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CountryWide goes Kafka – a First Person Narrative

Cross-posted from http://www.presimetrics.com/blog/

By Mike Kimel of Presimetrics

This post is going to be a bit different, at least for me. Generally I like to write things that are more data oriented, and that involve some pictures and figures. But this is a little story that happened to my wife and me, only a few weeks back, and I think it provides a bit of an illustration about how the economy works, or doesn’t, in these post-Housing Bubble days. It’s an absurd story, it makes no sense whatsoever, it cannot possibly happen in a civilized country, much less one that calls itself capitalist, but every word is true. So here goes…

My wife, deep into her third trimester of pregnancy, went out to run some errands with my mother and a family friend. It was pouring, and when they got back to the house, they saw a piece of paper stapled to a little tree at the end of our driveway. It was a notice from the Sheriff’s Department that our house was going to be auctioned off on October 1st.

Now, obviously it had to be a bad joke. After all:

1. We had only bought the house the previous year and were about two months ahead on our mortgage.
2. The plaintiff was CountryWide, which is not the company with which have a mortgage.
3. The name of the defendant from whom the home was to be foreclosed was not the legal owner of the house – that is to say, my wife or I. In fact, the name of the defendant was similar to the name of the previous owner of the home, but the spelling was definitely off.
4. From what we heard of Sheriff’s auctions, notices tend to be left on the door. Not stapled to a tiny little tree in the pouring rain.

But when my wife checked the Sheriff’s site on-line, it turns out that, indeed, our home was slated to be auctioned off on October 1st. Multiple calls to the Sheriff’s office were not returned. As to CountryWide – who exactly do you call at CountryWide? There’s no “Press 4 if you have no relationship with CountryWide but we’re trying to seize your house anyway.” Ironically, if we did have a delinquent CountryWide mortgage, getting somewhere with them might have possible as any of their call center representatives would have been able to handle taking a payment. But the situation we were in, that they put us in, isn’t one of the options that their call center seems equipped to sort out.

When it started to become obvious that a) this was deadly serious and b) there was a whole machine moving inexorably forward, my wife got nervous. She didn’t sleep at all that first night, and because she didn’t sleep, neither did I. And every roadblock we hit made us more exasperated at what was already a difficult time.

After a couple of days of trying the obvious remedies, we contacted our title company and called our attorney. And it took a while, but the upshot was that after a few weeks, we managed to stop the proceedings. CountryWide uses an external law firm to deal with the Sheriff’s office, and we managed to convince them that the process should be halted. Doing so meant showing we had the title and that we are the owners of record as far as the County is concerned. Additionally, thanks to the previous owner who helped us out here, we were able to show that CountryWide received a wire transfer when the previous owner sold us the house. Thus, we proved to CountryWide’s external legal firm that they had followed unlawful orders by putting in the request to have our home foreclosed. They in turn managed to get their contacts at CountryWide to give them the OK to contact the Sheriff’s department to put a halt to the process.

Though we’re no longer in danger of losing our home (as far as we know), I’m kind of upset right now at two parties. The first is CountryWide, for all the obvious reasons. But I also have a problem with the Sheriff’s department because from where I’m standing, it seems like its procedures are set up in such a way as to validate CountryWide’s mistakes. Let’s start with the note pinned to a tree in the pouring rain. What if we were traveling or the wind was just a little stronger? Would the note have been there when we got back? Would we even have known about the auction until after it happened?

Second, it appears that that the Sheriff’s department auctions off homes simply on the word of CountryWide or its outside attorney. A check of the County Tax Assessor’s Office would have told them there was a problem with CountryWide’s request, namely that the person they wanted to seize the home from doesn’t own it or have any rights to it whatsoever. (Actually, I also wonder why the outside attorney didn’t check any of this either.) And it isn’t as if CountryWide and/or the Sheriff checked but were working off outdated information; if the previous owner was truly the intended defendant, her name wasn’t even spelled right in the complaint which also should have raised some eyebrows. Worse, as per the above-mentioned wire transfer, CountryWide actually wasn’t owed anything at all by anyone.

