example, there is the story Nancy Jacobini in Orlando. Late last year she called 911, desperately asking for help as a man tried to break into her house. After police arrived, she learned that the man was a contractor who wanted to "secure" her home on behalf of her lender, Chase. The inspector said he thought the house was vacant. A Chase spokeswoman has told me this was an isolated mistake and that they have apologized to Jacobini.
Speaking of mistakes, you might want to know that some of these lender/servicer break-in cases that have been reported over the last two years involved homeowners who were current on their mortgages.
But let's get back to the new policy.
First, it's important to understand how this works and the number of people involved in this process. Servicers don't hire and train their own inspectors. They hire a property management company, which then hires contractors to go out and do the "inspections."
The question is how does the servicer's inspector determine whether a home is vacant before securing it? Do they peek through your window? Do they assume your home is vacant if you haven't mowed your grass and happen to be on vacation?
A Fannie spokeswoman says the process involves various steps and it includes checking to see if utilities are on, if there are people in the house and if there is furniture in the property.
But how do you know if there is furniture in the property before you enter the house?
The spokeswoman declined further comment beyond what is explained in the guidelines.
According to the guidelines, "The servicer must be able to obtain a signed copy of the inspection report that first reported the vacancy, in which the person who actually performed the inspection certifies that he or she has personally gone to the property location and confirmed that the property is vacant."
To avoid any misunderstandings, on top of paying your mortgage you should probably make sure you pay the utility bills before you go out of town.