Take This House and Shove It!

Take This House and Shove It!

I don’t live here anymore.

“Like a bird on a wire, like a drunk in a midnight choir, I have tried in my way to be free.”  Songwriter Leonard Cohen had me pegged with that line decades ago.

I took a nose dive off that proverbial wire when my beautiful daughter Samantha died.

Like an army of two, we had battled her strange disease for seventeen years, from doctor to doctor, from alternative medicine to big pharma’s experimental drug trials, never giving up hope. I took her to India to see a doctor who is a renowned healer, to Los Angeles where a gaggle of specialists diagnosed and re-diagnosed her condition, and to San Francisco for a special herb tea.

We spent weeks at a time every year in the hospital where pain medication and steroids were administered intravenously. Sometimes she failed to wean herself off the pain meds after she was discharged. Mistaken by a local doctor as an addict—I still don’t think the guy could diagnose a broken leg—Sam went along with the program, threw her narcotics away, and then suffered through agony each day without them.

In the end, she chose to live drug free in India, beside the ocean, surrounded by beautiful flowers and the gentle people who had become her friends. Years of Western medicine had weakened her heart and it just stopped beating. She died peacefully in her sleep.

Sucked into a black hole of grief, I could not do my job as a real estate agent; I couldn’t even make it to the grocery store without wearing sunglasses to hide my red swollen eyes and a lugging box of tissues for the tears. At times unable to sleep, I would leave my house in the hour of the wolf, 3:00 in the morning, and walk with my two dogs down the dark country road, crying my eyes out.  

Thankfully, I had managed to save enough money that I could afford to do the irreducible minimum. A year later, I finally surfaced from my personal Armageddon to find the real estate market going down for the third time into lower lows all across the country. I wasn’t worried at first because I’d seen previous crashes in my career and real estate always came back; right?

Back in 2004 and 2005, my fellow agents and I would joke that the price of a house on our Multiple Listing System could change in seconds. In the morning, it was priced at $200,000 but it could be $205,000 by dinner time. None of us were prepared for the world to cave in as it did in 2008. Real estate values reversed with a vengeance.

Loan modifications became the way to go as values dropped below mortgage amounts. A parade of clients passed my desk, some angry at their lenders, some actually weeping over the deteriorating equity in their homes, all of them losing the game of real estate to the card-sharks calling themselves bankers.

Fake loan modification experts, who billed $3000 and more to handle the homeowner’s bank-required paperwork, multiplied like horny rabbits. The bankers wanted reams of paperwork, in most cases triple what they needed to grant the loan in the first place.

Stories proliferated about banks losing documents, or claiming to have received them and then not responding for months and then only to inform the homeowner that they were foreclosing. Lenders granted loan payment reductions and then reneged after the borrower had made their pre-modification qualifying payments for three months. Those payments were usually higher than the initial mortgage payment.

By 2009 in Nevada, if a homeowner had received a notice of default, the first step in a non-judicial foreclosure, on or after July 1st of that year, they could participate in the Nevada Supreme Court’s new Foreclosure Mediation Program. The Court designed the program to help homeowners avoid foreclosure by negotiating a loan modification with their lender in front of a Court appointed mediator. I got out my pom-poms and wrote effusively about the program. At first, it seemed that many foreclosures were being averted.

I attended one mediation with a client, before the Court changed the rules so that Realtors could not speak for homeowners, and managed to negotiate a reduction in the principle amount of the mortgage plus a reduced interest rate. A spokesperson for the lender, Citi Mortgage, agreed by telephone, which was on speaker so that all parties could hear, to all the terms, promising to mail the homeowner a new payment amount within 30 days. It was a huge win.

I decided to apply for my own loan modification. Even though I’d been a Realtor for decades, like the busy contractor who leaves his own house to the very last for repairs, I hadn’t really thought about my own property for years. My credit was good because I’d managed to keep paying my bills and the mortgage religiously each month.

I ran up comparable properties on my listing system and found that my home, which had been appraised at over $250,000 in 2006, was then valued at less than my mortgage amount of $148,000. Shocked, I contacted who I thought was my lender, America’s Servicing Company (ASC.) It hadn’t occurred to me that they didn’t really own my loan.

I dutifully supplied all the documentation that a chirpy gal at ASC requested and tried to get on with my life.  What a fiasco that turned into. Chapter 2 next week…


Copyright Susannah Morgan Surgeoner 2012, 2013.


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