It led to the spate of foreclosures clogging courts across the U.S. that, according to the latest reports, won’t peak for another two years. Depending on when you think the ‘downturn’ started, that’s at least ten years of misery for a significant percentage of Connecticut homeowners.
These ten years also happen to coincide with the most prolific, almost instantaneous, exchange of information in human history.
So, it’s no surprise that the Internet is alive with conspiracy theories – conspiracies involving banks, mortgage lenders, government entities, brokerage firms, real estate investment companies, hedge funds, foreclosure law firms, and a host more.
Many – many – of the sites proffering these also offer a vast array of solutions, many start out free, then . . . well, you know.
This may seem of little concern to most people, but it’s widespread and it obscures legitimate issues in the foreclosure process.
Case in point, a large foreclosure firm filed against a homeowner in southeastern Connecticut about a year ago. The homeowner skipped a response in state court and went straight to Federal District Court with a complaint that the court kindly referred to a ‘somewhat repetitive, verbose, and dense.’
The homeowner’s complaint was straight off the web and it attacked the forest while foregoing the trees. The district court was not unsympathetic to some piece of the argument, tried several times to direct the homeowner toward something legally solid (the court, in fact, did everything except use highlighter over the relevant passages) failed each time as the plaintiff merely regurgitated their first – and only – argument.
The homeowners missed the golden opportunities offered by the court; the foreclosure firm made a half a dozen procedural errors in their pursuit of the state foreclosure action that the homeowners – guided by the web-based conspiracy crowd – ignored in their attempt to slay the giant.
After a long and tortuous process, the homeowners lost; the foreclosure firm touted it as a notable, precedent setting win on various industry web sites. (Every side is entitled to their own illusions).
The thing is, maybe there was (and is) a conspiracy (s), certainly a lot of really bad things happened to take down the economy. None of that matters – the foreclosure process is not the place to blow the lid off of it. It’s the place to work to keep your home or stay in it as long as possible while you rearrange your life.
These websites and self-help programs offer a narrative for a confusing, stressful time. They do not offer the solutions you can find in court.
I saw a Best Buy Christmas commercial yesterday – really – and swore that I wouldn’t buy a thing from Best Buy through the holiday season as a reprisal for them RUNNING A CHRISTMAS AD ON OCTOBER 23RD.
It did get me thinking – rather, I didn’t forget it. I had lunch today with Donna Convicer and we began to think about year end planning for the firm. Then it hit us: last year we had more foreclosure cases between Thanksgiving and New Years than in all the years previously, combined.
It used to be that court cases – at least here in Connecticut – backed off considerably during the holidays. Especially those concerning housing – as in, no one wants to evict people from their homes during the holidays, it’s just so … so, Dickensian.
If last year was any indication, banks (and, by proxy, foreclosure firms) are getting the same head start on the holiday season as Best Buy and layering in matters for year end. Unfortunately, if you’re facing a possible foreclosure you can’t handle this the way I’m handling Best Buy. Don’t ignore or assume it’s going to go away for during the holidays, be proactive.
An attorney and a real estate guy were just arrested in Connecticut for allegedly running a scam on people facing foreclosure. They’re accused of something that looks remarkably like a variation on the Detroit scam I wrote about awhile back.
According to the Connecticut Law Journal “[they] would offer to purchase their homes and pay off their mortgages. The distressed homeowners agreed to sign various documents, including quitclaim deeds, indemnification agreements, management agreements and third-party authorization letters that [they] presented to them with the promise that they would be able to walk away from their homes debt-free.”
The homeowners were told to ignore any future communications from their banks, most, if not all of them, moved out. After they moved out, the alleged scammers then rented out the homes and pocketed the rent. No money was ever forwarded to either the real owners or the banks. It’s assumed that this went on until the banks foreclosed and the renters received eviction notices.
This is disturbing and, unfortunately, not uncommon. Distressed homeowners are well named – aside serious health issues there’s few things more stressful than facing losing one’s home. Distressed homeowners are targets for the smart but unscrupulous. Theses predators invent fantastical solutions that sound dead-on doable. Real.
So, here’s the thing, and it’s simple – if someone says they’ll handle everything, deal with the bank for you, take all the stress off, allow you to ignore future notices and all those pesky court dates they are ripping you off.
Get a lawyer, go to court, handle it directly, there is no magic to it. Real Estate Maven, Lawyer, Doctor, your favorite brother-in-law, anyone who tells you they have the solution and you can ignore … everything … is not there to help.
