Foreclosure Now Top Legal Woe

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Call it a sign of the times. The number of people seeking cheap legal advice to save their homes is on the rise.

In 2009, real estate-related issues including foreclosures and landlord and tenant disputes topped the list of requests at Pre-Paid Legal Services. Some 358,000 consumers sought answers to their real estate questions from the organization, which provides affordable legal benefits through a network of independent firms in the U.S. and Canada. This is the first year it has conducted the survey. All told, the organization fielded some 2.3 million requests for legal help.

"The number of people seeking foreclosure help is probably ten times what it was two or three years ago," Charles E. Davis, managing partner of Mesa, Ariz.-based Davis Miles, a member of Pre-Paid Legal, told HousingWatch.Rounding out the top five requested services were consumer finance issues, family law, collections and estate planning. Of course, family law (Divorce! Who keeps the house?), collections (Haven't yet paid for that bathroom renovation?) and estate planning (Which one of the kids gets the family farm?) can also center around real estate, so the number of real estate-related legal issues may actually be much higher.

Foreclosures, however, remain the big kahuna. It's too soon to tell if 2010 will be any better, says Davis, the attorney. But in the past year, without the option of a loan modification or short sale, his clients were increasingly walking away from homes or considering bankruptcy.

In some cities, homeowner demand for inexpensive - or free - legal services is so high, that people are turning to law students for representation, the equivalent of an uninsured toothache sufferer turning to their local dental school. Or, perhaps unwisely, choosing to represent themselves.

But perhaps I'm being closed-minded in my want for professional help. Has anyone out there successfully navigated their own legal minefield? Tell us your stories.
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