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10 Homeowner Tips to Prevent Foreclosure


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IFPN Homeowner Foreclosure Prevention Tip Sheet

1. Don’t ignore the problem. The further behind you become, the harder it will be to reinstate your loan because you’ll have fewer options and the more likely that you will lose your house.

2. Act fast, even if you are not in foreclosure yet. If you are struggling to pay your mortgage, or had a reduction in income or expect an income reduction soon, find free relief now so you are not stretching, don’t wait until you’ve exhausted all of your savings.

3. Visit the Illinois Foreclosure Prevention Network (IFPN) website to find free housing counselor— or call the IFPN hotline at 1-855-KEEP-411 (1-855-533-7411).  Foreclosure counseling more than doubles a homeowner’s chance of receiving a loan modification and reduces the likelihood of re-default by 67%.

4. Attend a free, foreclosure prevention workshop like the IFPN Keep Your Home Illinois event in Berwyn March 31.  On-site resources can help you whether you are in foreclosure or just struggling to pay your mortgage.

5. Open and respond to all mail from your lender. The first notices you receive will offer good information about foreclosure prevention options that can help you. Your failure to open the mail will not delay or stop the foreclosure process.

6. Know your mortgage rights. Find your loan documents and read them so you know what your lender may do if you can’t make your payments.

7. Understand foreclosure prevention options. Valuable information can be found online. Visit the Illinois Foreclosure Prevention Network website at

8. Avoid so-called foreclosure prevention companies. Never pay a fee for foreclosure prevention help—use that money to pay the mortgage instead and find a FREE qualified housing counselor by calling 1-855-KEEP-411.

9. Never sign a legal document without reading and understanding all the terms and getting professional advice from a housing counselor. If you sign a document appointing someone else to act on your behalf, you may be signing over the title to your property and becoming a renter in your own home!

10. Maintain a household budget. A budget helps you recognize problems before they arise, and you can then change your commitments and behavior to prevent them. A housing counselor can help with this.

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Dale Moss | Clark mediator program helps homeowners avoid foreclosure

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They have been really sick. Or they lost their jobs.

But all of them are in danger of losing their homes.

They come Friday afternoons to the Clark County courthouse, where Bob Bottorff hears their woes. As part of a program launched by the county last year, he referees meetings — called settlement conferences — between them and the banks they owe. The intent is to stop foreclosure, to find some way to make both sides happier, if not happy. It does not necessarily happen, but it can.

In the program’s first year, about 50 Clark families remained in their homes when hope otherwise would have been lost.

“It’s a good example of government doing something positive,” Bottorff said.

Low-interest federal loans are positive. So is state aid for the part-time services of Bottorff, a Jeffersonville lawyer. And Dan Moore, a Clark Circuit judge, readily points everybody facing foreclosure to this chance to head it off at the pass. “If we can resolve it without a trial, let’s do it,” Moore said.

Moore said he hears Bottorff’s voice rise, now and then, from an adjoining room. The sessions are not routinely contentious, however. This is not a clash between good and evil. Debt is not simply to be forgiven, waived away. “There are not a lot of defenses to a foreclosure case,” Moore said.

Payment can be restructured, however, and interest rates lowered. Banks probably do not want a bunch of empty houses on their hands, after all. “They just want to be paid,” Bottorff said. “That’s not wrong. That’s just the nature of the beast.”

Why not then work a little harder, perhaps bend a bit more? “They’re hard-working citizens, not deadbeats,” Bottorff said of these beleaguered borrowers. “They’ve just had some hard times.”

This is legal business, the stuff of paperwork and more paperwork. Bottorff helps make sure it is properly completed, which alone is a valuable service. Some homeowners return and return until their ducks are in a row. Bottorff is no one’s attorney in all this, but is everyone’s big brother. He explains. He listens. He reasons.

But if a homeowner cannot keep up his or her payments, no matter what, Bottorff cannot fend off the inevitable. Foreclosure proceeded last year in Clark in 43 instances.

Bottorff lays out all the options and six homeowners chose bankruptcy in 2011.

