Thursday, November 4, 2010
7 News Investigations: Modification Mess
So many South Floridians cannot afford to pay their mortgages anymore. Many walk away from their homes, many have them taken away and others try to take advantage of a new government program that lets them modify their mortgage, in other words, get their monthly payments lowered, but does the program work for South Floridians? Here is Patrick Fraser with his special report, Modification Mess.
WSVN -- Barack Obama hailed the loan modification program as a way for struggling Americans to lower their mortgage payments and save their homes.
Barack Obama: "The plan I am announcing focuses on rescuing families who played by the rules and acted responsibly."
The Fernandes family was eligible for the Obama loan modification program, nicknamed HAMP. Under the rules, the bank is supposed to give you lower payments for a few months. If you pay that, the payments become permanent. The Fernandes paid, but the bank still foreclosed and told them to get out of the house.
Roseli Fernandes: "I thought it was a joke. When I saw the letter I showed him and he said, 'No it's just a prank.'"
Jose Touzet hired a lawyer to help him modify his mortgage. He started making the lower payments, then got a letter from his bank.
Jose Touzet: "Saying I was going to be foreclosure on and I'm saying why are you making it seem like your working with me when you're really not."
The failure of the modification program is not uncommon in South Florida.
Phil Zeman, AIM Funding Group: "The Home Affordable Modification Program is a very good program. It's a simple program. We are befuddled to this day why banks haven't embraced it more."
Phil Zeman's company called Aim Funding Group helps people modify their mortgages. The Fernandes were one of his clients who seemed to qualify under the Obama plan, but instead their bank foreclosed on them.
Phil Zeman: "And here we have a family that really just, it's a travesty. They'e upset, they are crying, it's caused a lot of turmoil in their life that isn't necessary."
Across the country, 1.6 million Americans have qualified to have their mortgages modified, in other words, have their monthly payments lowered. But, less than a third, 466,000, have been granted permanent modifications.
Roseli Fernandes: "That's why I don't understand, because we've been trying and paying. I don't think it's fair."
The Fernandes had their home taken away, and when we talked to Jose, he was days away from losing his home, even though he was told he qualified for the modification program.
Jose Touzet: "Their answer to that was, 'Oh I'm sorry, it was a computer generated letter,' and I said, yea it was a computer generated letter going to one day bring the sheriff out here and put my mother on the street?"
Is the program a failure? No. Is it working perfectly? No, but is it working for some South Floridians? Yes. In fact, working very well, a third of the time.
Humberto Lastre: "I consider it a good house."
When Humberto Lastre couldn't afford his mortgage payments, he hired the Corona Law Firm to help modify them. They got his payments lowered from $2,100 a month to $688 a month.
Ricardo Corona, Corona Law Firm: "We show them if you take a loss, you foreclose, you're going to take a loss of 100 of thousands. If you reduce your interest rate, you are going to continue to make principle number one and your going to make a profit. It's not going to be as high a profit as it was before."
Clearly the banks are disorganized. We have heard from hundreds of people who tell us the same story. The banks lose their documents, they ask you to resend them over and over. Ask for the same document over and over. Corona's advice to his clients, be patient.
Ricardo Corona: "What we see is people getting frustrated along the process and dropping out."
And the frustration is understandable. Being approved for lower mortgage payments is taking eight, 12, even 16 months, driving homeowners crazy.
Phil Zeman: "It takes four to six weeks to do a brand new loan, but it takes eight months to modify an existing loan? That simple thought process doesn't resonate at all."
Zeham refused to allow the Fernandes to be tossed out of their home and sued the bank.
The bank's attorney told the judge she didn't have the power to take the house from the bank. She disagreed and issued this order, vacating the foreclosure and returning the home to the Fernandes.
They are once again trying to get their loan modified.
Jose has given up on his attorney and is working with the bank directly to save what was once his dream home.
Jose Touzet: "Its not a dream man it can become a real nightmare nowadays."
The person who can relax is Humberto who will tell you when the modification program works, it works well.
Humberto Lastre: "Saved my house."
Unfortunately, for nearly two thirds of the people who do qualify for a lower mortgage, it's been a modification mess.