How to Stretch Out a Home Foreclosure for Years Losing your home to foreclosure is traumatic, no doubt. And for a variety of reasons--from internal bank bureaucracy and missteps to slow-moving government programs--the pain can stretch out for months.

It takes an average of 336 days for a home to move through the foreclosure process, from the first day a default notice was filed to the final disposition of the property, according to the latest report from RealtyTrac. That's the longest average since the 2007.

For Janet, a 48-year-old attorney and mother of five who asked that her full name not be used, the process has stretched out for nearly 900 days, and counting. That's more than two years without paying a single mortgage payment.

Her story is a lesson on how to keep a roof over your head.

"It requires fortitude -- never take no for an answer -- and an ability to not become intimidated by paper," says Janet, who now lives on Social Security disability payments. "Paper is just paper. If it's a 40-page form, fill it out and send it in. Never let the process get in the way of the goal -- to stay in your home."

From Success Story to Distressed Homeowner

Janet has the classic American bootstrap success story. She left a dysfunctional family at 16, got a job and an apartment, finished high school and started college. By the mid-1980s, she was married with two toddlers, going to school and bartending at night. Her husband left, but she earned her bachelor's degree and put herself through law school.

Decades of prosperity followed. Janet established herself as a real estate attorney and opened her own firm. Her children flourished. Janet remarried and had another child. She also adopted the 5-year-old child of a client who had died of cancer and whose spouse was killed in an accident a few months later.

And she bought property: "I reinvested every dollar I was making into real estate," she recalls. "Some were vacation rental homes, or flipped homes, but I was always reinvesting."

In 2006, Janet was diagnosed with breast cancer. She took out home equity lines of credit on the three properties she owned to pay the bills while she underwent treatment. "I thought the worst that could happen is I would sell the properties to pay off the debt, be healthy and go on my way," she says.

Janet fought through surgery, radiation and chemotherapy. Too sick to work, she went on Social Security disability. In 2007, she put her homes up for sale. The first two went into foreclosure.

A Short Sale Fail

In spring 2009, Janet and the kids moved into the smallest of the homes. She owed about $298,000 on the mortgage and roughly $44,000 on a second lien. In December 2009, she found a buyer willing to give her $100,000 in cash for it in a short sale. Her lender, Bank of America (BAC), didn't respond, and the court scheduled a foreclosure auction for February 2010.

Janet requested a postponement and contacted Bank of America again about the short sale. It appraised the property at $179,800 and rejected the offer. "The bank does not accept offers at 60% of fair market value," says Bank of America spokeswoman Jumana Bauwens.

A month later, a bank representative named Delila called Janet to tell her the offer would be accepted if she and her broker filed additional documents. Elated, she called the buyer, who was still interested.

"When I called back, I was told [Delila] had been separated from the company and there was no way they could reconstruct that file," says Janet. "The person who took over said 'No thank you.'" Janet asked that we not share her identifying information with Bank of America. As a result, Bauwens can't comment on that aspect of the situation. "It is very difficult for us to respond to [a situation] we haven't been able to research," she says.

In mid-2010, Janet's cancer recurred and she began another round of treatment. She got a fiscal reprieve in October when the bank froze all of its foreclosures while it conducted an investigation of its processes. (Bank of America is still trying to cope with the aftermath of the mortgage meltdown.)

Embracing the Delays


In the meantime, Janet tried the mortgage modification route. From September to mid-December, she called the bank more than two dozen times to request its Home Affordable Modification Program application package.

"Every time I called they would say, 'Oh, your loan doesn't qualify' or 'The investor who bought your loan doesn't participate,' or 'Because you have no income, you don't qualify,'" she says. She persisted, received the application, and spent the next several months sending it to various addresses at the bank's request.

In March 2011, Bank of America wrote to say Janet wasn't eligible for HAMP because the home wasn't her primary residence. She sent copies of her voter ID card, electric, sewer, water, and other bills showing she lived in the house.

In April, Janet received notice that her case had been delayed due to "additional processing time needed." May brought another letter informing her that the lender would call to discuss her loan's eligibility.

Rather than becoming discouraged, Janet learned to embrace the delays. "Once you know [the correspondence] has been received and you can prove it by signature, don't call to check your status," she says. "If the goal is to stay in your home, there's no benefit in moving your file from the bottom to the top of pile."

In June, Janet learned she'd been approved for a trial period in HAMP -- but the modified payment would be $19.96 higher than her original one. "I thought, 'What kind of crack do you people smoke?' If I couldn't pay the first one, I can't pay $19.96 more," she says. "I sent a letter in to begin the process again."

Bauwens speculated that the bank may have combined the mortgage, property taxes and insurance in one payment -- a standard procedure after a loan modification. If that's the case, it wasn't made clear in the documents examined by DailyFinance.

