Home Front

A blog about the economy and the Sacramento-area real estate market.

March 12, 2008
When worried homeowners gather for help

Sounds of the city: It is 6 p.m. on a recent Wednesday, and time for the weekly worried homeowner session at NeighborWorks HomeOwnership Center of Sacramento. In a conference room on Alhambra Boulevard there are sweets in a jar from Citibank and an old Billy Joel song coming from the ceiling speakers: I Love You Just the Way You Are.
I am sitting in for a story about nonprofit counselors trying to help people avoid foreclosure. There are about 20 worried homeowners here, all with some kind of problem mortgages. They sit on folding chairs and listen as Marysville banker Robert Wenger Jr. tries to explain all the possible alternatives to losing their houses.

It is obvious that many of the people are having trouble following him. It is easy to get into a mortgage. You just sign where some someone tells you to sign. Dealing with it afterward requires sitting here and listening to words like deed in lieu of foreclosure and amortization. It can make your head spin. It feels like being in school or a hard economics class after you have been at work all day.

There is a lot of complaining in the room about not being treated well when they call their banks. The banks always tell them to call if they are having trouble and when they do call they get put on hold or dropped or their paperwork gets lost. A woman gripes about always getting some 20-year-old in customer service who will not transfer her to the person with 20 years experience that she needs to find.
Good luck, they tell each other, if you are still current with payments, but headed for the cliff in four or five months. If you are current it is hard to get the bank to pay attention to you at all, they say.

Near the end of their 90 minutes in the seats, a man asks the banker: How long do we think this storm is going to last? The answer has quite a few twists and turns because, of course, it is all just guessing.
An older woman asks the banker in all sincerity: What happened to the American dream with two kids and a little dog?
Answers a woman sitting nearby: The fence blew down and the dog died.
It is a small remark as traffic goes by on Alhambra Boulevard, but a big look at real life inside the U.S. housing crisis.

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