Ask a HOPE Counselor! Erik Pelayo Discusses the Complexity of Counseling


This month Operation HOPE has received countless testimonials from clients singing praise for Erik Pelayo, a Certified Housing Counselor and Program Coordinator at the National Poway Call Center. We asked him some questions to get the scoop on his experience and success-driven philosophy as a counselor.

Are there any clients that particularly stick out in your mind?

Once I had a client come in who had been denied a loan modification 14 times! He came to us three days before the sale date to start a process that usually takes months. 

After calling the lender, I learned that he had be denied the 14th time just two days before. The lender told me there wasn’t much hope, but we were able to postpone the sale date. In just two weeks we were able to get the right paperwork in and enter him into the Making Home Affordable program. That was a really interesting case.

What peaked your interest in counseling?

I have always really enjoyed helping people and being out in the community. I used to be a non-profit accountant but this job allows me to work more directly with clients in need of support. This really is the perfect job for me.

Anything particularly unique about your experience as a HOPE counselor?

Well I’m really the only admin at Poway working with Spanish speaking clients. It gets really complicated when the client can’t understand the forms they have to fill out. They might need to do something as simple as updating a form, but they don’t understand and get denied as a result. 

What’s particularly worrisome about my Spanish-speaking clients is that they are big targets for predatory lending. They might get tricked into a scam that sets them back thousands of dollars because they didn’t understand what was going on as well as an native English speaker might. 

Many of those clients don’t own computers to send me information. If the sale date is coming up, we need to speed up the process as much as possible. But they manage – they fax their papers from the  local supermarket or utilize a HOPE center to get information in. 

What is your counseling philosophy in light of the difficult situations your clients face?

I really try to stay positive with my clients, letting them know that this is the process for getting loans modified. This is how it is – lenders aren’t against them in any way. They just have a specific set of regulations they have to follow and certain paperwork they need. 

I know it’s frustrating, but it’s worth it. Even though it takes some time, there is nothing better than keeping your own home. Clients are frustrated with the process, so it’s understandable that they want to give up. But in the end, it’s often the clients in the most difficult situations that get their loans because they got all their paperwork in.

What do you think is the most challenging aspect of counseling?

Just letting the borrowers know how the process works. Sometimes they hear things from their neighbor – they come in thinking that they can get a 2% interest rate, for example. Most people just don’t understand the whole process. They often don’t understand the concept of a hardship and who actually qualifies for a modification. 

The actual process of acquiring a modification is really complicated and it is different for every person. That’s one of the reasons why so many clients get denied before getting counseling. If you are self-employed, for example, it’s a completely different process than if you are part-time or if you rent out property for income. A self-employed client might not be as fastidious with their paperwork. They might not know what a Profit and Loss form is.

To make it more complicated, every lender has a different process for loan modifications. One of the banks we work with requires a 10-page RMA (Request for Mortgage Assistance) – they don’t use the standard form like other banks. Another bank we work with requires a letter of explanation for just about everything. If you don’t have an HOA (Homeowners association), you have to explain why. 

There are just so many aspects to the process. That’s the good thing about having a counselor on your side. It can take some people two years or more to realize the value of that. 

If it’s only paperwork how does it get emotional?

It’s an absolutely emotional process. We get a lot of tears in this office. Borrowers can get frustrated when we ask for a form that they might have already sent in. Sometimes I get yelled at – but I know it’s because they are upset. They need someone to vent to. 

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