In short, CountryWide was trying to collect on a debt that didn’t exist, supposedly owed by a person who they had wrongly identified, by seizing property owned by other people. And yet the Sheriff’s Department acted on their claim, and refused to give us, the party affected by that series of errors, so much as a return phone call.

The only conclusion I can reach from this is that there are no safeguards at all built into the system. None. After all, it would have taken only a trivial amount of due diligence by any of the parties (CountryWide, their outside attorneys, or the Sheriff’s office) to derail this crazy train before it started. However, I assume CountryWide would be against such checks, as they cost money. But guess what? This whole process has cost my wife and me money, time, frustration and emotional distress. It would make more sense to hit up CountryWide for an extra few bucks every time they ask the Sheriff to auction off a house than it does to force the victims of CountryWide’s errors to pay for the company’s mistakes. Fortunately, we could afford an attorney, and despite the whole pinning-a-note-to-a-straggly-tree-in-the-pouring-rain thing, we also had the time to mount a defense.

That doesn’t mean when things settle down a bit over here we aren’t going after CountryWide to make us whole. And my wife and I intend to have some communication with the Sheriff’s department to do what we can to make them tighten up procedures to prevent this kind of nonsense from happening to other people.

But, in the end, one definite legacy of this whole affair is that from here on out, every four to six months I plan to check the upcoming foreclosure auctions to make sure my house isn’t on the list. Which leaves just one more thing to comment on, and since I like to have illustrations in my posts, let me end with a picture. The resolution isn’t particularly good – it was taken on my phone – but it’s my favorite one so far:

Two_kimels

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33 comments

  1. reslez

    Congratulations to you on the birth of your child and on preventing an out of control corporate fiefdom from seizing your property. The time and money you spent is part of the increasingly visible tax we all pay to the behemoths who bestride our economy like silent gods. Cost savings for them, convenience for them; endless effort and wasted time for us. Even if you scream they won’t hear you… there’s no one on the line.

    As for the sheriff and other law enforcement, their job is to enforce this state of affairs — on behalf of the fiefdoms, not for you. And the uncertainty you suffered is entirely intentional. The more nervous we all are about our situations the less likely we are to complain, lest we attract notice we can’t afford to appease.

    The less involvement we have with them the better. It’s when they force themselves on us that the illusion of freedom becomes harder and harder to maintain.

  2. cullpepper

    “The only conclusion I can reach from this is that there are no safeguards at all built into the system.”

    Go back to europe, pinko. The invisible hand is NEVER WRONG.

  3. Fog Horn Leg Horn

    This may seem a little surprising to you, but not to lawyers all over the country that have been fighting the “foreclosure machine” for the past three years. This is a very typical scenario; another day at the office.

    The only part that surprises me is that you were able to get it shut off short of litigation. Typically, you MUST lose the house and be foreclosed upon and in the process of ejectment before anybody really listens.

  4. W.C. Varones

    “The only conclusion I can reach from this is that there are no safeguards at all built into the system.”

    Go back to your Tea Party, fascist. Big government is NEVER WRONG.

  5. Tom Hickey

    Bad scene. But I doubt anything would have come of it except grief for the winner of the auction when they tried to clear the title. Then they would have had to try to get their money back. Good luck with that.

  6. Doug Terpstra

    Bravo, kudos, congrats to Mike and Mrs. Kimel! Makes all the other crap pale in a way.

    But it could also rightly turn a guy into a grizzly, and I hope you do pursue CountryWide, when domestic affairs permit. No one should have to look over their shoulder that way, and the police should never play plantation gaurd. They need is a heavy dose of BP-type commeuppance; a massive jury award would be good medicine.

    A slightly situation happened to us, by Prinicpal Residential Mortgage. At least three months after we sold our house and were looking into an auto purchase. Looking into a loan since cash was tied up, we discovered the old mortgage balance still owed on our credit report. Principal promptly corrected the ‘error’, but such ‘carelessness’ can and does hurt people. They do it with impunity but should pay a heavy price for it.

    All the best to all the Kimels.

