An excerpt from

Saving your home from foreclosure is increasingly a do-it-yourself project.

Lawyers are scarce and free legal assistance is overwhelmed in New Mexico, so a community center here is offering an hourlong class in how to download the correct forms, decipher the lingo and mount a defense, however tentative and primitive, against a multibillion-dollar bank.

“I don’t see success for someone like me who doesn’t understand the law,” said Skylar Perea, a senior care aide who fell behind on her payments during the eight months she was out of a job. “But it’s better than nothing.”

In New Mexico, New York, Florida and the 20 other states where foreclosures require a judge’s approval, homeowners in default have traditionally surrendered their homes without ever coming to court to defend themselves. (In the 27 other states, including California, Nevada and Arizona, homeowners have a much harder time contesting a foreclosure even if they want to.)

That passivity has begun to recede. While many foreclosures are still unopposed, courts are seeing a sharp rise in cases where defendants show up representing themselves.

Mr. Lawson is skeptical that self-help clinics are a solution. “We have overwhelmed judges and impossible lenders,” he said. “It’s hard enough for lawyers to deal with them.”  In the Albuquerque class, Ms. Anaya Allen does not promise a happy ending. “At the end of the day, unless you have major defenses, it’s likely the court will make a finding of foreclosure,” she said.

Norma Canales and her boyfriend, Saul Valdez, were merely hoping for a little leverage against their lender. They fell into default when Ms. Canales got divorced and her husband stopped making house payments.

“We were working with the bank, trying to work something out, and now suddenly we’re in foreclosure,” said Mr. Valdez, 39. The couple never realized they could represent themselves in court. “It gives you,” he said, “some sort of hope.”

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Jim the Realtor
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