A Foreclosure Gone Wrong: One Man's Struggle

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A protest over foreclosures in Los Angeles.

Community leaders and homeowners who have lost their homes to foreclosure protest at a rally in Los Angeles last month. Bank of America has acknowledged finding some mistakes in its foreclosure files. Mark Ralston/AFP hide caption

itoggle caption Mark Ralston/AFP

At 10 a.m. on July 26, Bank of America foreclosed on Mark Forster's home in Lake Oswego, Ore.

But he didn't find out about it until two weeks later, when he found an eviction notice taped to the front door of his condo.

"I was actually opening the door to talk to a neighbor, I looked and I was like, 'What's this taped to the door here?' And I thought, 'What's this?'  And I'm looking at it, and I'm reading it, and I didn't know what to do," Forster says.

The nation's largest banks have delayed thousands of foreclosures while they investigate problems with faulty paperwork.

But all along the way, bank executives have insisted that they haven't foreclosed in error. Consumer advocates say that may just be wishful thinking.

A Foreclosure That Should Never Have Happened

Forster's home wasn't supposed to go to foreclosure. Like hundreds of thousands of others, he lost his job in late 2008.  He was out of work for six months, stopped paying his mortgage, and then when he did start working again, he was making less money.

The only way he could possibly keep his house was to get a loan modification from the bank. Just a month before the foreclosure sale went through, Bank of America offered to cut his interest rate and extend the term of the loan.  His payment would drop significantly. It was exactly what he needed.

"So, then I signed everything and sent it off and thought it was done," Forster says. "I just figured the next month I'll be back on track making the new monthly payment. It hasn't been that way."

A Fight With Bank Of America

Instead, he's been fighting to get Bank of America to reverse a foreclosure it admits never should have happened. The eviction proceedings only stopped late last week, two months after Forster says a Bank of America representative assured him it was being fixed and only after an NPR reporter inquired about Forster's case.

"I talked to so many people — it was insane how many different people I had to talk to, and departments," Forster says.

It's not like Forster was current on his mortgage: He hadn't paid in more than a year.

But the moment Forster returned his documents to the bank, the foreclosure should have been stopped in its tracks. It wasn't.

Dan Frahm, a senior vice president at Bank of America Home Loans, says this was a case of human error because the person who received Forster's signed documents didn't enter them into the system.

"Fortunately, that's relatively rare," Frahm says. "But unfortunately, we're talking about an individual's home, and this is an understandably stressful situation for everyone involved."

Admitting A Mistake

At Bank of America, and all the major servicers, the lengthy foreclosure process moves forward in tandem with efforts to help people stay in their homes.

Frahm says there are checks in place to prevent these types of foreclosure errors. But in Forster's case, they failed. And Frahm admits that, although rare, these types of mistakes do happen.

"The systems that are in place to support this massive operation now is one that has more manual steps and dependencies than we would like to count on," Frahm says.

Alexa Milton, along with a team of counselors at the Affordable Housing Centers of America, works on behalf of homeowners to get loan modifications from lenders.

"It's not an isolated incident," Milton says. "We're seeing people who shouldn't have gone to foreclosure sale, go to foreclosure sale."

Milton says most of those people were still in the process of working out a modification. She says what happened to Forster is more rare, but on the rise.

"It's something that we've seen increasingly over the last five or six months, and it seems to be getting worse, not better," she says.

No Confirmation From The Bank

Forster is still in his house and Bank of America insists everything really is fixed now. But Forster says he still hasn't gotten confirmation in the mail from Bank of America, and he doesn't know what to believe anymore.

"With what I've gone through in this whole process, I can't trust anything that's being said until I have something in my hands in writing," he says.

If this nightmare really is over, Forster says he looks forward to paying his mortgage again.

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