By state law, all counties must try to stem the foreclosure tide. Clark jumped on the challenge, and established Bottorff as a mediator. Moore rode herd on setting up this approach, one more way he has tried to relate justice to the needs of the locals.

The son of a bus driver and a cleaning-crew member, Moore said he is a poor kid at heart. “If we can do some good, we’re obliged to do that,” he said.

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Manhattan foreclosures up 11% in last part of 2011

The foreclosure crisis is tapping on Manhattan’s door.

Foreclosure notices in the borough rose 11% in the final three months of 2011 from the prior-year period, according to a report from NYU’s Furman Center for Real Estate and Urban Policy.

In Manhattan — the only borough to post a rise in notices — 39 multifamily rental buildings, out of 138 total, entered foreclosure, the most since the third quarter of 2009, the center reported.

“That’s something to watch because there has been worry about the multifamily building stock,” Furman Center director Vicki Been said.

The rise also helped the number of Manhattan households affected by foreclosure notices more than double from the prior year.

Manhattan’s foreclosure problem remains small. It had the fewest notices of any borough, with the bulk in Brooklyn and Queens out of 2,218 citywide.

Across the city, notices were down 33% from a year ago and off 63% from their peak in the third quarter of 2009.

While that’s a positive sign, “it doesn’t signal that we’re out of the woods,” given that it’s not clear how much of the slowdown is due to the logjam of foreclosures proceedings in the courts, Been said.

The number of sales transactions citywide fell 11% in the fourth quarter of 2011 from the same period in the prior year.

“Transactions were down in every borough, and sales volume citywide was at its lowest level since the second quarter of 2009,” Been said.

Compared to the third quarter, sales volumes in the five boroughs were down 16%, the report showed.

Manhattan took the biggest hit, falling 24% year-over-year.

The only borough to post a gain in transactions was the Bronx, where sales rose 10% from the fourth quarter of 2010.

At the same time, though, prices were basically unchanged from the prior year, pointing to a stabilizing market.

From their peak in 2006, New York City prices were still down about 24%.

Nationwide, home prices in January fell 3.8% from a year earlier following a 4.1%-drop in December, according to SP/Case-Shiller’ index of values in 20 major cities.

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Foreclosures tick down slightly in February

The number of U.S. homes stuck in foreclosure ticked down slightly in February when compared with the same month a year earlier, new data released Thursday shows.

Approximately 1.4 million homes, or 3.4% of all homes with a mortgage, were in foreclosure last month compared with 1.5 million in February 2011, according to Santa Ana research firm CoreLogic. That was flat compared with January.

Banks completed about 65,000 foreclosures in February 2012, or about 1,000 more than in February 2011, and 10,000 more than the month prior, the research firm said. At that pace lenders are set to foreclose on some 670,000 homes this year.

Banks are also selling foreclosed homes at a faster clip, said Anand Nallathambi, chief executive of CoreLogic. That and “better employment news, and continued historically low interest rates are all positive signs of improvement in the housing economy,” Nallathambi said.


Home prices decline in January

Home resales jump more than 4% in January

New home sales fall 1.6% in February; KB Home orders tumble

Article source:,0,4865854.story?track=rss

Getting through the foreclosure mess

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Washington Post reporters or editors recommend this comment or reader post.

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Colorado lawmakers nix foreclosure bill, calling it overkill

Legislators who killed a bill requiring that lenders prove they have the right to foreclose on a home say they did so because they tired of laws reforming Colorado’s foreclosure process.

And some rolled their eyes at the ever-present grassroots group that brought it forth — the Colorado Progressive Coalition — suggesting it might have succeeded with different backing.

HB 1156 died in committee two weeks ago on a mostly partisan 8-5 vote, after five hours of testimony, mostly in its favor. One Democrat sided with a majority of Republicans.

Had it passed, it would have stopped a practice that allows foreclosures on just a lawyer’s say-so.

“They need someone other than those groups pushing this stuff,”


Blog: The Spot


Blog: The Denver Post’s political and editorial writers dish daily on local, state and national politics and policy.

said Rep. Spencer Swalm, R-Centennial, the vice chairman of the Economic and Business Development Committee, which killed the bill March 13. “But the bottom line, to me, is the big-government, overt intervention in this market.”

