Facing Foreclosure 

The national crisis finds a home in western Montana

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"Because if you don't document," she says, "they don't believe you."

Last November, the bank agreed to allow the couple into a trial loan modification program, which entailed three months of lower payments. Scott says they paid the modified mortgage monthly during the trial and for months after the fact, as the lender stayed mum on whether or not they qualified for a long-term modification. Finally, at the end of June, the couple received a letter from Bank of America stating that it appeared they weren't eligible for a long-term modification. The letter also stated the bank would notify them in 10 days about its final decision.

"That notification never came," Scott says.

Anxious to secure a long-term solution, Scott says she contacted Bank of America twice by phone and continued making monthly payments. The bank sent a letter to the couple in July, notifying them in a "notice of intent to accelerate" that it expected to begin official foreclosure proceedings. The demand letter explained the only way to avoid repossession was to pay off money owed, including the difference between the modified mortgage amount they'd been paying for nine months and the original higher monthly payment. They'd also have to pay an array of legal fees, including the cost of having a bank-contracted inspector visit the home to ensure that it was occupied. The total amount due was more than $11,000.

click to enlarge HomeWORD foreclosure prevention specialist Brendan Moles handles the majority of foreclosure cases in Missoula and the surrounding area. As the economy continues to suffer, an increasing number of local residents can’t keep up with their home loans. “Their income is just not there,” he says. - PHOTO BY CHAD HARDER
  • Photo by Chad Harder
  • HomeWORD foreclosure prevention specialist Brendan Moles handles the majority of foreclosure cases in Missoula and the surrounding area. As the economy continues to suffer, an increasing number of local residents can’t keep up with their home loans. “Their income is just not there,” he says.

The bank stated in the demand letter that the home was slated for foreclosure on Aug. 27. Scott was frantic. Her worry switched to anger two weeks later when a second notice to accelerate arrived, stating she owed $11,914 rather than $11,268, and the onset of foreclosure was slated for Sept. 13, not Aug. 27.

"I called them. I said, 'What am I supposed to believe here?' And the woman told me that the first one was sent out by mistake," Scott recalls. "That's when I started thinking this is just absolutely ridiculous. You cannot send somebody a letter [saying] you're threatening to take their home away from them and you want $11,000 from them and tell them that that was a mistake.

"I was at my wits end," she says.

When contacted for comment, Bank of America did not elaborate on specific negotiations with Scott. The bank did refer the Independent to a press release, which states that the mortgager completed 700,000 mortgage modifications since January 2008, including roughly 16,500 in September alone.

Scott shared her correspondence with Bank of America with the Independent for verification.

After the frustration stemming from the two different notices to accelerate, Scott continued making her modified payments, still hoping to negotiate a deal. On Oct. 8, when she attempted to pay the mortgage, the bank told her she couldn't, because it initiated foreclosure Sept. 28.

Scott says though she got the notice of intent to accelerate, Bank of America never advised her through the legally mandated protocol for launching foreclosure, a notice of trustee sale, that her home was being repossessed.

She doesn't have to refer to her notes to remember the subsequent conversation she had with the bank.

"I said, 'How were you going to notify me?'" Scott recalls asking a Bank of America employee over the phone. "They said, 'Well, through the mail.' And I said, 'It's been 10 days, it should have gotten here by now, don't you think?' And they didn't have a very good answer for that. She said, 'Well, here's the number for you to call. They might be able to help you.' So, I called yet another department of Bank of America, and I said, 'How did I get into foreclosure?' And he goes, 'Well, you're just in it.'"


HomeWORD foreclosure prevention specialist Brendan Moles works as an advocate for Scott, and he says her story is typical of the current foreclosure market. People being foreclosed upon are rarely if ever able to speak to the same person at a mortgage servicer, and are often transferred multiple times to a variety of different departments. Moles, who's been in the lending business for 14 years, says case review is sloppy, with lost paperwork a common problem.

"Basically, it's a frustrating, daunting, confusing process for all people involved," he says. "You have to be a bulldog in this process."

Moles tries to be a bulldog, but negotiating with mortgage servicers is exhausting. He handles the majority of foreclosure prevention cases in Missoula and the surrounding area. He's currently working with 23 clients, averaging roughly two new cases per week.

"I'm getting files from Polson. I'm getting files from Thompson Falls," Moles says. "It's a pretty tremendous load."

The job is also emotionally draining. Moles admits he has a tough time leaving work at the office.

"It's been a very hard process," he says. It's very hard for me. It's very emotional for me. It's very frustrating for me. I take it on personally."

NeighborWorks Montana pays a portion of Moles' salary in Missoula. The nonprofit also funds similar foreclosure prevention efforts across the state.

Largely because of challenges dealing with mortgage servicers, NeighborWorks foreclosure prevention specialists statewide have a success rate of roughly 4 percent, meaning only four of every 100 Neighbor-Works clients who attempt to negotiate a permanent loan modification actually completes the deal.

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