MINNEAPOLIS - When Julie Tweit bought a condo seven years ago, she was thrilled to finally learn the joys of owning a home.
But when a job change forced her back to college, Julie got a lesson of a different kind, finding last fall she couldn't afford her mortgage, and couldn't get help to refinance, trapped for nearly a year in endless form letters and voice mails.
"You're leery, and you're tired, and you're so disheartened that you don't dare take any more steps," Tweit said.
That's why Julie is now one of hundreds of homeowners asking for help from a group called NACA, the Neighborhood Assistance Corporation of America. It's a nonprofit that acts as the middle man between banks and buyers, bringing them together at events like one held last month at the Minneapolis Convention Center.
It says it can work with banks to offer new homeowners loans with no down payment, no closing costs, and an interest rate below market value. And for those who already own? NACA says it'll help modify loans to avoid foreclosure. And it says it'll do it all for free.
"There are homeowners who are in an unaffordable mortgage situation," said NACA Chief Operating Officer Detria Russell, "And they need some help."
But some homeowners aren't sold. Pages of criticism about NACA fill message boards online, and, while this is the first time NACA has been in Minnesota, reviews from other states are not all positive. A report from the Better Business Bureau in Massachusetts shows 169 complaints the past year alone. And some experts are also sketpical, saying homeowners should instead get an attorney or another advocate to help them.
"Hire someone that you've been referred to," advises J.J. Korman, a real estate agent who owns Terra Companies in Minneapolis. "(Hire) somebody that you trust, somebody that is absolutely on your side, and wants to explain all the alternatives to you and help you understand what their repercussions are."
Julie Tweit learned that the hard way. Four weeks after NACA promised to help her, she says they gave her nothing but lies, leaving her with no answers, no new mortgage, and almost no hope.
"Nothing has been an experience like this," she said.
A NACA spokesperson says Julie's experience is "an exception," and that they are still trying to work with her bank, Chase, to help her with refinancing.