People’s panel: the psychological cost of US foreclosure
We asked US readers facing foreclosure how they cope. Several Guardian readers share their experiences
guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 29 May 2012 19.09 BST
The foreclosure crisis continues. Since January, 26 of the largest American cities have reported surges in foreclosures. Around 2 million Americans currently face the possibility of foreclosure, many of whom may lose their homes this year.
For this edition of people’s panel, in collaboration with ProPublica reporter Paul Kiel, we asked readers facing foreclosure how they coped. What has it been like to face foreclosure month after month? How have you coped, and how has the financial stress affected your family and friends? Here are some of the stories shared with us.
For the full story, we recommend Paul Kiel’s The Great American Foreclosure Story: The Struggle for Justice and a Place to Call Home (also available as an ebook).
Ursula, New Jersey – facing foreclosure for 25 months
I was given a mortgage 100% financed in 2005 by Wells Fargo. I wasn’t ready for all the costs that come with home ownership and accrued over $20,000 worth of debt in a year. In 2007 Home 1,2,3, appraised my home for $50,000 more than when I just bought it. I was naive and thought what a great investment, and my debt is gone. My income decreased and I once again refinanced the second mortgage with BofA when I was unemployed. The credit ran out and I filed for bankruptcy in 2008. My sheriff sale is currently canceled due to all my robosigned papers, I assume.
It has been incredibly stressful. I am on antidepressants, antipsychotics, antianxiety medicine. I see a psychiatrist but all the medical expenses add to the stress. I’ve moved out of the home twice, but came back because the house is still there. It’s the biggest burden/nightmare and I see no end in it. I have no plans of where I am moving, I am in limbo. It’s destroyed my life.
Liz, Georgia – facing foreclosure for 28 months
It is a constant fear. It impacts every decision I make both large and small. I have no debt other than a mortgage. Am I supposed to file for bankruptcy? I’m a single mother. The boys have been alerted that we may be moving because I didn’t want a change to be abrupt, but that has been going on for a year and a half. Where will we be moving? When? What school are we going to next year? All I can say is, I don’t know yet. It’s an ongoing stress for all three of us.
Karen, Missouri – faced foreclosure for two years before losing home
We feel that our life has been taken from us. We are too old to get a loan for another place of our own to live and the feeling of failure has just about done my husband in. We owned our real estate for close to 35 years and then, because of my illness and disability and the fact that they would not work with us, has ruined our lives.
Carol, Texas – faced foreclosure for 60 months
I have been in a severe state of depression PTS for the past two and a half years. I have bouts of extreme anger, contemplated getting a gun to protect my property as city officials and lawyers and judges are in the pocket of the bank. I have not got a gun, needless to say the thought has crossed my mind. If it weren’t for people who love me and depend on me that would have been my solution. As it is I get by day to day in terror of a man with a badge and a gun coming to my home and throwing everything I own out in the street.
Laura, California – faced foreclosure for 31 months
I have gone to therapy, started taking yoga classes, and ended up being referred to a psychiatrist for antidepressants, which have helped. I have horrible insomnia, and end up writing letters at 2, 3, 4 in the morning. Not getting much sleep as taken a toll on my job, with only 3-4 hours a sleep each night, I was irritable and tired. I work at a prison, and needed to be on full alert. My doctor put me on stress leave because the foreclosure was taking such a toll on my mental and physical health. I had to file a grievance with my legal plan because they said they couldn’t locate another lawyer. Finally, I was able to secure a lawyer and we are still fighting the fraudclosure. We have a settlement conference on May 30, 2012.
Ludy, California – faced foreclosure for 60 months before losing home
Everyday is an agony. Undue hardship of sleeping and waking up in the morning knowing that the problem still exists has a devastating effect emotionally and physically. I spent lots of attorney’s fees and court costs to save our house from foreclosure. I even filed bankruptcy and have undergone five long years of fighting in court to save our house.
I prayed everyday that someday I will wake up and there will be good news for all homeowners who are in the same predicament as me.
I am still positive about the future. I had to forego the opportunity to focus on more important work and deal with this problem first. I was forced to file bankruptcy and just live on a day-to-day basis.
Jeff, Oregon – faced foreclosure for six months
It creates such incredible stress that it affected my partner’s health to the point of literally becoming disabled, going on social security disability (they approved his benefits so they obviously agreed with his stress and depression) and then dealing with a 50% reduction in income, which causes even more stress. We’ve had to borrow money from his family and are struggling to pay it back.
I don’t answer the phone from anyone unless I know who it is, based on call ID. Whenever I’ve tried to contact Bank of America, I have to start all over with information about why I got to this point.
We drive less, go out less, my partner can’t take all his medication, we don’t take vacations.
Margaret, New Jersey – facing foreclosure for 30 months
As older Americans, we feel concerned that we may have no future. We no longer regret that we have no grandchildren because we fear for future generations deprived of the benefits our forefathers fought so hard to achieve.
Hiring an attorney to deal with the foreclosure threat stopped the harassing calls after three years. Knowing that we have legal rights and having the courts affirm that we have a right to know who actually owns our note and mortgage has given us the courage to remain in our home and serve our community in the same way we have done ever since we were married almost 58 years ago.
We are grateful that we still have each other and have the mental capacity to understand that all this was something that was done to us and not by us.
We now know how important it is to know what our government is doing to control bank fraud and it is a guide to how we feel about the candidates for election.