Others on the committee told The Denver Post that, in addition to “the same faces supporting and testifying in support,” they voted against the bill because the state already has passed too many laws addressing the foreclosure crisis.

Others decried adding regulation to what they called an overregulated industry.

“Since 2005, the legislature has run and enacted 15 different bills to affect and change the foreclosure process in Colorado,” said Rep. Chris Holbert, R-Parker, the former president of

the Colorado Mortgage Lenders Association. “Now is a good time to leave it alone and stop changing things. The process we have in place works fine. Changing things for the 16th time isn’t the right solution.”

Despite the outcome, Swalm, one of seven Republicans to vote against the measure on the 13-member panel, conceded it had merit. “It’s a mess,” he said of the foreclosure process, “and the system needs to work itself out.”

Rep. Beth McCann, D-Denver, introduced the bill that sought

to end a six-year practice in which lawyers representing banks and other lenders seeking to foreclose are allowed to file a document saying their client has the right to do so.

That document, known as a “statement of qualified holder,” doesn’t require attorneys to view any records that prove the bank holds the original mortgage on a house. In fact, the law even absolves the attorneys from culpability if they’re wrong.

The Colorado Progressive Coalition, which helped pen the bill, said it will continue supporting what’s right.

“We acknowledge that we’re around a lot,” economic-justice director Corrine Fowler said. “But it’s just too bad.”

Article source:

New foreclosure filings fell in fourth quarter

1x1.trans New foreclosure filings fell in fourth quarter

Foreclosure filings fell

According to the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC), the number of new foreclosure filings on American homes fell in the fourth quarter and while OCC official Bruce Krueger notes there has yet to be a robust recovery in the overall health of loans, programs are keeping borrowers in their homes.

Fourth quarter filings fell 16 percent from the previous quarter, marking an 18 percent drop from a year earlier. Foreclosures in process for the quarter fell 4.1 percent from the third quarter of 2011.

Kreuger notes that part of the dip is due to regulators’ efforts to get banks to stop “dual tracking” (wherein a foreclosure is filed while a loan modification is pending). Bank and government programs are seeking ways to keep homeowners in their homes rather than following the trend in recent years of going straight to foreclosure filings.

“I think we’re certainly seeing signs that servicers are starting to clamp down on that dual-tracking process,” Kreuger told reporters. “We certainly are not yet seeing signs of a robust recovery in the overall quality of the mortgage servicing portfolio.”

Market stabilization on the horizon?

Signs of market stabilization are here and Kreuger said that there is evidence that banks are pulling more borrowers out of the foreclosure process to negotiate a loan modification, a trend others are echoing. While incentives from the government are higher now for modifying loans and banks are more willing, modification programs do not always work.

Last month, after a year of heated negotiations, Bank of America, Cigitroup, Wells Fargo, JPMorgan Chase, and Ally Financial settled with 49 state attorneys general and the federal government for $25 billion to settle foreclosure abuses.

Settlement details were not immediately made public, but after thousands of pages of documents were released, AGBeat published a detailed breakdown of the $25 billion settlement which is pending final judicial approval but is expected to sail through.

Krueger said that going forward, the settlement will aide in the amount of loan modifications (particularly principal reductions) being offered, thus keeping homeowners in their homes.

Read More

1x1.trans New foreclosure filings fell in fourth quarter1x1.trans New foreclosure filings fell in fourth quarter1x1.trans New foreclosure filings fell in fourth quarter1x1.trans New foreclosure filings fell in fourth quarter

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Searching shadows for end to foreclosure crisis

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) — When Frank Verna pulls up to a battered, four-unit apartment building at lunch hour, he’s just over a mile as the seagull flies from the gated oceanfront palaces of South Florida’s wealthiest.

But this stretch of 21st Street, pocked by homes with boarded-up windows and dead-ending at railroad tracks, is unlikely to make it to a tourism poster. Verna turns the car around in case he needs to make a quick exit and reaches into the center console for a Smith Wesson MP40. The real estate agent tucks the pistol into his jeans.

