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Seeking loan modifications shouldn't make homeowners target of scorn

By Michelle Singletary
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 20, 2010; 8:14 PM

Brett Radosta is not a deadbeat.

And yet to hear many people tell it, Radosta - whose home in metro Atlanta is scheduled for foreclosure by Bank of America - is making out like a bandit because there's a possibility he might get a loan modification.

The criticism I get isn't about Radosta personally, but about homeowners like him.

"Most people with mortgages they could not handle and should not have gotten did not care about anyone except themselves," a reader wrote to me. "They got taken because they were greedy. And now they want everyone else to bail them out, including those who did no wrong. What about those of us who did not give into temptation and lived within our means? What about good old-fashioned personal responsibility?"

Another reader asked - his comments dripping with contempt for those, like Radosta, in foreclosure: "When you buy something, don't you have a personal responsibility to know, or at least think, you can afford it?"

In some respects, the critics are right.

Radosta wasn't thinking about the macro economy when he took out a $412,000 home loan in 2006. He wasn't thinking that he and many like him would become part of the nationwide tragedy of mass foreclosures. He wasn't concerned that his decision - along with other decisions by borrowers and lenders - would help push us into the current financial crisis.

The 40-year-old father of four was only thinking about his family. He just wanted to do better for them. Radosta left his sales manager job at a soft-drink bottler to become an entrepreneur. And for a while, it was working.

Radosta became the co-owner of an eco-friendly day care center that got national attention. He was also buying and reselling homes to low-income families. When he started his business, things were going well economically (or so we all thought). Real estate prices were continuing to go up, and as a result, lenders were handing out home loans like Halloween candy.

So when Countrywide Financial offered him an interest-only loan, he says he believed at the time that he could afford the mortgage.

"My goal was after 10 years, business would be great and I would have more money," Radosta said in an interview. "I thought I would be able to afford the payments based on the economy."

Was he too optimistic?

Yes.

The economy tanked, real estate busted and Radosta lost most of his income. He's no longer an owner of the day care center. When he couldn't find work, he and his wife started a fitness business. His wife works part-time as a substitute teacher. For a while, Radosta only made half-payments on his mortgage. Then in March, he quit paying altogether when the foreclosure process began.

Radosta admits he made mistakes. But do he and so many other homeowners facing foreclosure deserve to be crushed with mean-spirited, contemptuous criticism?

No.

When Radosta bought his first home for $59,000, he said it was a tough process. That was not the case with his recent home loan.

"I don't play the victim," Radosta says. "But it was easy. It was too easy. In hindsight, I was overconfident."

Radosta was hoping he would get more time to try to save his home when Bank of America, which took over Countrywide, announced that it was freezing foreclosures and reviewing cases amid reports that mortgage loan servicers signed thousands of foreclosure documents without verifying the information.

But after only 10 days, Bank of America lifted the freeze and said it would proceed with its foreclosures.

"I find this very confusing and stressful," said Radosta, whose home is scheduled for foreclosure on Nov. 2.

Bank of America is reviewing Radosta's case, and he may be able to get help through the federal Making Home Affordable program, said Jumana Bauwens, a spokeswoman for the bank.

Bauwens said even though the Radosta home is still scheduled for foreclosure, Treasury Department guidelines allow the bank to postpone the sale while the paperwork for the modification is being reviewed. And even if Radosta doesn't qualify for the federal program, the bank may attempt to identify another home retention option, she said.

"We are honestly trying to work very hard to help as many people as we can stay in their homes," Bauwens said.

I ask Radosta if that's fair. I tell him many people believe he's getting something he doesn't deserve if Bank of America does modify his loan to something he can now afford.

"I'm not making out like a bandit," he says, fighting back tears.

"This is humbling," he says. "It's embarrassing. My children are confused. My wife is confused. As a father, I feel responsible for this. I think, as an entrepreneur, I took too many risks. I own that. But does that mean I have to live on the streets? What contribution do I make in that environment? I thought I was doing things right. Obviously I wasn't based on what is happening to me now."

Readers can write to Michelle Singletary at The Washington Post, 1150 15th St., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20071. Her e-mail address is singletarym@washpost.com. Comments and questions are welcome, but because of the volume of mail, personal responses may not be possible. Note that comments or questions may be used in a future column, with the writer's name, unless a specific request to do otherwise is indicated.

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