A homeowner in Florida was puzzled to receive a condolence letter for his wife’s death from his mortgage lender. Why were they sorry for his loss? His wife was very much alive. But because their lender declared her deceased, they were unable to get a loan modification and despite repeated phone calls and a visit to the bank where the wife felt it was fairly obvious she was among the living, no changes were made. Their only loss was their credit score and they are suing the lender.

Yes, this is a rather extreme story. But it illustrates an important point. Choosing a lender you can trust is crucial. Sometimes people shop around by rate only, or just use a neighbor who is handling mortgages as a side business. They would rather be shopping for living room furniture for their new home than for a lender.

For most people a mortgage represents the biggest and longest-term debt they will ever incur. It’s much easier to swap out furniture you grow tire of than to get out of bad mortgage situation.

Last week in this column I wrote about how to lessen the frustration of applying for a mortgage. By far the most important step is to find a good lender that you can trust. Here are steps you can take to find the right one for you.

1. Make sure that any company or individual you may be dealing with is licensed in your state by the Nationwide Mortgage Licensing System.

This step ensures your mortgage professional meets the government’s consumer protection requirement for the mortgage industry. Go to www.nmlsconsumeraccess.org and enter the name of the person or the company for an instant report. This step takes only a minute or two and is a free service for consumers so you can confirm that the individual or company you are dealing with is authorized to conduct mortgage business in your state.

2. Interview your potential lender. A face-to-face meeting allows you the opportunity to judge whether you’ll feel comfortable with this person. Does he or she listen to you and understand what your needs are? You also have the opportunity to ask questions. Here are a few I suggest:

• Are you licensed by the NMLS and the state of Georgia?

• Are you a certified Fannie Mae seller/servicer, Freddie Mac seller/servicer or a HUD Title II Direct Endorsed lender?

If your lender answers yes to these questions, then he or she has achieved the highest certification possible for a lender.

3. Ask for names and contact information of recent clients. Contact these people and ask about their experience. Did they get good service? Did they receive the loan that was right for them? Did the closing go smoothly and was it on time?

— Cal Haupt, President and CEO of Southeast Mortgage

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