Mistakes and Misinformation


In September, Janet met with a Bank of America home loan counselor, who told her she was no longer eligible for HAMP, but was eligible for her state's attorney general's mortgage modification program. The woman also told Janet that she would be her only contact going forward. The next day, Janet received a letter instructing her to correspond with a different customer relationship manager. Bauwens says the letter may have been sent before the appointment.

Without explanation, in September Janet received a mortgage bill $264.25 higher than her original payment. Bauwens says it's possible that after the trial HAMP offer, taxes and insurance were added to the mortgage bill.

In October, the bank notified Janet that her HAMP offer had been officially canceled, attaching a "values chart" that explained the decision. It was riddled with errors: The income it listed for her was double her actual income; the property was valued at $264,252, despite BofA's earlier appraisal of $179,800; and it listed homeowner's association fees of $24.75. Janet's property isn't part of a homeowner's association.

"All she had to do was call back up and say the information used to calculate the debt-to-income ratio was wrong," says Bauwens. But under a HAMP modification, housing payments are set at 31% of income, and Janet's disability income might not be adequate to sustain even a modified mortgage payment. Depending on which state she lives in, Janet may be eligible for the Hardest Hit Fund, which helps homeowners who have suffered job loss, she adds.

In the letter cancelling the HAMP offer, Bank of America suggested Janet try to do a short sale.

Lesser of Two Evils

Janet says for now, she'll continue to return the ball every time it lands in her court, and will sue if necessary. "My original loan was with Washington Mutual, which was sold to Countrywide, which was sold to B of A, and I truly believe they don't have the requisite documentation to foreclose," she says. "But I still have avenues I can pursue on their own crazy agenda before I pursue mine."

Janet's ultimate goal: Hang on for another 18 months until her youngest kids graduate high school. She concedes the dubious ethics of her quest, but argues it's the lesser of two evils -- gaming the foreclosure system versus becoming homeless.

"I get it -- it's a moral hazard, but it's not by choice. If I could have traded cancer and the loss of my profession, I would have," Janet says. "People should walk in each other's shoes before they make those moral high-ground judgments."


Struggling with your own personal finance situation? I welcome your questions but it's also about your wisdom, ideas, and experiences that may help other readers. Email me at laura.rowley@teamaol.com. You can also follow me on Twitter @MoneyHappiness.





Increase your money and finance knowledge from home

Advice for Recent College Grads

Prepare yourself for the "real world".

View Course »

How Financial Planners go Grocery Shopping

Learn to shop smart and save.

View Course »

Add a Comment

*0 / 3000 Character Maximum

105 Comments

Filter by:
Sharlie L. Au

if 300,00 people all over the world heard Janet's story and she made a fundraiser for a dollar a person, she would be able to save her home. I guarantee 300,00 people could afford 1 dollar. Everyone needs a helping hand sometimes. Give a little and take a little. When you help others, others help you in return.

July 19 2014 at 12:59 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Teresa peahead

my boyfriend is about to lose his house an he hasn't worked in about 8 months he does have a child who is 6 that comes and visits him. He had came to a choice to either pay for his insulin and other meds to keep him alive or pay his mortgage. He has tried to get help form places that people have told him to go and do an they have denied him for not working when some of them say that they can help either way and its all lies right now.
can someone please help and let me know what else he can do. The bank wont even talk to him or one of the companies that tried to call them.

October 22 2013 at 8:15 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Antonio Bernard

I am EVa Morgan, from New York City.
I have done Chemo and Radiation 2 times for my Skin/Breasts. My battle with cancer started 5 years ago, after so many Chemo, Radiation, 1 surgery and other natural therapy treatment that i took just to cure my Skin/Breast cancer, it all didn't work for my condition. I have been treating this disease for the past 5 years, but today i am here telling the world about my final victory over Skin/Breast cancer with the help of high grade Indica Bud Cannabis Oil that I bought from Dr. Bobby at: bayfordmedicalservice@gmail.com, This is a breakthrough in my family with so much Joy in our life today, i do really appreciate all the help and contribution from every member of my family for all they did for me and my daughter. Cannabis Oil is a world saver medication and it should be legalize worldwide, for those who wish to purchase the medication, just contact Dr. Bobby on: bayfordmedicalservice@gmail.com for purchase of medication.
What a wonderful medication called Hemp Oil, Please stop cancer with Dr. Bobby Cannabis Oil before it stop you from Breathing. It an advise to the World.
CANNABIS OIL IS THE REAL CURE FOR ALL CANCER. AM A LIVING TESTIMONY TO IT WONDERFUL HEALING.

July 03 2013 at 8:40 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
anon

I am trying very hard to reach someone at Daily Finance. Please email me: surferdancemd@yahoo.com. The comment with my name, a comment below (which I will identify when I am in contact with you) is wrong and false and I am wishing for it to be removed. Please help. Thank you very much!

