Contributed by an American homeowner. A woman, mother and wife who is suffering in what was supposed to be her American dream…………………………………….
From the movie: The Terminator
Kyle Reese: Listen. And understand. That terminator is out there. It can’t be bargained with. It can’t be reasoned with. It doesn’t feel pity, or remorse, or fear. And it absolutely will not stop, ever, until you are dead.
To our family, Countrywide represents the terminator:
Like thousands of Americans who are losing their homes and struggling to let go of their hopes and dreams of homeownership we are also struggling to hold on our home and to the plans we made long ago and have worked so hard to bring to fruition. At this stage in our lives we had imagined we would be taking the necessary steps to secure our retirement, not having to consider the possibility of starting all over again. If it were not enough that we have to gather together our resources and consider our other options we have to also be subjected to the further humiliation of being blamed for not being “savvy” enough to see this disaster coming.
As this “mortgage meltdown” spreads across our country like a cancer, I read a lot of articles about predatory lending practices, poor use of funds and bad management on the part of the brokers and lenders, but in the long run it is the homeowners who suffer the greatest loss. The lenders are panicking and blaming the homeowners and brokers who should not have gotten in over their heads. The brokers are blaming the lenders for manipulating them into going after the numbers, but it is the perspective homeowners who are losing their homes.
The irony of the situation is that we knew we were not savvy enough to work this out by ourselves, which is why we sought the help of professionals before making one of the biggest decisions of our life, to purchase a new home, hopefully our retirement home. We engaged the help of a financial planner who mapped out a plan for us to get us to our goal of retiring in fifteen to twenty years.
Originally we had a simple plan that was to take place over the period of five years; and we had taken the steps to bring our plan into reality. We refinanced our home of eighteen years and used the money to turn it back into the duplex it had been before we purchased it. Now that our children were grown and out of the house we did not need all that room for ourselves and so we were going to turn our current home into a rental triplex and find a small three bedroom home nearby where we could be near our family and my husband’s job. The money from the rental units would offset the cost of the mortgage on our new home.
We didn’t have huge dreams, just the same dreams our parents had and their parents before them, to own our own home, to retire with dignity, and to be able to entertain family and friends whenever the mood strikes us. To be prepared to take care of ourselves in our old age so as not to be a burden to our children.
There was a lot about these new loans being offered that we did not understand. The loan seemed to defy sound logic, but all the professionals were insisting that an ARM loan was the way to go. Still, my hesitation caused me to insist that there be no prepayment penalty, for me it was a way of insuring that I not get stuck if the loan turned out to be unlivable. Even when the prepayment penalty papers were silently slipped into our loan packet, I caught the discrepancy and called the broker in the middle of signing. He talked us into taking a one year prepayment penalty and I made the notation on the contract that the notary notarized.
It took only a few short months for us to realize we had made a horrible mistake. We had a family meeting and agreed that I would begin researching a new loan so that we could switch out as soon as our year was up. We found out only too soon that Countrywide had decided to hold us to a three year prepayment agreement, even though they had the one year agreement in their files.
While I realize that the initial pre-payment amount of $25,000 might seem like a small pittance to a multi-billion corporation like Countrywide, to us it represented not only 1/16th of our combined annual income it also represented the difference between getting a better loan on our home and not-qualifying because it caused us to exceed the loan to value amount. Considering the exorbitant salaries of the Countrywide Corporate Executives, writing off a meager amount like $25,000 would not have even been a drop in Countrywide’s billion dollar bucket, and it would have salvaged a good customer.
For over nine months we tried every possible avenue to rewrite our loan into a fixed rate 30 year loan, or even another adjustable rate with a more reasonable interest, our reasoning was that at least if Countrywide wouldn’t let us out of the prepayment penalty to another lender, if we refinanced through them they would be willing to waive it, but we were ignored at every turn, our calls went unanswered and our requests received no reply.
Countrywide has repeatedly stated that it is willing to work with their customers in order to help them salvage their homes, yet in our numerous attempts to work with them, we were ignored and rejected at every turn. Still we continued to pay on time and our credit rating continued to climb. It was not until we managed to secure another loan at a lower rate from another lender that Countrywide suddenly decided to send us e-mails telling us what good customers we were and how they wanted to work out new loan arrangements.
Countrywide cannot deny knowledge of the amended prepayment addendum in our file, since it was their office that sent us the copy confirming our claim as we adjusted it to a one year prepay as their own General Manager of the Downey Regional Office. Still, even with that copy in their own files, they continued to deny us a release from the prepayment agreement, thus blocking our ability to get out from under the strain of an outrageous interest of 8.3% on the 1st Mortgage and 13.6% on the HELOC.
In spite of our numerous letters and phone calls, Countrywide continued to hold us to a prepayment agreement we did not agree to. This lack of cooperation on the part of Countrywide caused us to sink deeper in debt in order to salvage our home without reneging on our end of the contract.
Had Countrywide Home Loans chosen to work with customers, such as ourselves, long before it came to this point our housing market would not be in the egregious position it now finds itself. What the corporation may have lost in revenue it would have retained in good will and continued business. As it is, the corporation has made it’s billions off of the same middle-class Americans that are now mocked for getting into loans they could not afford to pay. Loans that could have been salvaged are going into foreclosure and no doubt, future business is becoming harder to find because of the reputation of corruption and greed. Without regard to moral or ethical business practices Countrywide had essentially blocked their borrowers from seeking relief by holding them to prepayment penalties which holds them hostage 3 to 5 years until they can no longer afford to recover.
Our lawsuit stems as a direct result of Countrywide Home Loans, knowingly and without compassion rejecting a legitimate notarized adjusted prepayment addendum in our file in spite of our numerous attempts to correct the matter in an amiable and a civil manner. Not only did they hold us to a prepayment agreement we did not agree to, they ignored our every attempt to rectify a poorly drafted high-interest loan and replace it with a lower interest fixed rate that we could better afford. We were willing to work with them and continue our business with them, but it seemed better to hold us hostage to this outrageous loan than to keep our good will as customers and fix the matter and thus save all of us this hardship and financial burden. Our credit rating was in good standing and we had never been late on a payment, but since Countrywide had closed the trap on our escape with their three year prepayment penalty (that we did not agree to) we were forced into a position of losing all we had worked all of our lives to obtain.
Not only has our debt increased because of this deplorable conduct, we are slowly sinking into an increasing pothole of debt during the years we should have and had planned to be securing our retirement. We cannot plan our lives, feel secure in our home, nor take a vacation due to the ever mounting debt brought on by the unconscionable behavior of Countrywide Home Loans. While Countrywide executives rack in salaries in the millions, the rank and file borrowers such as ourselves are being told that we shouldn’t have signed the papers that their employees put in front of us to sign. Our attempts at resolution are called “disgusting” by the very executives that claimed they wanted to help make it possible for the “average man” to have a home.
Countrywide has admitted a degree of culpability on their part but has still blocked us at every reasonable attempt to resolve this matter and now that it has reached this proportion they continue to mock our situation by treating our grievances as trivial and without merit. They have already spent more in attorney fees and court costs that it would have cost them to simply settle this matter and saved us all a great deal of anguish. We continue to deal with this unbelievable stress that has been ongoing for close to two years now with no end in sight and Countrywide deliberately stalls knowing that their resources far exceeds ours.