Tuesday, October 19, 2004
Carmel on the Case: Homeowner Heartache
Stealing a wallet or a purse is one thing. Taking somebody's house and getting away with it is another. Sounds impossible? Think again. A real estate loophole is leaving troubled homeowners with nothing but heartache. Carmel Cafiero is on the case.
WSVN -- For seven years, this was Jodi Graham's home. Today all she has left are pictures of what was once her dream come true.
Jodi Graham: "It was a joy to be a homeowner, a first time homeowner.
First, there was a divorce. Then this single mother of four lost her job.
She couldn't make the mortgage payments and the lender filed to foreclose.
Jodi: "Everyone came out of the woodwork when you're in foreclosure."
Graham says she trusted a man who promised he'd help her.
Jodi: "He was a spiritual man, he talked about god and he said he was going to rent my house to me."
Graham signed this quitclaim deed -- a form used to transfer ownership.
She says the man explained he'd rent the house to her and then sell it back to her at a later date.
Jodi: "I was desperate at the time. Did you understand what was going on? No. It was confusing. It was confusing."
So confusing Graham still can't understand how she lost everything and was evicted from her own home.
Jodi: "The home was taken away from me, I was taken advantage of."
It's called equity skimming. And people are learning how to do it all over the internet.
Dozens of websites show tactics for targeting financially distressed property owners.
Investors begin by cruising foreclosure listings in local newspapers.
Shawn Boehringer from Legal Aid of Broward: "I think it's unfair there's a tremendous amount of profit that are made on these real estate deals."
Shawn Boehringer is an attorney with Broward Legal Aid. He says victims are pushed into signing papers they don't understand.
The quitclaim deed gives the investor title to the property and allows them to use the existing financing, rather than coming up with cash. And it's legal.
Shawn: "There's no kind of disclosure laws or recession rights with regards to this type of transaction."
Graham and her four kids now live in a two-bedroom apartment. At the very least, she could have sold her home and maybe made a profit.
Jodi: "If it wasn't for my children to be honest with you, I would have ended my life. I didn't have nowhere to turn. I lost everything, everything."
We called the investor who now owns the Graham home. When we asked if he'd like to talk about the deal all he said was "no" and then he hung up.
If you're having a temporary financial problem - contact your lender. If it's a permanent problem - consider selling. But whatever you do - do not wait until your house is in foreclosure to take action.
For more information, or if you have a story for Carmel:
Call her in Dade at 305-627-CLUE
Or In Broward at 954- 921-CLUE