Go ahead and deal with these people and you’ll end up like Flounder from Animal House. Remember, he loans the guys his brother’s car for the infamous road trip and it comes back so trashed it’s unrecognizable. The response from Otter? To paraphase, “Face it, you screwed up, you trusted us.”
Nothing against trolls – the fairy tale, Tolkien type trolls, that is. You know the type, big, strong, intellectually challenged, easily influenced. Big, shambling brutes that you sorta feel sorry for.
Then, though, there are internet trolls. These you sorta feel sorry for the way you felt for the Nazis in Inglorious Basterds. I had one a few weeks ago, he commented (don’t look for it, it’s long gone) on a picture of me testifying before the Connecticut Legislature about the mediation program.
He – I should point out he is not a follower of the blog or page, he just came out of the ether – made a comment I’ve heard a thousand times in a hundred different forms. This: “Why don’t your clients just pay their bills.”
So, I did a quick click over to the guy’s page, he’s a member of a quasi-official offshoot of the Republican party and an ardent follower of the guy who would make us all great again. The irony, of course, is drippingly clear, his icon of fiscal responsibility became rich by using the bankruptcy laws.
Be that as it may, I started thinking about a response to this type of self-righteous remark. I’m certain pointing out that my clients would pay if they could because no one likes being sued or foreclosed on would fall on closed ears. I also suspect that my previous posts about the reasons people miss payments, how everyday things like divorce, job loss, or illness effect the best intentioned ‘consumer,’ would be scoffed at even while I pointed out the inevitability of one of those things happening over the course of an average mortgage.
Nah, this guy has neither empathy nor a sense of history.
So, I’d tell him this – we should all care, deeply, because foreclosed on homes are blights in the neighborhood and anchors pulling down everyone’s home values. That’s it. Simple. Unless you are the only person in the country who believes that banks do a sparkling job of managing the homes they foreclose on, you want the people who love their homes to stay there.
That’s it. Foreclosures hurt the community in a host of ways. If you’re into draconian actions to punish delinquent homeowners because of … well, whatever your personal hobgoblins are … you would do well to remember that somewhere along the line, you’re harmed by every foreclosure that goes through in your community.
I was on the phone with a mortgage broker last week – yes, like 99% of the general population, foreclosure defense attorneys need mortgages – when he asked me about my business.
Yup, that’s right, it’s 2016 and women attorneys still get ‘Alley McBealed’.
I, obviously a little too subtly, let him know I wasn’t flattered or amused, he didn’t get it and persisted as if being a fan of Ally McBeal was some kind of bonding mechanism, like we had survived Contracts I together. Finally, I had to tell him flat out to move on, I’m sure he’s still baffled.
I hated Ally McBeal – the show and the character. The show really had nothing to do with law or law practice or, well, anything else beside, perhaps, championing the use of coed restrooms. I suppose the reruns could be used as some sort of training tool for HR executives on the hazards of inter-office romances.
This got me thinking, though, of woman lawyers in movies and TV . . . and I’m not sure I like where that’s taking me. It occurs to me that there are two types of women in shows about the law – bright, pretty, perky; and stone-cold, morally-compromised.
It says a lot, too, that those bright, perky, pretty woman are not real attorneys. Sandra Bullock in A Time to Kill, is the smart, adorable, brave law student to Matthew McConaughey’s besieged but strong attorney; in The Pelican Brief, Julia Roberts is another bright, pretty law student to Denzel Washington’s wise, tough worldly reporter. As a matter of fact, Julia Roberts does it yet again in Erin Brockovitch, this time the brassy, attractive, persistent law researcher to Albert Finney’s tough, understanding, lawyer/patriarch.
I’m sensing a theme here.
In Hollywood and TV Land it seems to me Sandra and Julia graduate law school and turn into Patty Hewes, an attorney who has blithely gone well past morally-compromised and directly to straight up killer. As far as I can see, there’s few – perhaps none- woman lawyers in popular culture who are considered beyond their attractiveness and/or general bitchiness.
In Damages, in pretty much comes full circle, Rose Bryne’s character, Ellen Parson, comes into the first season pretty, perky, and bright eyed and goes out perilously close to Glenn Close’s Hewes on the morality scale.
I don’t know, perhaps it is a bit of an improvement, after all, at least there weren’t any dancing babies.
I took a bunch of clients to see The Big Short early last month. Great group of people, great time, great movie. Smart, funny, insightful, wicked, insidious, it did as good a job as anything in any medium in explaining the housing bubble and ensuing chaos.