“Just watch your step,” he says, pulling back the tangle of bushes grown across the building’s entry path. Beyond is the darkened doorway to Unit 1 — missing its door.

“I think there’s a dead animal over there,” says Verna, traces of New York’s Queens still present in his accent despite two decades in the Sunshine State. He aims his flashlight at a mat of brown fur in the center of a living-room floor blanketed in garbage. The stench of whatever’s in there is already potent and the summer heat is still months away. Nobody is home.

Verna is here because he specializes in distressed properties and Florida, thrashed by the mortgage and foreclosure disaster, has thousands of them. But figuring out just how many is not so simple.

Each month, analysts issue reports detailing the number of homes nationwide in foreclosure or held by banks. The implication is that if we can just find a cure for these loans and homes — either by matching buyers with houses or helping the borrowers stay put — the economy will be able to heal at last.

At ground level, though, it’s more complicated. The building on 21st Street is a good example.

The last buyer paid $309,000 for this place six years ago. But today the county appraiser says it’s worth less than a quarter of that amount. A bank filed foreclosure papers against the owner in 2008, but a year later withdrew the case. Legally, it still belongs to the original owner, subject to fines and liens by the city. But the bank sold the underlying mortgage note to a hedge fund for pennies on the dollar. That company has hired Verna to check the condition and occupancy status of its investment, on the way to making it profitable (His research indicates the owner has left the country.)

It’s one thing to take measure of the foreclosure crisis in the black and white of statistics. But here’s a reminder that reality also comes shaded in gray.

People in the foreclosure trade have a name for buildings like the one on 21st Street: “shadow inventory.” Broadly speaking, it refers to all the homes in the foreclosure pipeline that will eventually flow in to the market but aren’t there yet. In practical terms, the definition of shadow inventory varies considerably depending on which analyst you ask, and there is truth to be gleaned from each of their carefully calculated studies.

Numbers matter because figuring out how long the crisis will last requires knowing the extent of the damage. But if we’re going to take stock of the nation’s progress in working its way through the mortgage debacle, reading reports may not be enough.

The only way to fully comprehend what’s going on out there is to wade into the wreckage.

And to do that requires moving beyond the figures and the charts, and venturing into the shadows.


All rise and come to order. Judge Diana Lewis’ court is now in session. On a Monday afternoon, the three rows of benches in Courtroom 4B are packed. Lawyers and home owners who weren’t early enough to snag a seat cluster around the doorway and stand along the walls.

The lawyers are the ones in the suits who look like they belong. The borrowers are the ones in T-shirts and sneakers, clutching overnight-mail envelopes stuffed with fraying documents, looking around nervously like maybe they’ve already missed something. Taped to a white board in the lobby, 16 sheets of paper list the 136 foreclosure cases scheduled to be heard in Judge Lewis’ courtroom on this one afternoon.

Too late for a seat, Leanna Lalla, a lawyer representing homeowners, leans over to explain that today’s crowd in 4A is merely the norm, reflecting all those houses piling up in the pipeline.

“Do you see the shadow yet?” she whispers.

Florida, home to a quarter of all the nation’s foreclosures, is one of 20 states that rely entirely on the courts to deal with the crisis and the system is overwhelmed. A big part of the reason cases drag on for an average of two years is that last year’s robo-signing scandal forced banks to put the brakes on many cases with suspect documents. A settlement with state and federal officials has allowed the process to get moving again.

But the proceedings in Lewis’ courtroom hint at the confusion, as well as delaying tactics by both lenders and borrowers, leaving scores of homes stuck in the pipeline.

One of the first cases Lewis calls is Wells Fargo v. Killgore. The lawyer for a condo association steps forward, pursuing $15,000 in unpaid dues and fines on a Boynton Beach apartment in foreclosure. But a woman named Sue Elmore objects. Elmore is the daughter of the man who lived in the condominium at the heart of this case. She tries explaining to the judge that her father has Alzheimer’s disease and now lives in a nursing home. Years ago, he took out a reverse mortgage on his home and when he got ill, the family agreed to surrender it to the bank, a deal they thought was long done.

