Despite programs meant to help, many homeowners still frustrated

Larry O. Doss Saturday, June 27, 2009

Home Front: Despite programs meant to help, many homeowners still frustrated

By Jim Wasserman
jwasserman@sacbee.com

http://www.sacbee.com/business/story/1978579.html


Day in and day out since 2007, callers who struggle with mortgages throughout the Sacramento region, those who can’t sleep for worrying, who want to stay with houses that have lost $150,000 in value, have phoned Home Front to fret and express a common sentiment.

"My lender," they say, is "difficult." Callers complain about long waits, bureaucratic snafus and a sense of not being helped. These calls have kept coming through every government program unveiled to help borrowers, despite every statistical release saying more loans are being modified.

Now, as the state has unveiled a law making lenders prove they have comprehensive loan-modification programs, a new round of callers have weighed in with their problems. Two told of modifications that raised their monthly payments instead of lowering them. One, regretfully, paid $3,800 up front to a loan modification company for that outcome. Another, sheepishly, told how a new-home sales agent told him – in 2007, no less – that his house would appreciate enough to refinance the adjustable-rate loan now taking him under.

Most callers feel lost, confused by a system that holds their lives in its hands, yet often provides no one point of contact, where e-mails and phone calls go unanswered. Frustrated, callers now are asking why state government is certifying this level of response as a comprehensive loan-modification program that exempts lenders from 90-day delays in foreclosing.

Home Front isn’t calling this a scientific poll of consumer sentiment about the state’s new foreclosure law. People who get modifications they need don’t call a newspaper to complain. And public relations staffs of big banks stress they’re adding staffers, improving efforts to keep people in their homes.

Yet the people call as always, one, two or three a day in the wake of the newest foreclosure prevention story, wondering how plans and programs launched to provide them help and hope, are still so hard.

All too often, all that can be done is to listen.


Pets pay the price

As foreclosures grind on, the tales of abandoned pets do, too. Coldwell Banker real estate agent Donald Stitt of Sacramento recently checked in with some stories about pets he’s finding in foreclosure properties. Here’s what he’s seen personally, he says:

• "Out on Hazel Avenue in the backyard of a foreclosed home was a caged, extra-furry black bunny. The metal cage was sitting directly on the ground in the middle of a large weed-infested backyard, out in the direct sunlight with no food and no water. I was so perplexed at this situation I did not know what to do first.

• "On Cottage Way, close to Cottage Park, on the side patio of a vacant home, I came across a poor 5-inch box turtle in a 2-foot-long aquarium with about 3 inches of the dirtiest water you’ve ever seen … No food, no toys, just trapped in this dirty aquarium, lonely, hungry and obviously abandoned.

• "In a vacant ’short sale’ home in Greenhaven, where supposedly the seller was still coming over every day to take care of the property he was about to abandon, he had also left his dog in a small crate in the hot garage. No water, no food, all day. Despite my pleas, the owner did not take the dog to be with him, but persisted in leaving him in this garage where he barked incessantly when someone was viewing the house. It broke my heart.

• "And I can’t tell you how many koi ponds and backyard ’water features’ that have lovely fish living in them appear to be abandoned with little or no care.

"I’m not sure what the answer is, but getting the word out can’t hurt," Stitt said. "A Realtor can do very little about these sad situations except for making frantic phone calls because we do not own the property. I want people to think about it. It’s heartbreaking."


Air let out of balloon biz

Alas, for a sweet memory of the housing boom. Once in the 21st century a person could make amazing money selling balloons – to home builders.

Carolyn Hadin of Balloons Creations by Carolyn still remembers being "swamped." Balloons by the dozens every day, said the Sacramento dealer. Balloons floating from rooftops, rising above any place that said, "Homes for sale."

What’s a housing boom balloon dealer do for an encore while builders slog through their slowest years in two decades or more? Hadin said she’s selling balloon bouquets and building up a corporate and wedding business.

"So far, knock on wood," she said, "everything is OK."


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