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Florida's Mortgage Mod Squad Madness

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I hate my Florida mortgage, monster that it is, and the four different companies that passed it off one to the other like some hot potato baton in a real estate relay rat race. With interest rates and the value of our "bought at the height of the bubble" house still low, low, low, my wife and I figure we'd better try to squeeze a loan modification out of current note-holder Chase soon, soon, soon.

It's not as if we're trying to stave off foreclosure, but we'd sure like more of our money spent on necessities of child-raising and family life, and less on all those interest payments Chase is pocketing every month.

But for many thousands of Floridians, loan modification is indeed all about hanging onto the house. And in the modification battles between poor families and rich banks, guess who's winning? New figures just released show that almost 11,000 Floridians were victims of bank takeovers of their homes last month, an 84% jump from May 2009. Experts think this indicates loan modification programs are not working very well.

You think?

I've witnessed some firsthand evidence of that for a while, in the parking lot and elevator and hallways and bathroom of the little building where I rent office space. About a year-and-a-half ago a home loan modification operation, let's call them the Mod Squad, showed up on my floor of the building, ripping down walls to combine two long narrow offices into a teeming colony of cubicles, a phone bank that soon began buzzing away with dozens of overlapping conversations you could hear pieces of whenever walking in the hallways.

"...your mortgage problem...we can help...the bank...modification can help...bad credit, good credit...job status...monthly payments...loan's the problem...hold onto your home...electric bill...water bill...bring that rate down...kids don't want to move...your cable bill...you need a loan mod...car payments...just need our software...four hundred and ninety five dollars...assets, whatever you own...loan mod...small price to pay...help you all the way...way to go...get you in a loan mod...let's get some info..."

Not long after they set up shop, I ran into a middle aged guy leaving his shift, looking worn out. I asked him how it was going as we headed out of the building together.

"Brutal...", he said, with a look of tired resignation. "Just brutal...had five mods up on the big board, five, and only one of 'em comes through..." Shakes his head, rubs his messy mop of graying dark hair, tucks the outed corners of his faded Hawaiian shirt back into his baggy black jeans, looks at me squarely.

"I dunno who's worse off anymore, them or me, y'know what I mean?"

He stood outside with me for a couple of more minutes and explained that "everybody gets a different deal", but that he got seven dollars an hour, and $150 for every loan modification deal - mod for short - that he could get signed, sealed and delivered. The "deal" was simply for access to a "proprietary" third-party software program - for $495 - that desperate homeowners were told would pre-screen and pre-qualify them for actual loan modifications. Lists of your in-the-works mod deals went up on the big board on the wall. You were expected to close out most of those, so seeing four of five disappear was a big bummer.

"Probably better off working at that gas station." he said, gesturing to the one across the street. I thought of saying that if he did, he'd probably sleep better at night, but instead I asked what he did before joining the Mod Squad. "Assistant manager of a furniture store that shut down last year...damn economy...nobody buying anything, nobody opening new stores...too many assistant managers, no stores...so here I am...". A weary point of a finger up to the building behind us, than a wave good night and a trudge to his car.

Saw him a few more times, then never again. They come and they go to the Mod Squad, male and female, young, middle-aged and older, White, Black and Hispanic, some looking well put together, some looking like they're falling apart...a revolving door of victims of the economy, put to work preying on other victims of the economy.

Couple of months ago two new guys showed up on the scene and made a lot of noise for about a month before disappearing. Both looked in their late twenties, always together, always wearing golf shirts of different colors but same style, two tall, stocky, pale white, red-faced, short-haired, earring-wearing, swaggering guys, guys you'd expect to see working as bouncers turning people away from a nightclub. One day they came storming into the Men's Room a step behind me, joking loudly about mod victims of the moment.

Blue shirt says, "You see I closed five of six on the big board, I'm on an F'in roll Dude, cleaning their clocks, mod heaven - and you're over there shoutin', got some mod givin' you hell, what's up with that?!"

Red shirt replies, "F'in Guy says, I did your damned mod program, got my terms, made my deal, made my payment, but they're still foreclosing on me! What the F is that about? I say Dude, we got you the mod, what do you want us to do now, remod your F'in mod? I don't think we got the F'in software for that yet!"

Much laughter from both of them. I got the hell out of there before they started high-fiving each other.

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Daniel Tilson was born and raised in New York City, a graduate of Stuyvesant High School, and New York University's Film and Television School, with a double major in Film/TV Production & Broadcast Journalism. Tilson established his own first (more...)
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