closing a chapter on the american dream

January 8, 2011 — Leave a comment

it’s taken a while to commit this to paper,so to speak. not because i had an really vested emotional baggage, i just wanted to have some clarity about what i was going to say. the easiest place to start is the beginning – we lost our house. there, that’s said, four simple words, in retrospect not all that simple. we joined millions of other families that could no longer afford their homes and were foreclosed by the bank.

before we lost our house, i lost my job. well one of them at least. and it was the one that counted – the primary one, the full time one with the benefits. the one the mortgage payment came out of.

it’s funny how you alway seem to spend as much as you have. this is not a tirade on how I got screwed by the mortgage companies or how the global economic meltdown screwed up my life, honestly i’m not sure what this is about.

looking back now, I guess our house purchase could be summed up with the following words – it seemed like a good idea at the time – probably the most damning words in any language. we went to our original mortgage company we told them what we were paying in rent and utilities and the price bracket we were trying to stay in and they told us what we would could afford. we thought we were being clever, nothing exotic – we got a simple fixed interest 30 year mortgage and found a house in our price range and bought into the myth that our house would appreciate in value and by the time the kids were off to college we could sell and move on. never quite worked out that way.

i think the moral of this story and so many other like it is there seems even in this age of instant messages, email and calls being recorded for customer satisfaction, we’re missing some fundamental communication skills. it took us six months to get enrolled into the HAMP program and honestly if someone had told us in december when we realised that we were over our heads what our options really were we would have walked away then.

for those of you that don’t know, the government partnered with the banks and mortgage lenders to create HAMP – home affordable modification program. the concept being that a lot of people we in trouble but wanted to keep their houses. should be a win/win for everyone right? not so much.

first of all the modification is based primarily on your previous years tax returns and you current income statements. if you lose your job close to end of the year and apply early in the new year, it looks like everything is kind of ok and your adjustment tends to be tiny and not all that helpful.

secondly there are some terms in the paperwork that people tend to overlook eg, if your payment is late, everything that you owe comes due. at the end of the trial period at the bank’s discretion if they feel you’re no longer eligible, everything you owe comes due. if you’ve saved too much (per their instructions) and appear to be ineligible because of said savings, everything you owe comes due. if they’ve screwed up your paperwork and claim you’re not actually in the program even though you’ve been pay regularly for two years, everything you owe comes due. and when i say everything you owe, that means the difference between the adjusted amount and the original amount on your mortgage, plus whatever late fees and interest that accrued -which in most cases will amount to tens of thousands of dollars. which if you’re unable to afford results in a foreclosure notice and the people at the bank that you spoke to previously suddenly becoming unavailable. only one of those situations was ours, if you look around you can find examples daily of people who have had the same experiences and either chose to stand and fight or like us, decide it might not be worth it in the long run.

my fundamental problem with this whole experience is the inconsistent message, i think in the 10 months i spent dealing with the bank i spoke to 15-20 different people and they all told me something different. it was if the left hand didn’t know what the right was doing. honestly if the first person i’d spoken to had said, “you need to be making at least another $600 a month to keep your house” we’d have started the short sale in december. as it turned out, contrary to what i’d been told a short sale does not stop the clock when your house is in foreclosure.

the other moral of this story is that homeownership like college is not for everyone. we loved our little house and great big yard and we had plans for the future however we knew in december 2009 that it was untenable but we believed that with a little help we could keep at the dream. now it’s time for a new dream – we unlike so many others have found somewhere to live, we are not without opportunities and have the support and understanding of our friends and family, so onward to the new chapter.

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