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Battle with the Bank Part I:

Pick a Prey

As of this writing, I have recently emerged from a 4 1/2 year battle with the banks. That’s right, folks:  after 53 months tangled in the web of a mortgage from hell, I finally ended up with the mortgage I thought I had in the first place – one that’s neither illegal, predatory, nor unscrupulous.

The all-consuming task of avoiding foreclosure was the prevailing theme of my life for years, and all my relations on Vashon heard about it, most more than they wanted to. I was a broken record, telling the same story over and over again with no resolution in sight. More than once I nearly gave up. I write this to encapsulate the experience while giving an ending to the unfinished story I’ve told for so many years; thank those whose help was invaluable; and pass on a word or two to those who are in the same situation.

Designed to Fail
Let’s get one thing straight: this mortgage was designed to fail. As most of you know, the architects of these loans bet against them and profited in the billions. When the economy crashed as a result of these corrupt dealings, they were bailed out to the tune of billions and in turn, gave themselves billions in bonuses. (Getting tired of that word “billions” yet? Because it will come up again.) Though the country had millions of homes in foreclosure and people all over were suffering from the fallout of these predatory practices, not one banker was criminally prosecuted. All the while that I was fighting to keep my beloved home in the beautiful woods of this little island, I watched as the bankers responsible were given no consequences for their actions, were again making record profits and (you guessed it!) doling themselves out yet more billions in bonuses. This situation added insult to injury and only fueled my resolve to keep hanging on.
The behavior of the banks at every juncture in this story is so outrageous that it’s hard to believe.

I’ll start not quite at the beginning of my story, with a refinance in 2006 to mitigate damages from a bank error in the previous loan that was costing me hundreds of dollars a month and hurting my credit. The new loan was a “pick-a-pay” loan. (The lawyers call them “pick-a-prey” loans because they’re so predatory.) This is the very loan that caused so many problems – the worst in a macabre lineup of bad loans in which each one is uglier than the last. I signed the documents based on the bank’s explanation of the terms. Not only were these terms later found to be illegal, but the banks were found to have intentionally misrepresented these loans across the board. Although the bankers broke consumer protection laws by doing this, there has never been any real consequence or oversight.
A few years later, struggling to make ends meet as a handyman/carpenter in an economy ruined by the bankers, I began calling my bank to negotiate about my payments. Having been given the runaround for weeks, someone on the phone took pity on me. “You didn’t hear this from me,” he said, “but we won’t take you seriously until you miss a couple of payments.” Of course, as soon as I did this, they told me they’d take the house – it was all or nothing.

The Runaround
The process quickly devolved into a cyclical undertaking of paperwork, faxing and phone conferences. They continually gave me a target to hit, and when all the documents were compiled, they would tell me that the rules had changed, and the target was again moved. If I hadn’t had a loyal friend and organizer helping me with every step of the process, there’s no way I could have kept it up. We spent untold hours, month in and month out, gathering paperwork, making phone calls, and sending faxes. Nearly numb with the constant up-and-down, it took us 2 1/2 years of this runaround to conclude that these “home preservation specialists” were anything but that. I wasn’t dealing with people who could make decisions, but with one low-wage gatekeeper after another, paid to run you ragged until until you collapse of frustration and exhaustion and resign yourself to helplessness. Thousands of people, locally and nationally, are giving up and walking away in grief from their lifetime goal of home ownership. Believe me: it is advisable to get a second opinion when a doctor wants to remove one of your organs, or a banker wants to remove your home.
So, I got a lawyer. Should’ve done it in the first place, though there’s more to that story, too...

To be continued...In the next Vashon Loop out June 5.