When John Degroot refinanced his Lake Stevens home, it was so he could afford to fix the place up.
A few years later, the hardwood floors have been installed. The yard is like a page out of Better Homes and Gardens.
And the mortgage payments are unaffordable.
A loss of income put the monthly payments out of reach for Degroot, a disabled structural engineer who is not old enough to receive full retirement benefits.
Now, he’s attempting to modify his Bank of America loan, applying for help under the federally backed Making Home Affordable program.
Like many other homeowners across the country, he’s frustrated. He’s been told he qualifies, but he can’t get answers about when — or if — he’ll see relief.
“If I qualify for the program, what’s the hang-up?” he said on a recent afternoon, shifting through loan documents at his dining room table.
He estimates that more than 55 percent of his monthly income goes to pay his home loan. Even before his income dropped, things were tight.
“They should never have given me that loan,” he said.
Degroot said he’s not giving up — even if the modification doesn’t come through.
“We put a lot of money in the house, and we’re not going to walk away from the house,” he said.
For now, he’s being told to be patient, that a loan modification takes time.
“How many more times am I going to hear ‘45 days’?” he said.
The federal loan-modification program aims to help homeowners avoid foreclosure, but some say there’s a disconnect between intention and reality.
Foreclosures are on the rise in Snohomish County, according to data from the auditor’s office. Before a bank repossesses a property, it must file a notice of trustee sale, acknowledging the property will be foreclosed on in 90 days.
The notices don’t always lead to foreclosures, but they’re a fairly reliable indicator of how many homeowners are in trouble. And lately, the number of notices issued indicates the trouble isn’t over.
About 590 homeowners received notices in May, roughly twice as many as in the same month two years ago.
County records show 593 households received the warning notices last month, compared with 297 in May of 2008.
Frustrations have mounted among homeowners wading through the process, and some believe banks don’t have their best interests in mind.
“It just seems to be something they’re doing intentionally — I can’t think anything else,” said Ken Agren, a Darrington resident trying to modify the mortgage on his home of 10 years.
Agren wanted to modify his loan with EMC Mortgage Corp., a subsidiary of JPMorgan Chase. He was told his application was voided in February because a document was missing — a document his lender confirmed receiving the month before.
“I’ve mailed hundreds of pages of information to these people,” Agren said. “Now in order to get my loan in the process again, I have to resubmit everything.”
A lawyer with the firm Hagens Berman filed a lawsuit against Bank of America on behalf of Washington state homeowners in March, alleging the bank is “intentionally withholding government funds intended to save homeowners from foreclosure.”
The Seattle-based firm filed a similar suit on behalf of California homeowners this spring.
The suits show homeowners like Degroot and Agren aren’t alone. But company doesn’t necessarily alleviate misery in this situation.
Niqi Saunders and Kurt Anderson of Marysville are trying to modify the mortgage on their Marysville home — and they’re getting mixed signals from Bank of America.
Earlier this spring, they received a rejection letter.
But a conversation with their loan officer a few weeks ago revealed the rejection letter was sent in error.
Now, the parents of a 10-month-old child are waiting to hear if they qualify for a modification or not.
A loss of income made the payments on the couple’s home unaffordable. Anderson ended up selling a car, cashing in his retirement plan and accepting some money from a relative to try to make ends meet.
But the couple doesn’t know when their financial situation will improve, or how they’ll pay for the house if they can’t secure lower payments.
“It’s really hard,” Saunders said. “We really don’t want to lose our house.”
Amy Rolph: 425-339-3029; email@example.com.