  7. Anonymous Jones

    This is a terrible story. Much of life is beyond our control. Not just from nature, but from other people, and even sometimes from ourselves. The “trick” is finding a balance between enjoying the journey and recognizing not only that the destination is meaningless but also that we can’t direct the path of the journey.

    This is not a story of government or business out of control but simply of life itself, in all its absurdity. You can never be made whole, but you can extort a pretty penny because of the legal system we have and how it will likely scare the bejeesus out of the defense firm that Countrywide hires.

  8. Fachtna Midwest

    What? What state are you in (if you don’t mind me asking)? How on Earth could this happen without you receiving any sort of judicial notice? Sheriffs aren’t supposed to start a foreclosure sale because Countrywide “says so.” Countrywide has to get an order from the court telling the sheriff to start proceedings. Even if the name is wrong, the fact that the sheriff found your address means that Countrywide at least had the correct address. You should have at the very least received something in the mail. In order for a property to be sold, there’s this whole court proceeding required to foreclose the equity of redemption in your home. You should have been handed court papers at some point.

    Your first notice was a paper stapled to a tree? I am not trying to say or imply that you are not telling the full truth. I am trying to express my astonishment at the complete perversion of the legal process in your case.

    This is a very typical scenario; another day at the office.

    Then it’s about past time for a class action, isn’t it.

    1. JerryDenim

      Should, should, should, should, should. Yeah, got it.

      But in case you haven’t been paying attention very few people are doing what they ‘should’ these days. Law enforcement is ridiculously deferential to big business and soul-crushingly harsh on the working man. I believe every last word of the story. Sounds about par for the course these strange days.

    2. Mike Kimel

      Hi. A response to a couple of the questions….

      1. We live in Ohio.
      2. This was cross-posted on Angry Bear as well, and one of the readers suggested that perhaps the first contact was a piece of registered mail sent to the house in the name of the mis-spelled original owner. That would not have been delivered. Now, neither my wife nor I remembers any attempt to get us to sign for such a letter, but I cannot say with certainty it didn’t happen.
      3. We recognize (and I should have said something) that we were lucky in many ways, primarily in that we were lucky enough not to actually have the debts that would have led to such an event being “for real” for us.

      There were times in my life my wife and I each had nothing, and I know that feeling because of its sheer helplessness.

      This was different in that we could afford an attorney, etc. I also knew that worst case scenario, they’d seize our house and we’d get it back, but that would not be a pleasant scenario by any stretch.

      But here we were, having followed the rules and managing by a lot of luck and some hard work to be in a position with a modicum of security and then seeing the rules change on us for no reason.

  9. JerryDenim

    “…Second, it appears that that the Sheriff’s department auctions off homes simply on the word of CountryWide or its outside attorney…”

    Yep. Business as usual in the US of A. For the private citizen/consumer it’s always guilty until proven innocent beyond a shadow of a doubt. Why would a big respected corporation ever lie/cheat/steal/mess-up? For a corporation it’s always innocent until proven extremely guilty beyond all shadow of doubt. I mean who can trust the word of a dirty rotten rat-bastard private citizen?

    This is why we so desperately need an absolutely vicious pittbull of a consumer protection agency in this country. If the UNited States is intent on becoming some kind of feudalistic fascist state the least we can demand is an arbitrar.

    Petition for Elizabeth Warren everyone.

  10. killben

    Hi,

    Glad to see the picture of your wife and child .. so all is well that ends well.

    Now that it has ended well, it is time to get after the sheriff’s office and countrywide in that order. While countrywide is at fault, it is the duty of sheriff’s office to vet all such requests for its authenticity before sending (or pinning notices on trees wherever you see one) notices to rightful owners .. You can come up with a lot of scenarios here .. supposing the notice had blown away, you had to be away on an important trip, the stress leading to health problems for your wife during pregnancy. .. So while countrywide is responsible for wrong auction notice, the sheriff’s office is CULPABLE IN ENABLING THIS WITHOUT ANY SEMBLANCE OF RESPONSIBILITY .. So I would suggest that the sheriff’s office be the first party when you take any legal action which i hope you do, with damages which will ensure that such notices are not brought on innocent people just like that by sheriff’s office in future

  11. Fraud Guy

    Went through a similar situation, where a company (Wells Fargo in this case) had a company break into our home and “winterize” it and change the locks about 4 months prior to the foreclosure.

