After being stationed in Indiana, they finally returned to their hometown when Joe, a member of the U.S. Army Active Guard Reserve, received orders for Grand Haven.
In March, Joe received new orders. He is to report for duty in Queens, New York, on July 30.
The Duffs put their Grand Haven home up for sale shortly after receiving the orders, but a few problems still remain. One being that they owe more than the house is worth.
“We didn’t see the market dropping the way it did,” Joe said.
Donna said she's spent many sleepless nights searching for options. If they can’t sell their home, they will be left paying the mortgage on their Grand Haven home as well as housing expenses in New York.
Options they don’t want to consider are foreclosure or a short sale because of the hit their credit scores could take.
They’re not alone. Families everywhere are experiencing similar decisions.
Options for upside-down homeowners
Grand Haven Housing Coordinator Char Seise said people who bought their homes from 2004 to 2008 are likely upside-down on their mortgages because they owe more than the actual value of the house. These folks watched as real estate prices dropped significantly in recent years.
“Homeowners (who) purchased homes during the housing bubble are seemingly trapped in a house they cannot sell," Seise said, "and often feel they have no other options but to go through a foreclosure."
But Seise said they do have options.
The federal Housing and Urban Development agency or Michigan State Housing Development Authority are good places to start seeking solutions, Seise said. Neighborhood Housing Services, 20 N. Fifth St. in Grand Haven, also offers free counseling for first-time homebuyers and current homeowners.
Some options for homeowners in these situations include selling their home for a loss with a short sale. A short sale is when a home is sold to a buyer at a lower price than the mortgage on the property, and the lender typically agrees to forgive the remaining balance of the loan.
Depending on the loan, homeowners might also be able to have a “deed in lieu of foreclosure,” Seise said. That option allows the homeowner to turn over the keys and sign over their deed, based on an agreement between the homeowner and lender.
Short sales and the deed turnover are options that allow homeowners to avoid foreclosure, which carries the most significant consequences.
Some choose to abandon their homes, or stop making payments altogether. When this happens, properties are typically foreclosed upon and the bank takes back the home. Ottawa County had 827 foreclosures in 2011, which was down from prior years, but significantly higher than a decade ago.
Whether a family wants to stay in or get out from underneath their home, Seise encourages homeowners to act early in the process because it will give them more options and will allow them to stay in control of the process.
“It’s complicated,” Seise said. “Homeowners shouldn’t be embarrassed when they don’t understand the process.”
Hopeful for a solution
The Duff family remained in their home as July approaches.
They pulled their home off the real estate market, and are looking to rent it. They’ll have to take a loss each month, as the rent they are able to charge will be less than what they pay monthly on their mortgage.
But Donna said she’s grateful to find a way to avoid foreclosure. Still, there are uncertainties.
The family’s two teenage sons, Joe and Ryan Duff, said they hope that something can be done to help other families facing a similar situation as theirs.
The duo wrote a letter before Memorial Day as a plea for coverage of their family’s plight, and the situation in which many people find themselves.
“There are so many military families around the country in this situation, not just our parents,” the boys wrote. “They’re stuck with homes they can’t sell, made to relocate out of military obligation and forced to leave their families behind because they can’t afford to live together.”