Helping Homeowners On The Verge Of Foreclosure

A house under foreclosure in Las Vegas.

A house under foreclosure that is now bank-owned in Las Vegas. Many homeowners facing foreclosure remain skeptical about offers of assistance. Mark Ralston/AFP hide caption

itoggle caption Mark Ralston/AFP

For people facing foreclosure, the idea of getting a bank to modify a home loan seems like a long shot.

On average, only about 10 percent of those who ask for a modification succeed in getting one. And many housing advocates complain the process is broken.

But among the people who still feel optimistic about loan modifications is Isabelle Walker, a Realtor in Springfield, Mo., who says she has done "a lot of 11th-hour, last-ditch efforts."

Walker and her business partner, Todd Thomas, go door to door offering salvation for those who are within days of losing their home to foreclosure.

Free Assistance, A Tough Crowd

They spend 20 hours a week offering their help, for free.

Still, it's a tough sell even if they aren't actually selling anything. That's because homeowners facing foreclosure seldom answer mail, phone calls or even their front door.

When they do find the homeowners, they're often testy. Thomas says some people are "near violent."

Walker says: "We always go out together. It's safer ... I've gone to them by myself before, but [you] never know the reaction you're going to get from the homeowner."

On a recent day — even when they see two cars parked in the driveway — no one answers. Sometimes there's a security camera, and one gets the sense a homeowner might be silently peering out, suspicious that anyone at the door might be trying to evict them.

Skeptical About An Offer Of Help

Some people have moved out already. Many have already asked their lender for a modification on their loan, were denied, and are skeptical about the Realtors' offer of help.

Many people are denied modifications, Walker believes, simply because the paperwork requirements are such a challenge. There are so many documents, and even tiny mistakes can get an application rejected.

Walker has a long and personal history fighting foreclosure. Two decades ago, she was nearly evicted from a home after its previous owner sold it to her without disclosing he'd been through foreclosure. As a newcomer to Springfield, she had few resources but fought back successfully.

"It's personal and it's embarrassing, and so, you know, you get emotional," Walker says. "It can ... make you physically ill."

Emotional Woes

That feeling is familiar to Sonja Finley, who tried earlier this year to get her bank to modify her loan because she'd gotten behind on her bills.

"They don't want to hear that," Finley says. "And you don't want to have to say it to them."

Finley figured she'd already lost the battle. And that's where things stood on the Saturday before Halloween, when she answered the door to find Walker offering her a brochure.

Having confronted foreclosure scams before, and having been denied once for a loan modification, she nearly threw it away.

Making The Call

But the weekend ended, and she found out on that Monday morning that her house was up for sale at foreclosure auction in two days. She picked up the phone to call Walker.

"When I finally made the call, Monday morning, it was out of desperation," Finley says.

At 8:30 a.m. on Wednesday — just two hours before the scheduled sale, Finley's lender, U.S. Bank, gave her a seven-day grace period — just enough time, Finley hopes, to push through a last-minute modification.

"I'm very, very stressed," Finley says. "I'm not sleeping much, I'm not eating much. I'm just trying to take it one day at a time."

Even though there's little time left, Finley says she's hopeful.

The next sale date for her home is scheduled for 11 a.m. this Wednesday.

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