In the long run, though, The Big Short was ultimately frustrating and infuriating. In so entertainingly showing us the how and whys of what happened, the utter lack of a ‘happy’ ending was – while realistic – shattering. At least to me, sitting in a theater among those … well, let me put it this way – a few people got rich, millions lost their homes, the guys that perpetuated it all were bailed out and moved on to new investments and new bonuses. Fairness, never mind justice, was not part of the equation.
I was sitting with a few of the still millions of Americans dealing with the continuing ramifications of, according to the movie (very persuasively), an enormous scam. As the credits rolled we were left with Steve Carell’s scathing indictment of Wall Street and Ryan Gosling’s slick, sarcastic denouement … and nothing else.
No solutions, no ‘at least the bad guys were held accountable,’ no ‘things changed and this can never happen again…’, nothing.
Still, I think it’s important – for everyone – to know what happened, and how it happened. Then, to file it away, remember but bury the righteous indignation, anger, frustration because – as The Big Short so clearly shows us – it has no impact whatever on . . .anything.
That;s not quite true, all that does have an impact in foreclosure defense – it gets in the way. My clients and I are not going to undo anything coming out of the greatest, most devastating financial meltdowns of our lifetimes in a Connecticut court, regardless of our anger.
All we can – and will – do is use everything available under the law to do everything possible to get the best solution. We’ll leave the angst and revenge fantasies to Hollywood, I understand they have several movies coming out in the next few months where Wall Street get theirs.
I plan to be there with more clients when George Clooney and Julia Roberts take down the Street. It might not mean much for my practice, but it will feel good.
I have a friend who is a huge baseball friend. Not Donald Trump Ya-uuuge, but real-life huge. He’s deep into baseball history, is still mad at Hollywood for changing the ending of The Natural, and makes a pretty good case that Jim Bouton’s Ball Four is one of the top five non-fiction baseball books of all time.
He makes an even stronger case that Ball Four is one of the best business books ever.
One story he tells from the book seems particularly relevant to my practice and clients. It goes like this:
Ball Four takes place over the course of the one and only year of the 1969 Seattle Pilots – one of the most forlorn major league baseball teams of all time.
Late in the season the Pilots trade one of their very few legitimate major leaguers, Tommy Davis, to the Houston Astros.
Davis is thrilled to leave the gloom of last place and the almost daily rain delays of the even gloomier Sick’s Stadium for The Eighth Wonder of the World (the Astrodome) and a shot at the pennant.
A few weeks into his Astros’ experience Davis is so outwardly happy one of his new teammates, the intellectual flake and third baseman Doug Rader, can’t stand it any longer and asks him why.
Tommy goes off on a litany of wonderful things that have happened since he stepped off the plane from Seattle to be met by the Houston General Manager and a limo: ‘the Astro’s set him up in a fancy hotel until he could find a home; they flew his family down from Seattle first class, took his wife out to explore neighborhoods and school systems, are paying for meals and expenses while they’re waiting to find a house, have a moving company packing up their Seattle home and bringing everything down all expenses paid, and a whole lot more. The Astros have, in fact, treated Davis so well he feels so indebted to them that he tells Rader he never wants to leave.
To which Doug Rader shakes his head slowly, puts a hand on Davis’ shoulder and says,”They had to do all that, Tommy, it’s in your contract.”
Neat story, but what does it have to do with my practice? Well, a lot actually. I get a lot of clients late into the process because they feel obliged to stick with trying to work things out with the bank, or collection company, or some other institution. They feel obligated because, like Tommy Davis, they think the bank is going out of its way to help them when, in fact, they are doing exactly what is required of them – and no more – under the terms of the contract that no consumer has ever read.
It gets in the way, this false but understandable sense of ‘gratitude’ during a time of great stress. It’s fine to try to ‘work it out with the bank,’ of course, but it’s important to do so from a position of knowledge. Talk to someone who knows.
I’m one of those people and my friend tells me that as far as my practice goes, I have a very high WAR – Wins Above Replacement. Now I just need someone to explain that to me.
So now, as an infallible way of making little ease great ease, I began to contract a quantity of debt.
~ Charles Dickens, Great Expectations
The running themes through Dickens’ long – and lucrative – career were crushing debt, workhouses, courts snarled in technicalities, poverty, sour credit, low wages, foreclosures, banks, scams, mass incarceration, sweatshops, social injustice … All very much applicable today.
If Dickens came back tomorrow, he’d be astonished by the speed of today’s communications; overwhelmed by the modern technologies used in finance; awed but probably pleased with the serialized novel on TV and Netflix, et al – I imagine him binge watching Breaking Bad and The Wire.
