“Something got into me,” said the 47-year-old mother of two. “I said, ‘I might as well have my last Christmas and my last New Year’s here.’ ”
Following a long-established custom, Fannie Mae and other major lenders halt foreclosure evictions during the holidays. Some, including Bank of America, also halt foreclosure auctions, too. But the foreclosure process never really stops, especially in Virginia, which has one of the shortest foreclosure timelines in the nation.
In the weeks leading up to Christmas and New Year’s Day, lenders scheduled dozens of auctions in Prince William, which take place on the steps of the county courthouse in Manassas. One bank representative referred to them as “the end of year uglies.”
Prince William bore the brunt of the first wave of foreclosures that hit the Washington region five years ago. In 2008, at the peak of the crisis, more than 10,000 properties in the county were the subject of foreclosure proceedings, although not all of them went to auction, according to the private data firm RealtyTrac. Last year, that figure was closer to 5,000.
County residents have grown accustomed to the sight of homes with overgrown grass and pulled-down shades, lockboxes hanging on doors, and the words, “Bank Owned” plastered across “For Sale” signs.
While prices in Prince William have rebounded somewhat, as of October, about 40 percent of mortgage holders in the county are underwater, owing more than their homes are worth, according to the data firm CoreLogic.
Vulnerable to foreclosures
Homeowners who are underwater are more vulnerable to foreclosure in the event of a job loss or health crisis because they cannot refinance into lower payments or profit from a sale. Those who have fallen months behind on their mortgage usually discover that they are being foreclosed on when the lender schedules a sale. The sale can take place as soon as 14 days later.
When foreclosures collide with the holidays, the pain of losing a home is even more acute.
Some county homeowners got lucky this month.
Rodger Hodges’s house in Woodbridge was up for auction Dec. 19. He had spent the past year trying to get his payments modified, he said, but had a hard time, partly because his loan kept getting sold to another lender every few months. He finally hired an attorney, who managed to get the auction postponed.
Jose Manzanarez’s house in Dale City was scheduled to be the first in the county auctioned after Christmas, on Tuesday. He might have been tempting fate a little when he populated his front lawn with grapevine deer and illuminated snowmen. But he had just hired a lawyer to try one last time to work out a deal with his lender. If that had failed, the deer, the snowmen, Manzanarez, his wife, two children, his mother and his sister-in-law would all have to go.