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2008-03-26 20:29:00

Voices of Foreclosure - Homeowners Sing a Victorious Tune

Success stories abound about homeowners who save their homes from foreclosure, sometimes just before a scheduled auction.  Retired grandmothers and people facing medical hardship and job loss join the ranks of consumers at risk of losing their homes. There is burgeoning sales hyperbole targeting homeowners at risk, "Sell your home to save your credit."

The following stories tell the tale of four homeowners who wanted to KEEP their homes, who issued will and determination and found help with legitimate consumer advocates at ACORN. They kept their homes. ACORN has an outstanding success rate with homeowners across the country, up to 70% in some areas.

Increasingly, lenders are working with legitimate consumer advocates to restructure loans to meet borrowers' changing circumstances. Many loss mitigators who are working with consumers at risk tell them that they will not "qualify" for a workout. In fact, lenders are designing workouts to "qualify" for borrowers' needs.

Spunky Nurse Saved Lives for 30 Years – Now She’s Saving Homes

Dorothy Hicks spent 30 years in operating rooms fighting to save lives. Last year the 74-year-old retired nursed waged another battle against another epidemic, foreclosures. She helped organize a grassroots battle in Oakland, CA, and claimed victory with less than a week remaining before an auction that would have cost Dorothy Hicks her home.

Dorothy Hicks lived in that home for 39 years. She raised five children there and helped raise six grandchildren.  Three of her grandchildren are in college and she is helping them get a good education.

“I wanted to start a small business making school uniforms. That’s how I got into this mess,” she said.  She borrowed against the equity in her home to start the business. “I was a victim of predatory lending. I took out a loan to refinance my house. When it was time to sign papers I saw that the numbers were different than the numbers on the application. I told them, ‘Wait, I cannot afford this.’ They told me to sign the papers that day and that they would get me out of that loan in three to four months. Three months later I couldn’t find them.”

Last summer Dorothy Hicks began receiving foreclosure notices. She called her mortgage servicer who told her she was crazy to think she could afford her house. She scoured local resources and found the ACORN consumer advocacy group. She met three other homeowners there who shared similar experiences with predatory lenders and they formed a coalition to take the case to the California State Senate in Sacramento. Legislators heard Dorothy Hicks’ eloquent plea: “We are senior citizens. We need help.”

Lawmakers crafted a bill designed to stem the tide of foreclosures in a state with record breaking numbers of distressed homeowners and foreclosures.  Hicks offered inspiration and guidance to local Oakland officials and they met the press in front of her home, with a week left before the auction, to announce a series of initiatives to help homeowners at risk of foreclosure.  A new coalition formed and offered a Help Hotline in the City Attorney’s office, a Foreclosure Prevention Workshop at City Hall, and a public education campaign to give borrowers information they need to stay out of trouble.

Sixty percent of U.S. homeowners lose their homes without making a call to their lenders. Fear and frustration paralyze homeowners. Dorothy Hicks is no friend to fear and frustration. Dorothy Hicks fights back. “Some people are afraid to let people know they have fallen down in the wayside. I was not afraid to say I was in trouble and I needed help. I even sent President Bush a letter to tell him that banks are taking advantage of people,” she said.

Dorothy Hicks received help from family and found a lender to avert the auction. She saved her home and she offers a beacon of hope to other homeowners who find themselves at risk. “Don’t give up,” she says. “Ask for help.”

Foreclosure Prevention Fair Helps Cleveland Couple Save Home

Brenda and Michael Gregory left no stone unturned in their efforts to stave off foreclosure. They lived in their home for 16 years and struggled for years with a lender who did not report payments they made on time. When Gregory lost his job several years ago, the $800-plus monthly mortgage payment was hard to meet. Brenda was a sole income earner. “I tried to get another loan, but nobody would help,” she said.

