Home Front

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

October 9, 2008
An earful about the Bank of America/Countrywide settlement
 My phone has rung off the hook since Tuesday's story about Bank of America agreeing to rewrite $8.7 billion worth of mortgages originated by Countrywide Financial Corp., the ailing lender it bought for pennies on the dollar in July.

 I think it's up now to about 20 callers on the line at various times asking how they can find out more, learn if they're eligible and get on a list for help. The problem is I can't offer a number since Bank of America hasn't provided one. It just says it is staffing an office now that will start on Dec. 1 to identify who needs help and who will get it.

  This all stems from a legal settlement with Calif. Attorney General Jerry Brown and other attorneys general alleging that Countrywide used fraud and deception in originating risky loans that earned it huge commissions.

  What an earful I've had since. People from Sacramento, Stockton, Dixon and even Los Angeles, pouring our tales of sleepless nights and loans that are consuming their savings and that of their relatives trying to keep them above water. Some have called on behalf of their kids or a neighbor. I have referred some of them to non profit loan counselors. A couple of the callers have been small-time investors who bought a rental and don't qualify for any help. Always, there is this great weariness, this fear on the line. These people are worn down.

A lot of people think everyone who  got in over their heads with a bad loan should go down with the ship, lose the house, let the market flush them out. There's a case for that, sure. It seems to be the outcome that's happening most often.

But it's sure hard imagining yourself in these peoples' shoes. These are real people who regret not looking at the details of loan papers set in front of them. They could kick themselves. Why didn't they see it? They have pick-a-payment Option ARMS that are getting bigger. They have resets that costing them more of the check every month. One guy said his wife died last year and her Social Security was part of the income stream for his mortgage. In the background was his television set. He was babysitting the grandkids. He said the Countrywide loan is taking 43 percent of his income.

 Bottom line, I can't tell who is innocent or guilty, who should have been smarter or who foolishly refinanced to buy a boat and other toys. I don't know how this is going to work out for all these people. I just know a lot of people read the story and suddenly realized they might have an out, after all. Always, on the line, you can hear the fear and the shame and the embarrassment. I hope for a lot of them they get to some kind of happy ending.

 I know I've heard just a fraction of all the loan trouble that is swirling now through Sacramento.  Have to run. Here's another call.
 

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