Mainers continue to struggle to keep their homes.

The Bureau of Consumer Credit Protection expects to end 2013 having seen more pre-foreclosure notices this year than in any of the past four years.

Bureau Superintendent Will Lund said the spike might not be a sign of more people newly falling behind on mortgage payments. It could be that lenders are turning eyes to Maine, where they’re less concerned about delinquent homeowners trashing properties, after dealing with more high-profile states.

“Mainers tend to stay in their homes and take care of their homes,” Lund said. “If I were a national lender looking at homes that were vacant in Florida and Nevada and places like that, Detroit, if I was worried about what might happen to them if I didn’t pay immediate attention, I might well pay immediate attention to those homes … and I might come back to Maine as the business permitted.”

The state is on track for 44,000 pre-foreclosure notices in 2013. The previous high was 41,462 in 2011. Since 2009, each notice has triggered Lund’s office to send a packet to the homeowner outlining rights and resources.

Cumberland County saw the most through October (6,558), followed by York (6,373), Penobscot (4,161), Kennebec (3,745) and Androscoggin (3,197). A notice frequently means a homeowner is two to four months behind on mortgage payments, but it could be more.

“The very good news is that if consumers want to stay in their home and if they can work up a proposal, if they’re prepared to work with (a housing) counselor and present a plan to the lender, a good percentage of those can be helped,” Lund said. “It doesn’t mean if a consumer is earning no money at all that their good personality or their efforts are going to carry the day.”

His office funds a network of Housing and Urban Development-certified counselors at a dozen nonprofits around Maine who can walk homeowners through the process, either toward a resolution or an exit, free of charge.

Between July and September, those counselors helped secure 120 loan modifications, helped bring 16 homeowners current on their mortgages and assisted 10 others with repayment plans. Three clients sold to a short sale, seven were foreclosed upon and 31 were referred to legal assistance, according to bureau statistics.

Attorney General Janet Mills said she wished more at-risk homeowners would use the bureau’s Foreclosure Assistance and Referral Program, whose rules she helped draft.

“When somebody’s threatened with the loss of the American Dream, home ownership, they need help,” Mills said. “It’s a question of getting people’s attention, sometimes.”

She came to the issue again last spring when the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee faced nine foreclosure-related bills.

“Some would shorten court time, some would beef up mediation, some would have created a priority lien for condominium fees, all these different things,” Mills said.

She agreed to take on the issue and expects to have draft legislation out next month.

Lund said he was aware of two foreclosure-related trends in the state: lenders selling their loan portfolios, including defaulted loans, and telling homeowners they have to renegotiate with the new owners. There’s also been a jump in the number of companies applying for licenses in Maine to purchase or collect on defaulted mortgages.

“These companies will be accountable to our office for any undue pressure tactics,” Lund said, adding that he wasn’t aware of any aggressive tactics so far. “But the increase in applications for licenses for companies specializing in defaulted mortgages means lenders are looking to shed those loans off their books and companies are lining up to take on that business.”

One recent bright spot: November notices came in lower than forecast, roughly 3,200 compared to the 3,800 to 3,900 expected.

Lund wasn’t sure whether it was the start of a positive trend or lenders easing off around the holidays.

“I think we are firmly of the belief that we are at the crest now and that things are not going to get worse,” he said.

The housing counselors program is running $226,000, or three months, short in the new year. Lund said “good minds” are working on the issue and he hopes to find a fix.

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