They received a letter in the mail inviting them to attend a local Foreclosure Prevention Fair in Cleveland.  They met a representative from ACORN, who took their information and worked with their lender. Within two weeks the lender modified the mortgage for the Hicks, with a low fixed rate that saw their monthly mortgage obligation reduced to a comfortable $300+ payment.


Sandwich Generation – This Is No Time to Get Sick!

Fred Day is a member of the Sandwich Generation, struggling to support young children and parents in their 80s. His mother had dementia and he did his best to help. In 2004, Fred Day became ill. Unable to work for a year, he fell seriously behind on the mortgage payments for his Ohio home. He went back to work in 2005 at the same company he worked for 12 years and tried to regain his financial footing.

He called his bank and tried to set up a repayment plan for money that he owned them. “The bank wanted an astronomical figure,” he said. “They were unwilling to take payments or enter into a forbearance agreement.”

All signs pointed to foreclosure. “I went to bed and pulled the covers over my head. The pressure was overwhelming,” recalled Day about the early days of his ordeal.

“I went to one counseling agency after another, but all they could do to help was offer budgeting advice. They did not offer direct help with a lender,” he said. “I was in foreclosure for six months. The Lord works in wondrous ways and I got another list of numbers to call.

“Two days before the sheriff sale I called ACORN.  In 24 hours they worked with the bank and told me that the lender would cancel the sheriff sale if I could come up with $3,000. In less than a day we made a deal. I felt like a ton of bricks was lifted from my shoulders. I kept my faith that would be OK.

“It brought tears to my eyes. My prayers were answered,” said Day. “I put my faith in God. When you are in depression, you push your faith,” reflected Day. “I knew God had a plan. I just had to find it.”

Saving Her Home Lets Single Mom Keeps Kids In School

Lauren Lemerisse is a single mom who learned about the intricacies of exotic financing the hard way, at the hands of a predatory lender. She received an Option Adjustable Rate Mortgage when she refinanced her property for sole ownership as part of a divorce settlement.  “The lender never explained the consequences of this type of financing,” she said.

Lemerisse squeaked by to qualify for a monthly $1,000 payment. A loan adjustment that increased her monthly debt to $1,700 ate up most of her net income. “I did everything I could to keep up with the payments. I sold my car to make a few mortgage payments,” she said.  “I thought I was paying an interest-only mortgage. Instead, I found out that I was losing equity in my house every time I made a payment. After two years of paying a mortgage, I owed $7,000 more on the house than I originally owed.”

She said the mortgage broker was underhanded. “He called me three days after I signed to the mortgage documents and told me that there were some papers that they forgot and that I had to sign them right away,” she recalled. Those papers contained Adjustable Rate Financing Disclosures that spelled out the true nature of the loan.

It was time to look for help.  Her children were in a good school system and Lemerisse was determined to keep them there. She called local housing authorities and county agencies. My problems fell outside the province of local government agencies. “They told me, ‘This is a nonprofit agency that has been helping people.’ They put me in touch with ACORN.”

ACORN had a class action lawsuit against their lender and fortunately for Lemerisse, the lender had a foreclosure assistance program to help keep people from losing their homes.

“People don’t usually contact lenders before they go into foreclosure.  They locked in a low fixed-rate mortgage for me with a monthly payment that is manageable. I am very relieved. The kids are doing great. I don’t want them to find themselves in the same situation I was in. Education is important. I want them to attend good schools and now they have an opportunity to stay here and take advantage of the excellent school system here. I’m glad we don’t have to leave.”

Relevant Links:

Let's Learn How to Help Americans KEEP Their Homes

Podcast: How REALTORS Can Help Americans KEEP Their Homes

10 Tips to Help Homeowners Avoid Foreclosure

(Frances Flynn Thorsen, e-PRO, SRS, is Managing Editor of RealTown.com. She lost a home to foreclosure several years ago. She is a Certified e-PRO Trainer and publishes several blogs, including RealTown Report, The REALTYgram Blogger, Web Women Giving Circle, No Blogger Left Behind, and The FAT Lady Blog.)

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