“In our minds, we didn’t own it any more. We gave it back,” Elmore says later. “We just did what they told us to do.”

Maybe someone forgot to tell the bank. Because the condo that the family thought they no longer owned is still listed in their name on the tax rolls. It’s not clear exactly how a home like this one should be classified or what it will take to figure out a solution.

Later, Lewis calls up the parties in another case, Nationstar Mortgage v. Sands. The homeowner tells the judge he thought a loan modification had been finalized, allowing him to keep the home, until a lawyer called to say it was back in foreclosure.

“That’s ridiculous,” Lewis tells the lawyer for the bank. “I’m not doing this thing two or three times. You’re making my head spin.”


From the courthouse, it’s a 15-minute drive to a neighborhood called Eden Place — a scene that is much more peaceful. On alphabetically named streets, well-tended, if modest homes built a half-century ago snuggle amid tropical foliage. But it’s not the same paradise it was 15 years ago when Jimella McKeag fled Pennsylvania winters for a pink stucco refuge on J Street.

“That one on the corner, he didn’t pay his mortgage. He just moved out to Okeechobee and let it go,” McKeag says, surveying the block from a plastic Adirondack chair beside her front door. “This one here, he rented it a couple of times. … He let it go and it went back to the bank.”

Of the 13 houses on McKeag’s block in Lake Worth, two are currently owned by banks after going through foreclosure. But neither is listed for sale. On this afternoon, a crew of three men is hauling mildewed mattresses and a sofa out of one of them; its living-room ceiling has caved in from leakage despite a blue tarp covering its roof. At the opposite end of the block sit two more homes that are clearly abandoned, but whose fate remains unclear. One was bought out of foreclosure by a local doctor last fall, but appears uninhabitable. The other, boarded up, still belongs to its original owner.

At the peak of the market, houses on this block sold for $250,000 or more; they’ve lost at least half their value. One day, these vacant homes will come out of the shadows and on to the market, affecting the worth of neighboring houses. Analysts pore over data trying to figure out just how many homes like this are hidden from view. But it’s not easy.

Economists at CoreLogic, a California company that analyzes mortgage data, weigh in at the low end, charting 1.6 million homes in shadow inventory nationwide. They count homes not listed for sale, with loans that are at least 90 days overdue, in foreclosure or bank-owned.

Others say the shadow is much bigger. Laurie Goodman of Amherst Securities in New York says it covers from 8.3 million to 10.4 million homes. Goodman’s analysis includes homes with loans that are at least 60 days overdue, have been delinquent in the past and are likely to go into default again, and thousands of homes whose owners are making payments but are likely to give up because they are so far “underwater,” in homes worth less than they owe.

“The question is ‘how long is the shadow?’” Goodman says. “I think some people are definitely underestimating the seriousness of the problem.”

Mark Fleming, chief economist for CoreLogic, says his analysis is a snapshot of the problem at the moment, while Goodman’s is more of a forecast.

“In many ways, we can both be right,” he says.

The difficulty of trying to measure shadows becomes more obvious the further you go down J Street. A couple of blocks south of McKeag’s house, more homes are cut into rental units and there are fewer trees. More homes are empty here, some marked with “No Trespassing” signs posted by the sheriff’s office. But the houses that are occupied are the most difficult to figure.

Take a two-family home with a carport in the 1400 block. According to county records, it has gone through foreclosure and is now owned by the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corp. But tenants say they are still paying rent to the previous owner. There are scores of homes like this, experts say, owned by lenders who have yet to pursue an eviction of borrowers who are not making payments.

Lenders have good reasons to delay. Empty homes require upkeep. Once banks claim a home, they are responsible for the taxes and fines from cities and homeowner’s associations. The loss on the loan goes on to their books. As long as a case in still in process, loan servicers continue to collect their fees.

A recent check of records in this one county found more than 10,000 cases in which a bank secured a final judgment more than a year ago, yet there has still been no change in title, says Michael Olenick, a West Palm Beach computer programmer who tracks the system.

