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Escaping the mortgage battlefront

Marketplace Staff Jan 8, 2010

Escaping the mortgage battlefront

Marketplace Staff Jan 8, 2010


TESS VIGELAND: Last year thousands of people either went into foreclosure or got really close to it. And our next commentator had a front row seat to the carnage.

Harriet Brackey: Whenever I write about mortgage loan modifications, I feel like I’m a battlefront reporter.

Harriet Brackey is a columnist for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

Harriet Brackey: On one side of the field, hundreds of thousands of people in trouble. They want to renegotiate their mortgages to hold on to their homes. They’re frustrated on their best days. On other days, they’re furious.

On the other side of the field are the nation’s biggest banks, who are sort of coping with the crisis but not really resolving it.

Both sides take aim, and I have to sort it out for a story.

The phone rings and it’s an elderly lady with cancer who can’t get Bank of America to give her a break on her mortgage. Or, it’s a man who lost his job a year ago, who says the bank won’t consider him in danger of default, so it won’t negotiate. People say they send in the papers three and four times, but the papers are lost.

Talk to the banks, and the folks who work there say they’re not having fun either. JPMorgan Chase made some four million phone calls to borrowers in three months, compared to 400,000 the year before. Wells Fargo says it reaches out to each customer 20 times or more to try to get them to fill out the papers. Many, or most, don’t.

So this isn’t working. And I say that again and again and again. I need to move on to other battles, so here’s my plan to end this one:

Stop with the 22-page questionnaire that asks borrowers to submit their monthly budgets. If a borrower says he or she can’t afford the monthly payment, the bank should have to respond within a certain time period with a counteroffer. Can’t pay $1,000? What about $800 for a couple of years and then bump it up again later?

Make it quick. I’ve heard of people spending months to even a year waiting for an answer.

Make it transparent. If the bank thinks the borrower will never be able to afford this mortgage, the bank should say so. And then give the homeowner a time frame, so they can try and sell the house, or try to save the home some other way before reaching the point of foreclosure.

But most of all, make it end! I, for one, have battle fatigue.

Vigeland: Harriet Brackey writes for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

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