    The local police had to get confirmation from the bank to allow us back on to what was still our property, and we had to carry a letter from them or we could have been arrested for going to our own home.

    Since we were still trying to sell it via short sale, it put a crimp on several interested buyers, especially the broken window and damaged door.

    Unfortunately, as I’ve said elsewhere:

    The majority of policies which enrich corporations at our expense are designed, enforced, and collected by our neighbors for the benefit of their bosses in order to keep their salaries which allow them to pay this tariff on all our lives. Because if they don’t do it, someone else will take the pay in their place.

  12. alex

    What state does Mike Kimel live in? As I understand it the laws and procedures for foreclosure vary wildly from state to state.

  13. Avg John

    How terribly inconvenient and unjust.

    Imagine if you lacked good connections, were unemployed for an extended period of time, actually lost your home and you and your new family were forced into a public shelter.

  14. emca

    Welcome to the new world order.

    Why didn’t someone check to see if the foreclosure was in order??

    First the sheriff’s department is probably over budget and doesn’t have the resources (or mandates) to checkout details of foreclosure actions. They do what the Judge tells them. The Judge himself (herself) with the number of foreclosures in some areas is little more than a rubber stamp process of Countrywide (et al.) claims. Garbage in, garbage out.

    Second, the legal team bid the job on a per foreclosure basis and can’t afford to throw away money and business in self-defeating acts of accuracy. Its not part of their contract.

    Third, Countrywide is part of the TBTF network. They are not only Too Big To Fail, but Too Big To Fact-check. Its the taxpayer’s responsibility to pickup any institutional slack or screw-ups as part of their contractual bailout obligations.

    Besides, even if Countrywide and friends had the not only the wrong homeowner, but managed to mangle her name, they did get the right tree.

  15. DownSouth

    Mike Kimel said:

    In short, CountryWide was trying to collect on a debt that didn’t exist, supposedly owed by a person who they had wrongly identified, by seizing property owned by other people. And yet the Sheriff’s Department acted on their claim, and refused to give us, the party affected by that series of errors, so much as a return phone call.

    […]

    But guess what? This whole process has cost my wife and me money, time, frustration and emotional distress. It would make more sense to hit up CountryWide for an extra few bucks every time they ask the Sheriff to auction off a house than it does to force the victims of CountryWide’s errors to pay for the company’s mistakes. Fortunately, we could afford an attorney, and despite the whole pinning-a-note-to-a-straggly-tree-in-the-pouring-rain thing, we also had the time to mount a defense.

    Your tax dollars at work!

    But what happens to the people who can’t afford an attorney?

    It’s hard to imagine, but in the new banana republic of America, you are actually one of the lucky ones.

    I applaud your dedication to bring reform to the sheriff’s department. I suspect you are going to find this an extremely frustrating endeavor, but if somebody doesn’t get up on their hind legs and make a fuss, America is truly lost.

  16. attempter

    Ironically, if we did have a delinquent CountryWide mortgage, getting somewhere with them might have possible as any of their call center representatives would have been able to handle taking a payment. But the situation we were in, that they put us in, isn’t one of the options that their call center seems equipped to sort out.

    As Arendt wrote, if you’re in a situation where you’d actually be better off and have more rights vis the system if you had committed a real crime or infraction than if you’re truly innocent, that’s a sure symptom of a creeping totalitarian situation.

    The corporations are every bit as totalitarian as the Nazis or Stalinists, and every bit as criminal as the Mafia or the Columbian cartels. That this isn’t obvious to everyone is probably brainwashing’s greatest triumph to date.

  17. Skippy

    Ummm…lets see, we slice and dice debt into increasingly smaller and more complicated shapes. We then sell, sell, sell, sell it to every one any their dog.

    Funny thing when some of it seems to be fraudulent stocking filler.