Michelle, Virginia – faced foreclosure for 44 months
I could not sleep last night because, as usual, the two conflicting decisions from Chase, one written and one verbal, has me so confused and not knowing yet again on what to do for my children and I. I do not sleep well anymore and I began psychological treatment where each week I discuss what Chase did to me that week with my psychologist. I am being threatened by Chase, my whole life has been frozen although I did nothing wrong and I followed their detailed instructions for the last 14 months of my life in order to secure the permanent loan modification. Every single life decision I made was about this and I spent hundreds of hours like a full-time job of my time on this. They kept promising me that if I sent in one more document, one more document, and then finally when they verbally confirmed they got everything, they sent out that written letter rejecting me due to lack of documentation!
Jeanette, Indiana – faced foreclosure for 48 months
My foreclosure has not impacted my family much, it was only me and husband to begin with and then he passed away in 2007. Albeit, it has emotionally, financially and spiritually destroyed me. I’m not a widow, homeowner or human being, I’ve been reduced to a statistical number owned by BOA, FICO, etc. The entire experience has changed my life forever. My life will never be the same.
Not only has it changed my perception of life, life has changed its perception of me. I’ve been ridiculed at work, I’m looked down upon by peers and clients.
I had a good life. We were married. We both had excellent jobs, money saved, insurance, etc. and then … life happened. My husband became ill, was fired from his job while in the hospital. We lost our medical insurance and acquired more bills due to lack of medical insurance. Our credit card payments tripled because of insurance/billing conflicts with COBRA and auto insurance/medical. We tried to keep all creditors happy paying more and more due to increased interest until I was broke. Then my husband died and things went from bad to worse, literally in a heartbeat.
I have no hope for the future. My credit will never be the same. All of my money, time and energy has gone into trying to keep my home out of foreclosure. No one is to be trusted, especially BOA. As one young woman told me on the phone at BOA “it is our word against yours, good luck!”
Opportunities I have had to forego include just about everything our modern society cares about that is connected to a “FICO score”, a better job, purchasing goods and services, lower insurance rates, finding an affordable and decent place to rent, etc.
Jody, Michigan – facing foreclosure for 29 months
I planned on being a renter for life. As a single career-minded woman, my interests were best served by being able to move without consideration of selling a house; I had the ability to take promotions and jobs that others could not. After 15 years of feeling rootless, I decided to try and carve out a living in my hometown. Michigan has had more talent leaving than coming, and, with much fewer than average college graduates, I thought my home market would welcome a seasoned professional.
At some length, I did find a job, and it came with two unique perks I had never encountered: a defined benefit pension, and a job promise. No matter how the business was doing, there would only be layoffs through buyouts and early retirements; the company would always find another job within its organization for you. This seemed too good to be true, but thousands of my co-workers also had it in writing and believed it, since some of them had been re-trained, and many had been with the organization for over 20 years. I was the first new hire in ages.
So, with my trusty job pledge in hand, I decided to look for my first home. This was in 2006. Properties were vastly overvalued, and scarce. I found a small home, which was a foreclosure, and had been empty for over a year; the former tenants stripped all the appliances, ruined the walls and floors, and even dug up the landscaping. They started by asking $140,000, but with no interest, they eventually accepted my bid of $107,000. I still felt it was too much, but it was manageable.
My family helped me with new appliances and repairs. My boyfriend moved in and we were doing reasonably well. Then in 2009, they changed the “job promise”, and laid off hundreds of us. I knew immediately I would have problems with the payments, but you can’t negotiate any modifications unless you are three months behind at least. We managed to get an in-person modification meeting with the foreclosure attorneys and a representative from Chase. I explained how we were highly employable, we wanted to stay in the house, and they decided (and I am grateful) that they wouldn’t take action immediately. They would just set aside the file to buy me some time to find a new job.
Months went by. I still didn’t find a job and the foreclosure remained invisible. After about a year, I received word that a sheriff’s sale was indeed planned (in Michigan, you don’t get to go to court). But then they invited me to participate in another modification program. My paper was lost countless times, I received differing advice from all of them. I am no expert, but I believe the law requires that once you apply for a modification, they must postpone the sale for 45 days while they consider your application. So I apply, they reject. On one day, for example, I received two separate packages from Chase: one telling me I had exhausted all my options, and another, from another representative, offering me a new program for the unemployed. So like Kennedy, I ignore the one and respond to the kinder. The game goes on. Most recently, they have been postponing the sheriff’s sale one month at a time. After my most recent application, I have been informed that my sale is “temporarily off the books”.
The irony in all this is that if they foreclose, they will only get about $65,000. If they offered me a modification of that value, we could afford it. But they don’t consider my boyfriend’s income “real”, even though we have an established domestic partnership and he has committed to payments on the house to Chase. They won’t let me add his name to the mortgage, either.
The key to coping with this bureaucratic labyrinth is to not let it invade your daily life. If I had spent my days worrying about an “imminent” foreclosure in 2009, I would now have wasted 29 months for nothing. You can’t live your life with this huge weight of worry on you.
At the same time, you can never give up the fight. I get too emotional to talk to them sometimes, so I have empowered my boyfriend to have some of those conversations.
I once lived nearly an entire week on Cheetohs. After finding a new job last year, my boyfriend now earns enough that we can afford vegetables. I have come to love even brussel sprouts.