By ALICIA HOWE

Maria Ester lost her home in Romeoville, Ill., in June 2007. After her husband left her and she lost her job, Ester moved into a house she could afford and put her belongings into storage.

"Since then, I’ve lived in three different places, and I’m moving again because no one will sign me a lease longer than six months," Ester said.

By ALICIA HOWE

Maria Ester lost her home in Romeoville, Ill., in June 2007. After her husband left her and she lost her job, Ester moved into a house she could afford and put her belongings into storage.

"Since then, I’ve lived in three different places, and I’m moving again because no one will sign me a lease longer than six months," Ester said.

To prevent foreclosure, Ester said she first tried refinancing the home but was still unable to make the mortgage payments. She said she worked out a deal with a lawyer, but without fully understanding the situation — she received foreclosure papers 30 days later.

"I hired new lawyers once I got the papers, to help me fight," she said, to no avail.

She is not alone, though that may not offer much comfort.

The Center for Responsible Lending, a nonprofit research and policy organization that advocates for preserving homeownership, projects a total of 2.4 million foreclosures in 2009 and 9 million from 2009-12 (see report).

According to foreclosure data company RealtyTrac, there were 342,038 foreclosure-related filings tracked by the company in April, up 1 percent compared to March and up 32 percent compared to the same month last year.

Nevada had the highest rate of foreclosure filings nationwide, with one foreclosure-related filing for every 68 homes, and Illinois was seventh on that list with a rate of one filing for every 384 homes (see story).

Ester said losing her home was heartbreaking. She can’t even drive by the house because it reminds of her of losing her home, and her break with family.

"They all scattered because I could no longer afford a place big enough for all four of us. It’s more than not having a home — I lost my family."

Ester called the situation devastating, and said it was a difficult lesson to learn.

Investment property sours

Terrence and Michael Haugh had owned a townhome in Bolingbrook, Ill., which they rented out. In 2008, Michael received foreclosure papers in the mail after a prolonged period of not keeping up with payments.

"It’s tough when you have a partnership and the money’s not coming in. My brother and I had one too many arguments over it," Michael said.

Terrence said that he and Michael share the blame.

"We were falling behind on payments, but we still thought we could handle it and nothing would happen. I’m almost glad it’s over," he said.

Michael said, "We’re dealing with lawyers, payments, tenant complaints. The list goes on. It’s not a situation I would wish on anybody." …CONTINUED

The brothers agreed that they would never again purchase a home as an investment opportunity.

Job loss hits home

Constance Gragg is currently dealing with a foreclosure on her home in Joliet, Ill. As a single woman, Gragg lost her waitress job after 24 years and found another — at half the income. Foreclosure warnings followed for her home that she has lived in for 15 years.

Gragg said as soon she was late on the mortgage, the payment doubled. She couldn’t handle the cost, so she hired a lawyer to help.

"The first time around, my lawyer was nice and said she wouldn’t let me lose it," Gragg said.

Gragg said the lawyer told her to ask the judge for an extension, and to call the mortgage company everyday. The judge agreed to a 30-day extension.

Gragg said she called the mortgage company every day for several weeks and got the same phone recording each time.

"I got the same recorder, day after day. Once someone answered but … didn’t (appear to) understand what I was saying."

After three weeks, Gragg received papers that the mortgage company referred to as "Obama papers" — the papers related to a program to alter the terms of her current mortgage in order to lower her mortgage payments.

Gragg said she heard nothing after she completed the paperwork and sent it back.

"The papers asked me for my bank account number, my income, my everything."

The second time in court, Gragg worked with the same lawyer but a different judge.

This time, she said, the judge told her she owed payment in full or she would lose her home. When the judge told Gragg she had been unfairly living in her home rent-free, Gragg said she lost it.

"I said, ‘I didn’t know what to do,’ and my lawyer shrugged. I screamed, told them I had beat my head against the wall to save this house, and then I walked out of the courtroom."

The latest news Gragg has received is that if she’s not out by Aug. 31, a sheriff will escort her out. She’s currently looking for a place to rent.

Gragg said the courtroom was filled with foreclosure cases.

"It’s obviously not just me dealing with this stuff. It’s everywhere."

Similar to the other two cases, Gragg said she doesn’t wish this experience on anyone.

"I’ve had panic attacks, I can’t sleep, I’m just miserable."

Gragg said if she had it to over again she would have moved out years ago, because trying to save the home wasn’t worth all the pain.

–Alicia Howe is a freelance writer in Chicago and former Inman News editorial intern.

***

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