Then there are houses like the white one in the 1300 block of J Street where Peter Gardner answers the door. Gardner, a former laser technician, bought this house for $44,000 in 1995. After a car accident left him disabled four years ago, he says he fell behind on his payments and tried repeatedly to work out a catch-up plan, borrowing enough money from his mother to cover the money owed, but not late fees. This is a variation of accounts often heard from borrowers and lawyers who represent them — for years, banks waited until people fell behind, then began imposing heavy late fees, while refusing to give ground.

Gardner, who says he hasn’t made a payment on his loan in years, thought about selling. A real estate agent advised listing it for $275,000 to get a quick sale. But he resisted. The lender began foreclosure proceedings three years ago. Gardner asked for a loan modification, but every three months the bank told him he needed to reapply. Finally, last fall, the house went to auction. The lender claimed it for $500.

The story doesn’t end there.

The home is owned by a subsidiary of Bank of America. Gardner expects to be evicted one of these days. In the meantime, though, employees of the bank still call every few weeks to tell him he’s behind on his payments and responsible for the house. “They want me to live in the house, mow the lawn, keep the air conditioning on so the fungus doesn’t grow in it,” Gardner says. He keeps telling the bank employees that he no longer owns the place, but they don’t believe him.

“Somebody went and sold my house and they’re telling me I’m not even in foreclosure,” Gardner says, standing in the driveway he no longer owns, but where he still parks. “I was mad crazy with it and every time you just have to laugh. Otherwise, you’d just kill yourself inside.”


The housing market is working through a riddle, trying to determine what homes are worth given limited demand. But shadow inventory keeps part of the supply hidden.

“It goes deep and you have no clue,” says Danielle Giunta, who checks up on distressed homes on behalf of lenders. Giunta sold real estate until the market tanked. But she’s repurposed herself for the times. Now, a few days a week, she drives a 120-mile route through six Palm Beach County zip codes, knocking on doors, noting broken windows or water damage and snapping pictures. She usually spends just a few minutes at each house and earns a few dollars per stop.

“The first few weeks I worked, I was very depressed,” Giunta says. Part of it was all the vandalism and garbage she came across. Other times, it was the conversations with families certain they were about to evicted. But, as an agent who stills watches the listings, she was also bothered by the difference between the number of homes for sale and all the others she was seeing.

“I go online and see what they’re reporting and it’s not the same,” she says. “It’s not going to be better for years …and the reason I say that is the truth is not out yet.”

There is, however, substantial demand for foreclosures at the right price. Driving through inland neighborhoods, agent Sharon Restrepo slows to point out small houses and condominiums. In a development called The Forest, she stops in front of a condo she bought for $30,000 a few months ago and resold to an investor for $40,000. After the investor paid $1,600 to fix it up, the place now rents for $950 a month. Restrepo says she’s buying five to 10 homes like this a month, turning most around as profitable rentals. You can’t build these houses for what they cost, she and others say.

But investors and those who represent them complain banks are not realistic about the prices they’ll accept. Verna, the real estate agent specializing in distressed properties, says that slowing the flow of homes into the market creates an artificially low inventory in some neighborhoods, which can temporarily lift prices. At the same time, lenders are increasingly selling homes or the underlying loans in bulk to hedge funds.

That’s where Verna comes in, tracking down borrowers to convince them to trade deeds for cash, and turning around homes like the building on 21st Street for resale. This takes patience and a strong stomach. Abandoned homes are frequently trashed or occupied by squatters. Borrowers are difficult to track down and reluctant to talk.

Verna has tracked one homeowner from address to address to address. Each time the real estate agent thinks he’s caught up, the man has moved again.

At this rate, Verna figures it will be three to five years before lenders let all the homes go. The risk is that, by moving too slowly they could artificially raise prices in some areas, which might spur investors who bought homes as rentals to put them up for sale.

“The truth of the matter is we would have already gotten over it if they just let the properties get out there and get sold,” Verna says. “So what are you doing? You’re not stabilizing the market. You’re creating more chaos.”


