Every day, I dread that the doorbell will ring. Whenever it does, the peal of the bell sends my stomach into a bottomless void. The fatal day hasn’t arrived yet. But I know it’s coming. My nerves are shot from worrying. I have sleepless nights and the bags are piling up under my eyes. Though I tell myself I’ve reconciled to the situation, that it’s not life and death, that I no longer have an attachment, there is still something sharply devastating about losing my home.
As I go about my daily life, faced with the prospect of receiving a sheriff’s notice to vacate, I feel compelled to share my experience with others who may be in a similar situation, or are just curious about how all this works. I don’t have a defined goal, and plan to write about whatever’s on my mind, and hopefully pass on some lessons, ideas, enlightenment, and even encouragement.
Why write this blog? Well, in my search for information on the web, I find a lot of blogs sharing information about cases, advice about what to look for, rants against the banking industry, and pleas for help. But I haven’t really found anything where people talk about the effect the process of foreclosure has on them, their lives, their families, or their personal legal experience. It’s easy to feel alone. Even though millions of other people have lost their homes, few people close to me have lost theirs in the same manner.
Disclaimers: This is my experience in California, so if you don’t live in California, the procedures, processes and laws may vary from your state, so please don’t rely singly upon me. Also, I am not a legal expert, so nothing I write in this blog can be construed or relied upon as legal advice. Thank you for your patience while I got those disclaimers out of the way. Now, on to what we are here to share.
So, where to begin? Well, I suppose the best starting point is how I wound up in this mess to begin with.
Like millions of other homeowners out there who lost their job at some point in 2008, as I did just after the fall of the mighty Lehman Brothers, I realized that my unemployment benefits would either cover the mortgage or food and other bills. My emergency savings had been depleted when I lost my job in 2006, due to the housing construction bubble bursting. (I worked for a residential developer at that time.) So, like a conscientious homeowner concerned about keeping my home and maintaining my good credit, I called up my mortgage company.
“You don’t qualify for a traditional modification because you don’t have a job. And you don’t qualify for a hardship modification because you are still current,” the representative told me. “So, how do I show hardship?” I asked, thinking that showing my bank statement and my unemployment benefit pay stubs would show hardship. But no.
The representative, Michelle, laid out a plan of action for me for the next six months that would allow me to “demonstrate” hardship and, then, request a modification based on the demonstrated hardship.
Here’s the plan: I should stop making my payments for at least two more months. I was already behind on my payment for the month before. After the third month of no payments, she said, I would receive a Notice of Default (sometimes also referred to as NOD) each month for about three or four months. But I should ignore those, she advised. Once those three or four months had passed, I should receive a Notice of Trustee Sale (also known as a NTS). When I received that, I should call back and ask for a Forbearance Agreement. I thanked her and asked for her last name and extension, so that I could continue working with her. Michelle’s reply was that they didn’t give out last names and anyone should be able to help me.
In retrospect, her refusal to divulge her last name or extension should have been a warning sign. Either someone was hiding something, or she might not be around long enough to continue helping me.
The other red flag should have been that my mortgage company, to whom I owed money, was advising me to stop paying them. I always did wonder why I couldn’t prove my hardship in another way. I mean, really, not having a job and having to rely on unemployment benefits to survive wasn’t hardship? Applying for a job that 1,000 other people were also applying for wasn’t hardship? Having to choose between putting food on the table or paying my mortgage wasn’t hardship enough?
Sometimes I get mad at myself and berate myself for being such an idiot as to have listened to them, given my current predicament. It’s easy to get down on myself, thinking of how I could have avoided losing my home. If only I hadn’t trusted my mortgage company to do right by me.
Then again, our financial institutions depend on our trust in them to manage our money. And, in return, we trust that they will give us clear advice, that they will guide us to ensure that we both get a mutual benefit from this trusting relationship. So, when we have that established relationship, we tend to follow their instructions and advice. Because they know the rules. Because they are the experts. Because, as corporations, overall, they should be just as accountable to the law as we, as individuals are.
But for now, because they’ve acted as if they are above the law, I am considered a squatter in my own home. For now, I’m back to waiting for the sheriff to ring my bell.