August 31 2012 at 10:09 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
anon

I am trying very hard to reach someone at Daily Finance. Please email me: surferdancemd@yahoo.com. The comment with my name, a comment below (which I will identify when I am in contact with you) is wrong and false and I am wishing for it to be removed. Please help. Thank you very much!

August 31 2012 at 10:08 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Jacqueline Harris

Dear Janet,

I just read your story today. I am so sorry for all you have gone through.

I lost my job after a breast cancer diagnosis and due to my age, it has been difficult to find another one. So many people don't realize how life can change in an instant. For 40 years I have supported myself and my family and have paid my bills. My home is in foreclosure now and I have no intention of giving it up, unless and until I feel I am ready to do so.

I applaud your bravery on all fronts, I wish you well, and I hope that by now things have been resolved in your favor.

I know you will prevail.

I

April 22 2012 at 2:32 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
Maurizio Demaurizi

I am in a very similar situation. The story has been going on for over 2 years. I am now just not able to pay my mortgage. I am unemployed. Just don't have the money. I actually used credit cards, sold household items and even cashed in a 401K to keep the mortgage current. But the mess I went through with a short sale attempt and a loan modification was almost identical to this story.

I have a message for all the people out there who think people like us are sponges and immoral or whatever... I DON'T CARE ANYMORE WHAT ANY OF YOU THINK.

So, i will now make sound financial decisions for me. I will put up with 7 years of bad credit. Good credit got me here so it's not a total loss. I will go on living within the law for my best financial outcome. There are enough criminals out there. You who complain about the "legal squatting" should open your eyes and see who the real criminals are...

January 03 2012 at 1:50 AM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply
Cindy Hague

We are walking in Janet's shoes for different reasons. Our loan process followed almost the exact same steps, changing hands three times, the last time being from Countrywide to B of A, which displeased me from the beginning. Our income has reduced since 2008 by a minimum of 50% and at times, has been less than that. We went with the Fannie Mae loan modification program because that is what B of A sent us. Our payment was reduced by a whopping $50 and a new loan agreement for 40 years?! We have owned the home for 10 years. This was of little or no help. My husband and I have worked hard all of our lives and now find ourselves thinking foreclosure is the way to go just because we are so tired of fighting the financial situation that is threatening to overwhelm us every day of the week.

December 05 2011 at 6:48 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
gswag2000

I think this story should be on the front page of every newspaper, on the top of Obama's pile of papers on his desk and on every talk show..... what has happened to our country that would allow such saddness. I am in the middle of a modification and I can relate to this story. I am fortunate to have my health. I feel sometimes that the representatives of the bank put their own personal feelings into your life. I agree maybe they need to put themselves in your shoes.
One comment I received " You are the one who got yourself in this mess by not paying your mortgage not me"
REALLY.... are you kidding me.. It is time each of these organizations are audited for discrimination and unprofessional behavior. I do have a record of every phone call every piece of paper I have sent them. It becomes a fight to the death for your home... Thank you for this story it gives me the encouragement to keep fighting.

October 21 2011 at 10:27 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to gswag2000's comment
janet

Thanks. It is such a nightmare that no one truly understands until you are affected by it. Hang in there...

October 21 2011 at 9:33 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to janet's comment
k_dwelker

My name is Kenneth and I read your story Janet and my heart really goes out to you and I thank you for posting her testimony!

I'm in a similar situation. During my divorce which was filed in 2009 the judge stated in the petition that my ex wife and I were to let the family home go into foreclosure. I contacted BofA for a modification, they gave me the run around for years. My home is just now going into official foreclosure.

I have a chance to save my home which houses me, my new wife and our daughter along with my mother in law and brother in law! Myself, my wife, daughter and mother in law are all disabled. I was in a car accident in 2011 and I shattered 3 discs in my upper, middle and lower back. I have not been able to work a day since 9/16/11. Still awaiting SDI.

Here's my question. I can save my home so we are not all homeless Green Tree financing has even approved my modification. However, my ex wife who is now in her new home with a new man absolutely refuses to sign an "inter spousal transfer" and she recently told Green Tree that she wants nothing to do with me or saving the property. Is there any way I can petition a judge to compel her to sign or at least get a day in court so I can explain my situation?

I live in Butte County California. Thank you so much for all you do!

God Bless,
Kenneth

August 05 2014 at 1:21 AM Report abuse rate up rate down
maa2626

she being an attorney, I would assume she is putting her mortgage payments into an escorw account. once this all settled she would have a chunk of change to put down on her principal residence. I do understand she has had a tough run of luck and has taken on a parentless child, I applaud her for that. If you have a beef with someone or some company, money should still be paid, and put into an escrow account until the problem is resolved. If not, move out and move on, I and others that pay our mortages and live within our means are paying her mortgage.

October 20 2011 at 7:59 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply