In a modern-day evocation of David’s slingshot triumph over Goliath, a couple of foreclosed homeowners in Naples, Fla., reportedly foreclosed on a Bank of America branch last week, their attorney actually having moving trucks pull up in front of a Naples branch to execute a foreclosure judgment against the bank.
What must have seemed to observers like a scene out of a parallel universe — you can see some video here — was actually the fair and logical conclusion to a situation which, the court had ruled, had an unfair and illogical start. In 2009, retired police officer Warren Nyerges and his wife, Maureen Collier, paid $165,000 cash for their 2,700 square foot home in the Golden Gate Estates subdivision, and never took a mortgage out on it. So imagine their surprise when, in February of 2010, Bank of America initiated foreclosure proceedings against them. The Nyerges hired an attorney, Todd Allen, to defend them against the wrongful foreclosure, and the bank eventually abandoned the matter.
But not before the Nyerges incurred $2,534 in attorney’s fees, which they requested informally from Bank of America multiple times before resorting to the courts, which ordered the bank to make the couple whole. When B of A still had not paid the judgment after five months of phone calls and letter writing by Allen and the Nyerges to the bank insisting that the court order be obeyed, Allen took the next step in the legal collection process, obtaining an order of foreclosure against the bank.
[time-link title="(Read about how Bank of America recently introduced fees for checking accounts)" url=http://moneyland.time.com/2011/02/04/free-checking-becomes-fee-checking/]
“They’ve ignored our calls, ignored our letters, legally this is the next step to get my clients compensated,” Allen stated during an interview with CBS News.
Allen then reported to a local branch of the bank with sheriff’s deputies, who he instructed to remove cash from the tellers’ drawers, furniture, computers and other property. Approximately one hour later, the Naples News reports, the bank manager produced a check for $5,772.88 to satisfy Allen’s fees and additional costs.
“We apologize to Mr. Nyerges that there was a delay in receiving the funds,”read the bank’s written statement to the Naples News. “The original request went to an outside attorney who is no longer in business.”
Some might say all’s well that ends well in this scenario, seeing as the Nyerges got their home, Allen got his fees and the bank got it’s comeuppance. But there are deeper implications to every one of these foreclosure foul-up horror stories we read about, and even those we don’t. The finger-pointing to outside attorneys seems reminiscent of the banks’ excuse for the robo-signing scandal that broke last fall, and just as flimsy: the fact that a bank has lots of foreclosures to process and hires an overworked, underqualified or otherwise not-up-to-the-job professional to do it does not justify the nonchalance with which documents and properties of such gravitas were treated. The similarity didn’t escape Allen, who told CBS News, “this is a symptom of a larger problem.”
Further, these excuses also doesn’t stand up to snuff: I’ve pointed out before that in transactions with far less monetary significance than foreclosure (and far greater frequency), banks get it right, almost every single time. Just think: when was the last time you got an extra $20 bill at the ATM? I’ve never met someone who could remember such a time. Similarly, while one or even several of the Nyerges’ efforts to get B of A to pay the court judgment might have gone to the defunct lawyer’s office, the Nyerges say they actually submitted their pleas directly to the bank, multiple times, to no avail: “I talked to branch managers, I called anyone who would listen to me,” the couple told the Naples News. “And I wrote a certified letter to the president (of the bank). No response, nothing.”
[time-link title="(Read about B of A buying up abusive web domains)" url=http://techland.time.com/2010/12/22/bank-of-america-tries-to-avoid-internet-backlash-by-buying-abusive-domains/]
And all these instances — from the robo-signing news to the refusal to pay this judgment — may contribute to the depression of home values, with just a few degrees of separation. A survey last year found that the robo-signing scandal caused U.S. adults to trust the banks less. Not surprising, but perhaps this is: a study by professors at Northwestern University and the University of Chicago recently found that the vast majority of homeowners, even those with negative equity, would rather keep their homes than strategically default on them. However, “people who are angrier about the current economic situation are more willing to express their willingness to default, as are people who trust banks less.”
To be fair, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency’s sweeping investigation into the robo-signing scandal concluded that only a small number of foreclosures actually took place wrongfully, and that even those were only wrongful because of an intervening law or event (like a bankruptcy filing by the homeowners), not because the mortgage payments weren’t actually delinquent.
But if ever there was a business argument for the banks to get their procedures and processes together when it comes to foreclosure and cleaning up the messes created by the few, truly wrongful foreclosures which, like the Nyerges’ case, will get widespread notoriety and further tear down consumer trust in the banks, it might be contained in these three simple statements. Less trust, more walkaways. More walkaways, more foreclosures. More foreclosures, lower home values. Enough said? We’ll see.