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In the past, a homeowner who'd been through a foreclosure wore a kind of financial scarlet letter. They typically faced seven years of poor credit with lenders unwilling to underwrite new loans. These days, millions of families have a recent foreclosure on their record.
And NPR's Yuki Noguchi reports some are having luck buying a house.
YUKI NOGUCHI, BYLINE: Jason Strotheide's grandfather sold him the house in Charlotte, Michigan that had been in the family for several generations. Then, Strotheide refinanced it to pay for renovations. Those increased payments became the first domino to topple him financially. In early 2010, he and his wife filed for bankruptcy and lost their home to foreclosure.
JASON STROTHEIDE: When we first walked away from the mortgage, I actually said that I would never buy again.
NOGUCHI: With his debts wiped clean, Strotheide now rents and relies almost exclusively on cash and pays everything on the first of the month, which has boosted his credit score back up to nearly 700. Now, he says he'd like to live off his own farming and livestock.
STROTHEIDE: So we're looking for a place where we can get, you know, maybe five acres of land, a couple of outbuildings, a modest house and just enough space for us to grow the products that we need for our family.
NOGUCHI: So in the spring, exactly three years after his foreclosure, he plans to buy another property. Most lenders say the minimum waiting period to buy a home after a foreclosure is seven years, and private lenders say they haven't changed their rules. But under certain extenuating circumstances, Fannie Mae and the Federal Housing Administration will underwrite loans as early as three years after a foreclosure.
And credit unions, which originate more loans these days, say they are often willing to work with individual borrowers. All this means buyers like Strotheide are navigating an apparent gray area in lending. And it's not clear how many people there are like him. Banks, mortgage lenders and the National Association of Realtors say they don't track the number of people who've come back after recent foreclosure.
But Amber Hom, a realtor in Danville in northern California, says so far this year, she's helped such families buy new homes.
AMBER HOM: So many people that have been in foreclosure, I mean, in the United States, there had to be a way for them to come back and do it again. I mean, there's just too many people.
NOGUCHI: Hom even helped a family that went through bankruptcy and lost not one, but four homes through foreclosure just three years ago.
HOM: I didn't think they were going to buy again for at least five to seven years. I didn't think that they were going to be able to do it at all. Fortunately, we found a lender who was willing to work with them, and they were able to purchase again.
NOGUCHI: Surprising, right? Not to Amber Hom.
HOM: You know, it doesn't really surprise me just for the simple fact that this is the land of second chances.
NOGUCHI: But how that second chance comes about often varies widely, depending on specific circumstances. Some homeowners find it difficult to get jobs with a foreclosure on their record, which makes it harder to recover from financial hardship. Others say even years later, banks won't lend to them so they turn to private financing arrangements where they can pay as much as four times the going rate for a conventional mortgage.
Take Steve Riggs, who lost his home to foreclosure. Seven years later, without a green light from a bank, he asked his landlord in Desoto, Texas, to finance him instead. And he did, at a whopping 12.9 percent interest rate.
STEVE RIGGS: We had to take what we could get and if they said 15, dog it, we'll take 15.
NOGUCHI: But some others find that time heals all their housing-related wounds. Laurie Levine bought her house in Orlando, Florida in 2009, nine years after deeding her house back to the bank to avoid foreclosure.
LAURIE LEVINE: Didn't even come up. It'd been more than seven years, didn't even come up.
NOGUCHI: Levine says she no longer has any trouble getting loans or rentals, even though lending standards are stricter. At over 800, her credit score is now nearly perfect. Would you say you're more or less afraid of foreclosure at this point?
LEVINE: Oh, I'm less. I've benefited from other peoples' foreclosures.
NOGUCHI: In fact, there is a strange symmetry for Levine. If the housing bubble hadn't burst, leaving so many other foreclosures in its wake, she says, she'd never have been able to afford to buy again. Yuki Noguchi, NPR News, Washington.