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Fallout: In the real estate boom, one mother took a chance on American dream -- and lost big

In the search for a better life for her children, single mother Daverena White took a chance on a $698,000 home. But circumstances soured from there. Her story is one of an America in the midst of a relentless real estate boom.

"If you buy the house, you do the business, you're working hard, you can be rich -- in five to 10 years," is Zhang's recollection.

* * *

On settlement day, reality bore down.

It was Nov. 8, 2006, when White arrived at a tan-brick office building on Hungerford Drive in Rockville, its parking lot joined with a pool hall called the Orange Ball.

At first it all seemed straightforward. Papers were read and presented, most of which White did not try to decipher. The type of financing that had started it all would later come to be known as a liar's loan because it required no proof of income. Across the country, thousands and thousands of such loans were made. White's papers cited income of $163,320 a year, even though she says her 2005 income-tax earnings were less than $15,000 and she relied at times on food stamps.

The same papers showed how much she had in her bank account. The total was $14,026, appearing to reflect two deposits made the day before the closing, when a $7,000 check from Zhang's husband was deposited into White's account at 12:20 p.m., which was one minute after $6,000 in cash was added.

A good-faith loan, Zhang would say later.

No loan at all, White would say, but rather an infusion of cash to make her appear qualified to the lender.

White didn't dwell on these details at the closing table, and didn't pay attention to the figures showing that the loan's adjustable interest rate was starting at 8.6 percent and could rise as high as 15.1 percent after two years.

One after another, White signed papers while waiting for the one she cared most about: her monthly payment. She had not yet been told what it would be.

"Please let this be something I can afford," she said to herself. She was pretty sure she could afford $2,000. She told herself that if her day-care business did well, perhaps she could afford $2,500. If it was $2,800, she would struggle. Here, now, came reality: $5,635 a month.

"Oh my God," she thought. The room suddenly seemed airless. She felt herself getting cold. Her lips, her fingertips.

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