By Brenda Flanagan
“We want to stay in our home. So why can’t you just make it work?” asked Teresa Hamilton.
Teresa and Curt Hamilton are fighting to stay in the home they bought in Port Reading 13 years ago. They went into foreclosure after the economy tanked in 2007, and their phone started ringing off the hook. Debt collectors threatening.
“’We don’t want to have to put you out,’” said Teresa. “And then my kids — ‘Are you OK, Mom?’ ‘Yeah, I’m fine. I’m fine.’ But my heart was broken.”
“It’s greed. To me, it’s honestly a bully and greed. It’s all about the money. It’s not about how the people are,” said Curt.
Advocate Mary Szacik says some debt collectors — hired by mortgage servicers — break the law.
“I know from anecdotal experience with the homeowners I talk to. One of them was getting phone calls from her servicer 30 times a day. She would just stop answering the phone. And that’s not unusual,” Szacik said.
The point: to wear the homeowners down. Szacik’s with NJ Communities United and worked with the Hamiltons. She says they needed a strong lawyer to counter the debt collector’s tactics.
“From the stories of the homeowners that I work with, it is excessive. They feel harassed,” Szacik said. “Homeowners get worn out — the stress level, heart attacks and divorces.”
Originally, Countrywide held the Hamiltons’ mortgage. Countrywide sold it to IndyMac, who sold it to OneWest, who sold it to Ocwen.
Over the past four years, more than 150,000 New Jersey homeowners have gone into foreclosure, but Szacik says 96 percent of them don’t try to fight it in court. She says they should.
“It’s a stressful situation. If you don’t have somebody — an attorney to represent you — it would take a lot of courage for a homeowner to stand up there and fight the most powerful law firms and the most powerful banks,” she said.
Four servicers file the lion’s share of New Jersey foreclosures: Wells Fargo, Green Tree, Seterus and Nationstar.
Nationstar’s tactics so infuriated their clients, they created a Facebook page. The company’s response: “We service many many customers and unfortunately there will always be one or two that may not be happy.”
“When I call the services obstructionist, that’s what it feels like. They’re not forthcoming with that information,” said Szacik.
Ocwen — the Hamiltons’ mortgage server — took them to court, but Szacik says they couldn’t produce a valid copy of the mortgage.
She claims that’s not legal, but that some mortgage debt collectors do it anyway.
“They can say whatever they want to and there’s nobody making sure that they’re doing the right thing,” Szacik said.
Moody’s just downgraded Ocwen’s quality rating, noting it is under investigation by the SEC, the New York Department of Financial Services and, according to the Hamiltons, New Jersey’s attorney general. Szacik says the court threw out Ocwen’s case against the Hamiltons.
Ocwen told us, “We do not comment on specific loans. Ocwen is a recognized leader in loan modifications … including principal reductions for underwater mortgages, when possible to make a sustainable loan which is a good result for all parties involved. We’ve saved over 350,000 struggling families from foreclosure since the outset of the mortgage crisis.”
But the Hamiltons’ mortgage issue remains unresolved.
“In limbo,” said Teresa.
At least the harassing phone calls have stopped.