Editor’s note: In this guest perspective, a Phoenix real estate broker sheds light on the pervasive problem — and possible contributors — to mortgage fraud.
By MARGIE O’CAMPO DE CASTILLO
There’s no doubt, our opinions on immigration and immigrants are as diverse as the color of our skin. While each argument over immigration brings to light some very valid points, one thing is certain: the cultural divide is widening and at one point or another we will have to deal with the issues it brings.
As a Realtor, educator, and president of a Hispanic organization, I struggle to generalize despite being perplexed by countless situations illustrating abuse of the immigrant and abuse by the immigrant. In studying the different cases I’d like to share what I have found to be a common denominator present in many predicaments.
Costumbres (habits, customs): What habit isn’t hard to break?
Ezekiel has lived in the United States for several years and is proud to be a new legal citizen of this great country. Having reached this goal, he is ready to tackle the dream of homeownership but is confused by the variety of choices and voices that counsel him to go in a myriad of directions.
While living in Mexico, Ezekiel worked at the bus terminal. He always came home with extra cash paid to him to look the other way when bags weighed too much or carried prohibited items. Then there were times when he found himself on the other side of the equation and gladly gave the traffic cop a little something to avoid getting a citation. Nothing that would make the evening news — just part of the daily routine in his world.
Ezekiel and his family have been working for over three months with Alisa, an experienced and ethical Realtor. Nicole put Ezekiel in touch with an equally qualified lender, Rose. Despite their laborious efforts, Ezekiel’s friend convinces him to stop working with these people because they are taking too long.
The friend introduces Ezekiel to another real estate agent and lender because they have a reputation for getting anyone approved for a loan and into a house within a month.
Although this will involve "creating" the necessary documentation to qualify for a conforming loan, Ezekiel focuses on the promise of a lower interest rate, which will mean a lower monthly payment, along with other buyer assistance monies. Plus, he is told that it is far less complicated than the options Alisa and Rose had thoroughly explained.
At this point, Alisa and Rose are very frustrated by Ezekiel’s behavior. Did they do too much explaining? Where did they go wrong? They had nothing but Ezekiel’s best interests in mind, yet he chose to circumvent the entire process and work with a lender who does not explain anything. Instead, he says only what Ezekiel wants to hear and finishes every sentence with, "Don’t worry. I’ll take care of everything."
Mordidas: bribes or ‘bites’?
It’s no secret that bribery is a way of life in many Latin American countries. In some parts of Mexico people refer to bribes as "mordidas" — it translates in English to "bites." So it is fair to assume that many folks coming from Latin American countries have this mentality or custom.
After observing many cases I have come to the conclusion that most of these individuals never once believed they were breaking the law — much less doing something criminal by "creating" necessary documents to obtain a loan or paying someone to "create" false documents. However, in our country these actions are labeled "forgery" and "fraud" and with them come serious consequences.
One would-be homebuyer explained it to me like this: "If my family is hungry and I have no money, I don’t think it’s a crime to steal food to feed them. So if my family needs a home, and they deserve a home, who am I harming by creating a paper that will get us a home?"
So there you have it, in a nutshell. You have the family who wants to be homeowners and who do not believe they are harming anyone by fraudulently obtaining a loan. Then you have the unscrupulous predators that understand this immigrant mentality and knowingly break the law and fleece their victims in the process, to line their own wallets.
It’s a sad state of affairs.
Unfortunately, I do not have a solution — but I am seeking to shine the light on an ongoing problem.
Margie O’Campo de Castillo is the broker for Arizona Dream Realty LLC. She has worked in the real estate industry since the 1980s as a Realtor, public speaker, educator, Hispanic-market expert, moderator, panelist and presenter. She has served as president of the Arizona chapter of the Hispanic Association of Real Estate Professionals and the Board of the National Association of Hispanic Real Estate Professionals.
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