When Lynn Szymoniak moved to South Florida three decades ago as a lawyer for migrant farm workers, the land stretching west along Lantana Road was planted with cash crops. Today, a Home Depot store has taken over a tomato field. And what was once a U-Pick farm is now a neighborhood of 262 homes called Strawberry Lakes.

“Sometimes you can’t tell when a house is in foreclosure unless you go back two or three times, because the neighbors will do things like park their cars in the driveway, all in an effort to make things more secure,” Szymoniak says, driving slowly through the subdivision.

She points out houses with waterlogged newspapers piled on front steps and fabric hung across windows. One of her “favorites” is a house whose shingled roof has worn a blue rain tarp so long it has disintegrated to fringe, hanging from the eves like a monk’s haircut.

“But one of the things you may have noticed,” Szymoniak says, “is that with all these foreclosed homes we’ve come upon, we’ve come upon zero ‘For Sale’ signs.”

Szymoniak hasn’t counseled farm workers since the 1980s. But she found her way to Strawberry Lakes after battling to keep her own house. In 2008, Deutsche Bank filed foreclosure papers against her. By then, Szymoniak had spent years representing insurance companies in fraud cases and she’d become expert in spotting deception. She took note of suspect signatures on loan documents. Her detective work was instrumental in exposing the robo-signing scandal, reflected in $18 million awarded Szymoniak as part of the recently announced settlement between major banks and government officials.

Szymoniak’s frustration, though, extends well beyond what happened with her loan. She is convinced banks still are not doing enough to resolve the crisis. She points to Strawberry Lakes as Exhibit A.

The two- and three-bedroom homes here now sell for just a third of the $275,000 or more they fetched at the top of the bubble.

Few of the neighborhood’s homes are owned by lenders. But many bear stickers on doors and windows, posted by banks and loan servicers with a vested interest in their fate. “This property is managed by Chase,” reads one, at a home on Strawberry Lakes Circle. A look through the window reveals a dining room ceiling that is caving in.

At least three dozen homes are currently in foreclosure, with many cases dating back three or four years. Of those, at least five are houses where lenders won final judgments years ago, but have not moved forward.

In addition, at least 57 houses not in foreclosure are owned by people who paid far above what they’re now worth.

Prudent Alcindor, who paid $253,000 for a house currently appraised at less than $112,000, says he thinks often about whether to give up.

“I still pay, but I will never have the house. I pay to stay in it. But it will never be mine. It’s like I rent it,” says Alcindor, who works at a vitamin manufacturer. The financial pressure on his neighborhood is “getting worse and worse every day.”

It’s hard to know how others are doing in paying their loans. But Jeremy Vassalotti, president of the homeowner’s association, points out that as his neighbors have fallen behind, more responsibility lands on everyone else. Vassalotti, who owns a masonry company, lives in one of the neighborhood’s most carefully tended homes, with cast iron dragonfly sculptures on the walls by the entryway and stone frogs set amid the cedar chips.

But he spends substantial effort now trying to keep up with what’s going on at the houses around him. In Strawberry Lakes, 105 of the homeowners are behind on their payments to the HOA, a hint that more of them could be headed to foreclosure.

That uncertainty makes it difficult to measure the reach or duration of the crisis. But Szymoniak cautions against assuming that, just because the streets here are peaceful and the grass in front of the empty homes kept trimmed, the problem is going away.

“You know,” she says, pointing out yet another vacant house, “when anybody tells me we’re coming out of the foreclosure crisis, I always take them for a ride and let them see what’s happening” in neighborhoods like this one — bathed in South Florida sunshine, but set deep in the shadows.


Adam Geller, a New York-based national writer for The Associated Press, can be reached at features(at)

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Real Estate Traps To Avoid

Ten Tips For Getting A Fair Price On A Homesee photosAP

Click for full photo gallery: Ten Tips For Getting A Fair Price On A Home



Real estate is supposed to rival gold as one of the safest investments you can make. As the late rancher (and multimillionaire) Roy Rogers put it, “Buy land. They ain’t making any more of the stuff.”

