I don’t, as a rule, like attorneys. I’ve learned through personal experience that too many of them rely on their oratory skills inside a courtroom, instead of hard work and research that would better serve their clients.
That being said, I believe the time has come to pick up the phone and dial 1-800-GET-LEGAL. Obviously, family crusaders or aviation legal experts wouldn’t be your first choice, but still, if you have the Yellow Pages, there’s an attorney there for you.
We’ve prevented our consumer-first, friendly small-town banker from foreclosing on our house. Not once, not twice, but three times. And it’s all because of a lawyer named Mike.
To back up, though, let me share with you a story about someone else who wasn’t so fortunate: After seeing her husband die from a tainted blood transfusion during the 1980s and being left to rear five children single-handedly, “Lea” spent the next 14 years picking up the pieces of her life and saving the family farm. Lea literally saved the only thing besides her children she had left—a humble home on a small plot of farmland.
Two years ago my daughter called to tell me Lea, her mother-in-law, was having her home auctioned off on the courthouse square. By the time my daughter, who holds a bachelor’s degree in finance and who studied accounting simultaneously, realized what had happened, it was too late. Lea’s house, the only place that held memories of my son-in-law’s late father, was gone. It was a victim of the current housing crisis facing too many families around the country. (See the Nov. 3, 2008, Tampa Bay.com article about Dean Rivett, a Florida homeowner; he’s suing the bank that foreclosed on his home.)
My daughter told me that when she finally saw Lea’s financial documents, with the tiny text and lengthy legalese, she realized her mother-in-law had been had, a victim of a refinanced mortgage gone awry. The terms were far beyond what Lea could have ever hoped to repay—and the bank knew it.
About that time, I took an out-of-state job and left my husband in our 5,000 square-foot house, which he and his first wife, Shirley, custom built. (She passed away after a 10-year battle with cancer.) Fresh out of college with a business management degree, I found I wanted to do the same thing I always had: pursue and report the truth for the public in a journalism setting. To do that, I had to leave the area.
So my esposo, Kinsey, God love him, still facing Shirley’s medical debts and a few of my own, decided to refinance our home, leaving us with a $3,000 monthly mortgage. From a distance, I inquired if it was something we could afford. If it was a good idea. If the bank was engaging in predatory lending. If the appraiser (who set the value at almost $400,000) was in cahoots with the banker.
Yes, yes, no and no, he said, assuring me he knew what he was doing.
But he didn’t. Not unlike perhaps millions of other homeowners, he couldn’t even comprehend, much less read, the fine print. Whether that was his fault is a debate for another day.
In the meantime, just before the August foreclosure date, Attorney Mike threatened to file an injunction if the bank went through with its plan to auction off our home. The bank countered with its own claim, that it only had to get about half of what the house appraises for. “I don’t think a jury is going to look too kindly on that, if you’re planning on selling the house for (so much less),” Mike said. The bank backed down and we won Round One.
Round Two, which we also won, came and went in October. Round Three, however, just played out. This is how: We are filing bankruptcy. The November 12 auction was cancelled and we have 60 days to do what we have been trying to do ourselves: sell our home, which is too large now that our children are grown and gone.
Yes, it’s a stop-gap measure, a way to buy time. But, given what we now know—the appraiser was a little too friendly with the bank, the banker knew we couldn’t afford such an outrageous house payment, and now they are scared to death of being sued—I’d say we’ll be okay. (See the Nov. 11, 2008, San Francisco Sentinel.com story about California Attorney General Edmund G. Brown Jr., who “uncovered (a firm that) was soliciting hundreds of homeowners with mail flyers offering to help them stop the foreclosure process on their homes” and is going after predatory lenders. He's one of many such prosecutors.)
And remember: Just because the buzzards are circling, doesn’t mean they get the prey—especially if you don’t just lie down and die.