    I have personally helped over 30 people being accused of owing money, when in fact it was reconciled years ago, all classes of debt. Mostly by offshore collectors.

    Skippy…stems, seeds and dirtweed in the primo bag….nawww.

  18. gawp

    Are there any consequences to this sort of error on this part? What is the disincentive to having a high-throughput foreclosure pipeline with a high false positive rate?

  19. PeonInChief

    Unfortunately tenants in foreclosed properties have to deal with these kinds of problems all the time. Lenders often don’t even bother to find out whether or not tenants live at the property, and file eviction actions against the former owner. Tenants then have to hire lawyers to intercede in court, so that they aren’t evicted from the property. (That’s why Chicago’s Sheriff refused to evict tenants–many had no knowledge at all of the foreclosure, and hadn’t been given the required notice.)

  20. Karen Aasand

    Another perspective on this could be that a mortgage broker operating illegally could have acquired your loan app. either with your consent or without and submitted the app. for a loan posing as you, the owner, using a slightly different name. The broker then takes the money and runs. This happened to a friend who subsequently lost their home due to lack of funds to defend himself and ignorance as to how to handle the situation. He had submitted docs but told he couldn’t qualify for a second mortgage, the broker then submitted the app. Then months and months later my friend finds out he is seriously delinquent on a loan and about to lose his house!? There were so many loans being made without good oversight that one house with several loans on it probably could have happened fairly easily. And this sad story occurred in Contra Costa County in California which along with surrounding counties has been one of the worst hit areas in the country terms of delinquencies and foreclosures.

    1. Mike Kimel

      Karen Aasand,

      We got an attorney involved out of concern that there might be more than simple error somewhere. Our attorney seems satisfied at this time that there was no fraud.

  21. brookside

    First guess is Kimel lives in a “deed of trust” state where the mortgage loan would be evidence by a note and secured by a deed of trust which is filed with the county recorder or assessor. A deed of trust can be foreclosed without any judicial proceedings – a judicial foreclosure would be pursued only if the lender wanted to secure a deficiency judgment against the borrower. The “outside law firm” was probably the designated trustee for the deed of trust and foreclosed on the property at the direction of Countrywide. The Sheriff’s department would have posted the property for foreclosure sale based on an affidavit submitted by the trustee. All of that said it is inconceivable that the deed of trust did not require a written notice of default and/or foreclosure delivered by certified mail. Clearly that did not happen and that is due to the negligence of the outside law firm. Kimel seems to have ground to take a civil action against Countrywide and the outside law firm but I would go after the outside law firm first (they are probably local and therefore easily reachable) for fraud and let them drag Countrywide into the mess.

  22. Karen

    Something similar happened to us a few years ago, with WaMu. They were going after the wrong house, based on confusing the legal property location with the mailing address they had for the owner (the people from whom we bought our house).

    We sent WaMu a registered-mail letter, copy to our title insurer and the settlement agent that handled our closing when we bought the house, telling WaMu we owed them nothing and someone has obviously made a mistake, but we didn’t get any response from them.

    Having neither children nor any particularly valued household possessions, we shrugged our shoulders and went on with life.

    After a couple more months I got a knock on the door, and lo and behold it was a realtor offering “cash for keys”! I asked if it was WaMu that was behind this, and showed him the letter we’d written, and he then told me he would normally have brought along a Sheriff’s deputy but decided not to this time because he’d had doubts about it being kosher. He went away promising to try to straighten things out, and sure enough we then got a call from someone at WaMu who apologized and said she’d make sure we were left alone going forward.

    It worked out OK, but we were sure glad we paid for “owner’s extended” title insurance when we bought the house! In our state (WA), it is usual for the title insurance to insure only your mortgage lender, so you have to pay extra to get yourself added as an insured party – and nobody even tells you this! We only found out that we were not named insureds on the policy when we read our documents after buying our first house in WA.

  23. ripped off

    my place will probably get auctioned off in a few months. in the meantime, thugs working for the bank broke into the house, “winterized” it (in the middle of July in Ohio), stole a bunch of stuff, changed the locks, and cheerfully signed a form on the door saying that they had been there.

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