SEE: How Moving Can Affect Your Finances

So why does a brief observation of the housing market tell us otherwise? Foreclosure, subprime loanspredatory lending, defaults, homeowner assistance … all these terms have become part of the national lexicon in the last few years, leading the easily intimidated to think that it’s impossible to ever build wealth (or at least not lose it) via real estate. Like most things in life that come with a reward, successful real estate transactions require diligence and discipline. They also require you to steer clear of some easily avoidable pitfalls.

Get Emotionally Involved With a Property
You say you “fell in love with” that custom-built 1960s-era, two-bedroom bungalow with the trellis and the orange trees? Good for you. Make sure you let the seller know that, so he can raise his price accordingly. Because monopoly power is a wonderful thing to give to the person you’re doing business with. Also, don’t think about resale value. The more tailored a piece of real estate is for you, the less appeal it’ll have to the public at large. If you ever want to sell it, you will have fewer potential buyers.

When you start thinking in non-financial terms, you’re already losing. Yes, a house has benefits (and drawbacks) beyond its price. That’s not the point. The point is that every transaction involves tradeoffs, and a slightly less desirable house at a far more agreeable price can make the difference between building wealth and overextending yourself.

You fall in love with people, maybe pets. Which is to say, beings that don’t come with inherent economic potential. Real estate is for investing in, not for having an irrational attachment to. (For other perks, check out The Best Part About Owning A Home: Tax Deductions.)

Buy the Pick of the Litter
The neighborhood is so-so, but the house in question is radiant. It’s twice as big as any other on the block, with decorative water fountains and a regulation basketball court to boot. It stands to reason that such a house will make a better investment over the crumbling shacks adjacent to it, right?

It won’t. You might not like this reality, but a house’s surroundings have as big an impact on its value as the house itself. The most modest single-family home in Chicago‘s Gold Coast will appreciate far more than a palace in Hunters Point, San Francisco. (For more information, check out The Truth About Real Estate Prices.)

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Edward J. Longstreth, Author of ‘The Joy in Wealth,’ Claims Foreclosure Is …

What can the average American do?

/ Edward J. Longstreth, author of “The Joy in Wealth,” maintains that many homeowners are still attempting to avoid foreclosure and dig their way out of negative equity. He claims there are severe risks to sellers and pre-foreclosure investors, even after a home has been sold through a short-sale. In addition, professionals often neglect to notify clients of their risk during a purchase, refinance, loan modification, foreclosure, or short-sale. Banks are suing sellers for deficiency judgments months and years later, while sellers believe they are free and clear of any liabilities. Longstreth has found ways to reduce these risks along with sources and strategies to come out on top of the financial crisis facing our nation.

With the metronome of real estate ticking to multiple beats and the stock market in chaos, it is no wonder people are utterly terrified of what to do next. Longstreth tells of personal experiences while offering risk reduction tactics concerning foreclosure, bankruptcy, loan modification, partnerships, contracts, starting and selling businesses, franchises, and insurance. “The Joy in Wealth” gives readers a chance to realize their risks while finding answers that they need. Longstreth also explains how to negotiate with banks and credit card companies by understanding their legal limitations. With home prices dropping by 50% or more, it is sad to see so many failed loan modifications and short-sales that could have been avoided. The good news is that there is help, with more coming everyday!

About Edward J. Longstreth:
Mr. Longstreth presently resides in Arroyo Grande, California with his wife Cindy and their three children. Cindy and Ed own and operate a multi-line insurance agency that continues to thrive after 14 years of business. As an avid reader of hundreds of business books and a pupil of several real estate gurus, Ed has experienced many investment successes and pitfalls. He is now sharing truths behind the surprising world of business and real estate investing, from building wealth to losing it all. Along with buying, selling, and rehabbing many homes, Ed has been licensed in multiple professions including: Mortgage Broker, Real Estate Sales Person, Life, Health, Property, and Casualty Insurance Agent, Long-term Care, and Annuities.

Media Contact:
Edward J. Longstreth
805 904-8722

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