The financial crisis hit many of us brutally hard -- me, me, me, and me! Of all the challenges I've dealt with, saving my home has been the most difficult. I worked so tirelessly, and ambitiously, overcoming a tyrant of a boss and a male dominated industry to buy it. But I did it! I had a beautiful three bedroom home, two car garage, and over three bathrooms to keep me company on cold and lonely Jersey City nights. But unfortunately, times changed.
The economy took a nose dive, and my personal life seemed to enjoy its fate of following the downward economic turn very closely. The fact is, all companies that were too big to fail (and didn't flop) got a bailout -- and yes, I am glad our entire financial system did not collapse. But they got a bailout and the average American got the middle finger. No one ever tells you it's okay to stop paying your mortgage or to fight for a better deal. No one taught me that. The only thing I knew is when I called Bank of America I didn't get any definitive information. I got diddly squat.
I remember someone telling me, "you can't even pursue a loan modification until you stop paying your mortgage." Wait, what?! But, that was not who I was! I was a good girl with a 720 credit score. I paid all of my bills on time. When I found my back up against the wall, it was my only choice to stop paying the bank. I couldn't sell because properties had started to foreclose and drag the values downward, I was between tenants (would faith bring a miracle?), and after years of flailing I didn't have the money to cover my misjudgments. I know, after years of betting on the wrong horse I should have known, but I had so much faith in my positive visualization techniques! And I assure you, I am not joking.
I finally stopped paying my mortgage and I had no idea how or if things would work out. Would I lose the only asset I had left and had worked so diligently to acquire and pay for all those years? I got lucky -- maybe the vision board did work -- and a longtime friend of mine in California, the other side of the nation away from my home in New Jersey, referred me to a company in Massachusetts called HSI Trust - HomeSavers, a non-profit consumer advocacy organization (aka HSI).
It took a while -- more than four months -- to finally get them to commit to my cause, but once they did I knew I had a real ally in my corner. Where many were screwed (to use a polite term) when the economic crisis hit and charged thousands for a loan modification that never materialized, HSI was charging a very reasonable and affordable monthly fee and showing me solid results. They worked liked dogs (I would get calls at 9pm their time on a Friday, and they wouldn't rush off the phone!). They understood what I was going through, they weren't judgmental, and when I needed a calming voice, they provided it.
I remember waking up to a holiday weekend, a time when all you want to do is have fun, and reading an email from my tenant asking if my property would be foreclosed on. I was mortified, sickened, worried, and uncertain. The perceived good reputation I thought I had earned in New Jersey would be destroyed when Sheriffs I used to hire for security at parties would now be serving my tenants foreclosure notices. And of course I was concerned for my tenant who was paying their rent! Would they be escorted out in a week by the local law enforcement? I answered their email immediately and honestly, letting them know that I had no intentions of foreclosure and was pursuing a loan modification with the help of a qualified consultant. Sadly I doubted my own words. Time and time again, everyone would remind me how the odds were against me and it was after all, "just a house."
After that incident, I frantically emailed Bruce Boguslav of HSI. Bruce's calming voice would arrive on the phone and effectively say, "Don't worry, calm down, just ignore them, we will take care of the bank." And yet another time we spoke he told me of other people who won their fight, received a loan modification and did not lose their homes - those who were willing to fight to the end.
My property is currently a rental home and I did receive a loan modification last year. I began paying the bank every month just like old times. But every now and again, I receive a letter from the bank's 'foreclosure prevention department' and I feel my nerves fraying all over again. I have the luxury to sell at some point soon. I don't live there and I actually -- shockingly -- have equity. I have the pleasant option to sell a home I no longer live in and to continue to rent in Los Angeles.
A woman with a home and no children is one thing. A man with a family that lives in the home is another. I am not saying it has been easy and it has taken its psychological toll on me and other single women (don't get me started on single mothers). But there is an undeniable cultural pressure on a man to provide and to protect his family. To do otherwise is to feel a failure in the most profound way.
Ailton Lima, a Brazilian Immigrant turned American citizen and business owner said it best: "The thought of losing your home is particularly tough. It challenges everything you got, including your manhood. You feel like you're letting your family down. You're not doing your job of protecting your family. You're worthless. How could you do that? Never mind the recession. It's your fault."
Growing up, everyone tells you how to play by the rules. But if you're like me, no one tells you how to break the rules successfully. The world had always been black and white, and now there was this huge gray area I needed to learn how to maneuver. Fighting for my home was emotionally draining and very stressful, but I know now that it is possible because it happened to me, and I want every red-blooded American homeowner to know that there is hope if you are willing to fight for yourself.