Someone asked me the other day in a message…. “and what has happened since your last post?” I realized that I had shared bits and pieces of the developments of our mortgage, without really going into detail.
I forget in the digital age, a story told like mine doesn’t end with the book closing. Even if I could write my happily ever after, my character will find another dilemma. And even if I didn’t, I would at least find something else to complain about. I strive to eventually be the kind of person who complains only about the size and color of my princess tutu.
Several weeks ago we received a letter in the mail from our mortgage company. I let this one sit a few days. I walked by it every day, rolling my eyes up in my head and muttering. Not opening the letter seemed to be my only act of rebellion at feeling like a victim to the bank. We have been doing this back and forth with the company for so long, that I had become immune to the onset of nerves that these letters normally bring. The only way I would have been excited is if it had been delivered by a prince on a white horse, dressed in full battle gear. I didn’t doubt that it was yet another foreclosure notice, indicating more fees were being added on to the growing and impossible balance, or a notice about how many days we would actually be given to leave the home once it was sold on the courthouse steps.
The truth is, I’ve learned to submit to the feeling of hopelessness. To give in. To let stress wash over me like it’s a welcome guest. Admitting defeat before a battle is fought or won is sometimes very empowering. This is the attitude I have embraced for the last few months, determined to not let the status of homelessness break my heart. I have learned to accept that it will not be the most horrible thing to happen to us. And our fairy tale will go on no matter what.
So, you will understand my surprise when three days after receiving the envelope I finally got around to opening it to find a letter claiming we qualified for a modification under President Obama’s Homeowners Affordability Modification Plan (HAMP).
I called the number on the letter and don’t think that I even really choked out the words “Thank you” to the service representative after she explained the terms. I realized her next question was asking me if I was crying. It was the first reasonable thing I had heard from my mortgage company in months….years, I explained. I don’t know what other response I could have had.
There are a few things that surprised me about my response to this news. I am constantly hoping that there is a reason things like this happen, and hyperaware of what I might be learning from them. I have spent the last few weeks contemplating these things and deciding how best to share.
First: As much writing, and thinking, and pleading I have done on a daily basis with the mortgage company, I was not prepared for a positive response. I had been without traditional work for a year, then worked part-time for another year, and returned to my freelance job as a consultant in just the last six months. When it seemed apparent that they were not going to give us a break, and we were certain that we were going to lose our home, we used the money normally reserved for our monthly note to catch up on other expenses. I’m sure this seems fiscally irresponsible to you, but when I thought we might lose our shelter, we used our funds to pay down any extras that might seem a burden once we were out of the home and just focusing on survival and rebuilding. They made a plan that included making our first payment in less than a month. We only had a portion of that tucked away.
Secondly: I am not an optimist, as I so vehemently claim to be….I am a pessimist. I called the company again the next day, and the next day to make sure I had understood everything correctly. Maybe I misunderstood? Maybe they thought I was someone else? We received a packet of forms twenty three pages long a few days after I agreed to the terms of the modification. The language was difficult, legalese that would make most people uncomfortable. Tax forms, paycheck stubs, bank statements, requests to sign affidavits agreeing to government supported loans and what they may possible mean towards our equity and future refinance. I read blah blah blah. The packet was overwhelming and the rush I had originally felt was gone. In it’s place was a rock in my stomach, making me feel deflated and alone. I should have known that it was too good to be true. Obviously it was just paperwork, I have done that for years. But, when you are at the end of such a long and trying journey and you get even the slightest hint that it is almost over, something like this is enough to make you crawl under a rock and cry. I did.
Thirdly: Fighting foreclosure has been my full time job for as long as I can remember. I was (am) obsessed. All things are secondary, it’s been my only purpose. From the moment I wake up, to the moment I sleep, outside of the every day tasks of raising my children and managing our family, I do not do ANYTHING else. The idea of not having this task as the center of my story scared (scares) me. I wanted to be relieved, to be happy and to celebrate. Even though it wasn’t quite over and I still had a daunting task ahead of me, I should at least feel some sort of happiness, right? Instead I’m scared of the space that the monster will leave when it no longer casts a shadow over our life.
Every day I toss one or two of these things around in my head, and address them in the little ways that I can. Some people solve problems with checklists, or bullet points, others by reviewing the big picture and outlining specific objectives to address each issue until everything has a plausible solution. Not me. I let it all swirl round and round in my head until I catch one with my tongue, solve it and swallow it.
So. I’m busy. I’m busier than I want to be. I read somewhere that most people who are approved for loan modifications end up falling behind again. I will NOT be a statistic. Earning money when you have a specific goal is so much easier than when that goal is simply to survive.
While you should focus on what happens after a foreclosure, also make a plan on what happens if you get to stay. Prepare your funds for the most positive outcome.
Maybe I’m not an optimist or a pessimist, but a realist. A week after I received the packet of doom, I received another letter with slightly different terms than the original offer. I called four more times until I was satisfied with: the explanation on the dated paperwork, why some of the information was conflicting, and what in the heck was going on with the mortgage companies to not know exactly what clients were receiving and how it could be perceived.
The second set of paperwork also had the HAMP label on it. Apparently, the first program was an “in-house” program, with more stringent requirements set out by the lender. The second program was the government initiative, outlining a more streamlined effort to qualify people to stay in their homes. The second, whose rate would be determined by the government program and not the lender, was much easier. We could adhere to it immediately and over the phone without the extra paperwork. They were qualifying us based on the pages upon pages of information I had already sent over the last six months. Of course, I chose the second. We set up a payment schedule, giving us an extra week or so more from the original plan.
Ask lots of questions. Ask specific questions. Ask the questions you should have asked when all of us signed on for these ridiculous sub-prime loans. Ask as if you have the choice to walk away if you do not like or understand the terms. If you have accepted that you may lose your home, as I have, then you are in control of the next step by educating yourself about the options being presented to you.
As for my obsession, it’s not quite over. Once we secure our mortgage, we will have three months to demonstrate that our home is affordable. Our jobs are consumer driven and much can happen in a struggling economy. Just this month alone my husband’s salary and tips have shown a drastic decrease as people tighten up for the holidays. I don’t know for sure that it’s realistic to believe we will be able to stay in the home, even after we get it out of foreclosure status. Even returning to traditional work may not be an option as more and more people join the ranks of the unemployed. Nine to five jobs are not as easy to come by as they once were. Instead of obsessing, I’m going to slowly back away from the all consuming task of saving my home. I’m going to slowly let real life creep in and take over the space that the monster occupies. Maybe I won’t ever get to worry about my tutu fitting me, but the least I can do is try to be more present in my own story.
Keep up with the rest of your life. While facing foreclosure is a very big deal, the world will keep on moving around you. If you aren’t careful, you will miss out on so much that you’ll be left wondering what to do next when it’s over.
I once envisioned myself the heroine of my story, overcoming the big bad bank, and living to tell about it. I now know that if and when that happens, this experience has left scars on me that I won’t want to admit that I have. So far, being able to tell my story to others and encouraging them to not give up has been the only happy possible ending to this fairy tale gone wrong. For now, I’ll take that.