In Virginia, foreclosures can be ‘the end of year uglies’ for homeowners

December 29, 2011

The house will be gone soon. For Jenny and Robert Click, the loss of their Dale City home, scheduled to be sold at a foreclosure auction Jan. 6, has loomed over their holidays.

The sense of sorrow was so intense that Jenny Click considered ignoring Christmas and New Year’s, then changed her mind and put up a tree in her living room.

“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.

“The situation is terrible,” he said.

Two days later, his gambit paid off. His auction was postponed.

In another part of Dale City, Donna Bynum was not as lucky. Her townhouse was auctioned off Wednesday. Bynum, a legal assistant, said that when she bought the three-bedroom townhouse for $210,000 in 2007, her $1,711-a-month mortgage payment was based on her overtime hours, which added up to as much as 34 hours a pay period.

“Then it dropped to six hours,” she said. “Then to no hours.”

The value of her house also dropped more than $60,000 below what she had paid for it. She asked the bank to reduce the monthly payment to $1,400. The bank offered to lower it by $27. She filed for bankruptcy in August. Among her small number of assets, she listed her two dogs — value $10 — and her nine-year old Toyota.

She is still trying to figure out where she will go next.

Less than a mile away, Roberto Hernandez didn’t want to wait for the auction. His three-story townhouse is scheduled to be sold Friday. He moved his family to his brother’s house in Laurel and spent Christmas weekend retrieving the last of his possessions.

“I don’t know what will happen next,” said Hernandez, a carpenter who got the notice of the foreclosure auction in October.

Packing up

At the Click home, almost everything was packed up for the family’s move to an apartment in Front Royal. Normally, Jenny Click said, the approach of the holidays would be marked by faux greenery around the doorway to the foyer and candles everywhere. Last week, the only sign of Christmas was the tree that took up a corner of the living room, where Click said she had cried tears of joy the day her family moved in 11 years ago.

“I was thinking I had finally made it,” she said. “I had my own house.”

When they bought the three-bedroom house for $87,000, Click was earning $18 an hour driving a dump truck. Robert Click, 46, was earning slightly more by driving a truck for a construction company. Jenny Click said she was drawn by the proximity to schools for her two children and the spacious master bedroom, which has its own bathroom and lots of light.

Once the run-up in house prices began, she said, they were bombarded with offers to refinance. They did so twice, pulling out $70,000 in equity to make much-needed repairs to the roof and a bathroom and to pay off their cars.

“ ‘It’s like free money,’ is what they said,” she recalled. “Except that it’s not free!”

Not long after the second refinance in 2006, Click, who had been suffering from severe back pain for years, quit her job. Her health problems multiplied; she applied for disability. Robert Click’s take-home pay could barely cover the couple’s $2,215 mortgage payment, court records show.

The first foreclosure notice arrived early last year. In the spring, the couple filed for bankruptcy, suspending foreclosure proceedings for a few months. Then, Jenny Click said, a pair of loan modification firms offered to intercede with their lender, Bank of America, on their behalf for a total of $2,400.

Family stress

The couple didn’t hear anything for months and realized they had been ripped off when a foreclosure attorney called in October to tell them their house was going up for auction just before Thanksgiving.

Jenny Click, who said she never got a written notice, was so distraught she suffered a breakdown and spent a week in the hospital.

When she got home, she learned that the auction had been postponed. The family had already started packing. The apartment in Front Royal is half the size of the house. Click’s 80-year-old mother, who had lived with them for the past seven years, has moved in with one of her other children.

The couple’s 23-year-old son, Christopher, who is unemployed, has decided to stay in Dale City with friends. Jenny Click said her daughter, Amber, 16, cried when she heard he wasn’t coming with them.

Black trash bags stuffed with clothing and blankets cover the floor in the master bedroom. The eat-in kitchen now holds her son’s dismantled drum kit, a dryer and stacks of boxes. In a corner and behind the counter, a stuffed Grinch doll in a Santa outfit lay on its side.

The Clicks are worried that the sheriff will come before they are able to scrape together the rest of the security deposit for their apartment and the first month’s rent and utilities, about $935.

Someone who said he was with Bank of America called last week, asking what they planned to do. After being burned by the loan modification companies, Jenny Click was worried the caller might have been scamming them because he had asked for her husband’s Social Security number. Then she laughed.

“Like anybody would want our lives,” she said. “We got nothing!”

Annys Shin has been a staff writer at the Washington Post since 2004.
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