He’d find some things appallingly the same, others miraculous. He’d immediately recognize Pharma Bro, everyone running for President, the characters in The Big Short. Give him a week and he’d be working on a new novel.
Dickens had an unfailing eye for all this because he lived it. He grew up in a middle class family, comfortable, good at school, apparently fairly happy. All that was destroyed when he was twelve and his father was tossed into debtor’s prison (right). Charles’ mother and younger siblings went with him – as was the custom. Charles,was forced to pawn his school books, was sent off to a workshop to help pay off his father’s debts.
An inheritance saved the family though Dickens’ mother was adamantly opposed to his leaving work and forced him to stay there for long, unhappy months before he left to resume his studies. He rewarded her for that particularly slight through dozens of novels and plays. (From Dickens to Bob Dylan and Alanis Morissette, it’s never a good idea to upset an artist with wide reach).
In his early writing career – he was pretty much a prodigy from the start – he covered the courts and, briefly, Parliament.
He saw the system from every angle and he set out to attack it in the only way he could, through his writing, within the flexibility and thin protection of the novel. He opened Victorian eyes to the seamy underbelly of British wealth, society, and empire.
In 1843 he turned his wrath to Christmas. At the time, many – including his good friend Washington Irving – felt that Christmas season was ebbing away from the poor and increasingly put upon middle-class.
He didn’t like what he was seeing, feeling, and he sat down to write a scathing pamphlet about the issue. It soon occurred to him that a novel would work much better, reach more people. In six weeks he crafted his ‘ghost story’, A Christmas Carol.
He published it himself in an effort to not be ripped off by his usual publisher. In today’s parlance, it went viral. Immensely popular, even his [many] critics extolled it. Thousands and thousands of copies were sold, many more – particularly in the United States were ‘bootlegged’ – and it was immediately adapted for the stage. Dickens himself did stage readings of the entire manuscript. It was everywhere.
Humanitarianism, redemption, a dead-on accurate portrayal of early-Victorian England, it hit a nerve in Great Britain and the United States. It hit, hard, the people bearing the burden of the Industrial Revolution, changed the way everyone thought of the Christmas season.
How a man who, when first confronted with poverty and homelessness, says, “Are there no prisons? Are there no workhouses?” Finds empathy is inspiring regardless of religious belief. A Christmas Carol was a great story, a strong, bitter indictment of the times, and it worked. It changed things. It has never been out of print.
Again, no debt, no Dickens, no Dickens, no holiday season? The latter may be a stretch, but it’s not unthinkable.
So, sometime in the next few days I plan on catching the 1950 Alastair Sim, A Christmas Carol – a great adaptation (out of dozens, beginning with Thomas Edison’s version in the early 1900s!).
And to all my readers, I hope it’s obvious, “God Bless Us, Everyone.”
In the last month, if you’ve watched TV or surfed the web, or turned on your smart phone, AM-FM radio, opened a newspaper, or stood near someone who has, you have been assaulted with ads for Draftkings and FanDuel.
They are online sports fantasy games and they are everywhere. Their pitch is simple – sign up, log in, charge a few bucks to your credit card (they will match your funds up to $200, so . . .), plug in your lineups on their easy to use platforms, hit enter, and WIN!
According to their websites there’ll be $2 billion in winnings this year.
Oh, yeah, it’s a game of skill, not gambling, though being lucky doesn’t hurt.
People do win . . . it’s just pretty much the same ones over and over again because the pros have moved in. The guys who spend thousands a pop, work at this 10-12 hours a day, design computer programs and algorithms to play a thousand or so games at a clip, subscribe to professional newsletters and sites . . . those are the guys winning all the money.
By the way, that sounds a whole lot more like a job – a tough job – than FUN.
According to NPR and the NY Times, these sites – who may merge any day now – break down into two distinct groups – the pros and the rest. The pros comprise 1% of the players and 80% of the prize money, and rising.
This fact will stop no-one because the games are fun, addictive, and there is that chance of winning, however slim. And, you can watch a crappy NFL game, like most of them this past weekend, and still have a rooting interest.
Which has not gone unnoticed by the powers that be – NFL teams are pumping funds into these companies on a record pace, hence all the money available for the nonstop ads.
Absent an act of Congress – which inadvertently recognized these sort of games as not gambling – they aren’t going anywhere.
One percent pulls in the overwhelming bulk of the rewards, computer programs and algorithms stilt the competition, enormous corporations invest and stand to profit greatly, ‘regular’ people are racking up debt to play.
That remind you of anything?