Facing foreclosure is frightening, and many homeowners are just not aware of how fast a foreclosure can happen. I’ve heard some heartbreaking stories in the last few months. The foreclosure process is painfully personal and can be painfully fast. Do you realize you and your family can lose your most precious asset in just a few short months?

So what happens in a foreclosure--and when? The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has prepared an easy-to-understand foreclosure timeline. Just to emphasize how pressing foreclosure can be, I’ve put that timeline into very human perspective below:

You miss one payment. You get a call or note from your lender. Not so bad, right? You’re just juggling the bills a little right now--no problem. You’ll pay as soon as possible. Not to worry.

You miss two payments. Your lender calls again. Where are the payments? You’re still trying to convince yourself that everything is OK, but you still can’t make the payment, either. Things have to get better, don’t they? You’re starting to worry, but you do nothing.

You miss three payments. You get a scary “Demand Letter” or “Notice To Accelerate” from the bank that says you must pay all the missed payments in 30 days. If you don’t pay or negotiate different arrangements, the bank can start foreclosure. Now you’re really worried, but you’re hoping it’s a bluff. Foreclosure takes forever, doesn’t it? So you again do nothing.

You miss four payments. You still haven’t paid or made other arrangements within that 30 days. The lender turns you over to the legal team, and now you’re responsible for all the legal expenses, too. Once again you do nothing--because you’re overwhelmed and terrified.

You get notice that your home will be sold by the Sheriff--and you’re in foreclosure. But it’s only been just a few short months! You’re told you can save your home if you make all the missed payments and pay all the delinquency costs. But where will you get all that money, and why would the lender accept other arrangements now? So you again do nothing. It’s too late!

You get one last chance to save your home. You can still keep your home even after the sale if you pay all the missed payments and all foreclosure costs. You can’t do it.

Your home is lost. Why? Because you didn’t take action to save it.

Although foreclosure may differ by state, this gives you a good idea of how foreclosure works--and how fast it can happen. HUD notes that a housing counselor could have helped even after the fourth missed payment. Doing nothing if you’re facing foreclosure is the worst possible thing you can do.

Doing nothing is not an option if you want to save your home. HUD advises that you be honest with your lender as soon as you suspect you’re in trouble. You can also contact HUD to find a housing counselor who can help. You don’t have to face foreclosure alone, please contact me if there’s anything I can do, I’m always available to assist with all your real estate questions, even difficult ones like this.