Homeowner's mortgage modification leads to foreclosure worries - WFSB 3 Connecticut

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Homeowner's mortgage modification leads to foreclosure worries

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Worried she wouldn't be able to make her mortgage payments after hitting hard times, a Terryville woman took advantage of a trial loan modification offered by her bank to stay in her home, but that action seems to have backfired.

Jessica Huppenbauer said she has lived in her split level home in Terryville for the past nine years, but for the past three years, the bank hasn't accepted her mortgage payments and she doesn't understand why.

"I'm not looking for a free ride. I'm not looking for a handout. I've been willing to pay the whole time. I'm still willing to pay," Huppenbauer said to Channel 3 Eyewitness News reporter Kim Lucey.

When Lucey first met Huppenbauer in the fall, she explained that she and her now ex-husband bought the home in 2004. They put $12,000 down and got a mortgage for which they'd make a monthly payment of $1,650.

"My main goal was to get my older son in a good neighborhood in a good school system before he started kindergarten," she said. "So I was able to do that."

A few years into the mortgage, she said they started having trouble making ends meet.

Huppenbauer's husband was injured and the family lived off her bartender income. They grew concerned they wouldn't be able to make their monthly mortgage payments, so they contacted the bank.

"[I was] letting them know, ‘Listen, things are getting really tight. We're working on one income here. You know, what can we do?' And they suggested the modification," Huppenbauer said.

The couple was given a trial loan modification in late 2008, which reduced their monthly payments by $500. Huppenbauer said the contract with the lender, National City, spelled out the terms to convert the trial modification to a permanent one.

"It says as long as you don't default and you participate in everything they ask, any paperwork and obviously all payments made, that you're guaranteed a permanent modification figure," she said.

Huppenbauer said that she paid on time and in full.

National City was acquired by PNC in the midst of her trial modification and then suddenly the bank stopped cashing her monthly checks.

She said she called them to express concern that they weren't accepting her payments.

"I noticed you guys never took the money. What's going on?" Huppenbauer asked.

She said they responded,"'Well, your trial plan is over' and they gave me, I think it was four, four to eight weeks, you know, ‘No problems. This is normal. This is how it goes. You know, four to eight weeks and you'll get a permanent figure.'"

Four to eight weeks came and went, and then months passed.

The whole time, Huppenbauer said, she was told to sit tight.

"I would contact them at least every other week," she said. "Keep in touch. Um, ‘Nope, everything's fine. We're just doing the review process.'"

As more time passed, Huppenbauer said she knew something wasn't right, so she reached out to a housing mediator for help.

She said that when the bank finally told her she could pay, the amount owed jumped significantly because the bank had counted all those months as missed payments.

The new total mortgage, including penalties and fees, was higher than what she originally paid for the house.

"Nobody's willing to work with me," Huppenbauer said. "I don't understand how it makes any sense or how it's fair in any way."

Desperate to save her home, Huppenbauer went through nine mediation sessions before eventually taking the bank to court.

She then hired attorney Paul Freeman.

"Unfortunately, Jessica's situation is not unique," Freeman said. "She's somewhat unique in that she's ready, willing and able to pay. The bank isn't interested in allowing her to do that and that's their choice. I think it's really unfortunate. This is happening every day in Connecticut at an increasing rate, and I don't think people realize that."

Eight months after first talking to her and years after this whole ordeal began, Huppenbauer is still in her home and still not paying a mortgage.

"I never wanted any of this disaster and it turned into a complete nightmare, really," Huppenbauer said.

With the case in court, the judge decided to send it to trial, but she said the bank called it off and hasn't rescheduled. She continues to save the money that she would have paid toward her mortgage. Her credit score is a mess. But she is still hoping for a positive outcome.

"I would really be willing to just take whatever at this point, cut my losses and just say, you know, modify me at a reasonable rate, take a chunk of change off the top whatever it may be, $20,000, $30,000. Whatever they want to settle on, I'm prepared to give that when they're ready to take it and just move forward," Huppenbauer said.

In the meantime, Huppenbauer is working to help those who may find themselves in her position by testifying on behalf of Governor's Bill 6355.

She said the proposed legislation would hold lenders accountable just as it does the buyers, essentially making sure representatives of banks show up for mediations and court hearings.

PNC Bank declined Channel 3 Eyewitness News' request to comment.

Lucey asked what Huppenbauer would say if she were to meet with the bank president. "I think I would simply just say, ‘I don't know how you sleep at night," she said.

For now, she's focusing on what she can do - take care of her kids, continue to save money and hope for the best.

"Just let my kids stay in their home, stay in their school system and just leave us alone and let me pay," she said.

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