Q: My husband of six years divorced me in 2008. He left me after we spent all my money (of course, he had none when we got married). I am 76 years old, and had my own real estate brokerage business since the 1970s. I left my business to help him in his used-car business. As well, I owned two homes free and clear, which I gave up because he wanted us to live in different homes.
I lost my home, which I’d owned since 2004, to the bank today. Is there anything I can do? Is there a time frame in which I have to pack and move? Is it possible to rent the home back from the bank? Are there any new laws that might help me?
I am in a quandary and money is extremely short, as I haven’t worked — other than in his business — in two years. Any suggestions will be greatly appreciated. –"Rosie" (name and other identifying information have been changed)
A: For you, time is of the essence in a number of ways. Since your home is no longer your own, you may be in a situation where you are forced to move quickly, at any time. So making arrangements around your living situation is priority No. 1.
However, at 76, with no business and no income (self-employed since the 1970s may mean little or no Social Security to fall back on), running a very close second in terms of priorities is getting you a stable income ASAP. Even the fear of living with no safety net, and nothing coming to you can be crippling, so this is something you must treat with a very high level of urgency.
This is likely not about going back to college or retraining in a different industry — you already possess a wealth of knowledge that you are going to need to quickly hone and sell as qualifications to rejoin today’s extremely competitive work force. Let’s talk this through.
As a real estate professional for decades, I’m certain you know the adage that applies here: Everything is negotiable. I would encourage you not to wait, but to get extremely proactive and aggressive in providing for yourself. Your story is compelling, sad and explains a lot.
However, when dealing with banks and employers on today’s market, you are likely to get much further with assertive language and firm proposals than you are with wishy-washy, have-pity-on-me requests.
You may also need a housing or employment advocate to advise you on any programs or laws that may offer resources for you. Most large cities or counties have some sort of legal aid program or senior resource centers — spend a little bit of time (repeat: LITTLE bit of time) looking into whether any such assistance is available to you locally, and take advantage of it, if so.
I would let go of the story about your ex-husband. It’s over, and he sounds just as broke as you, financially, and probably even more bankrupt morally than he is fiscally. So let it go. Given the ever-increasing life expectancies of our age, you may have another 20 or 30 years of potentially vibrant living to do! Let’s get about the business of putting the essentials in place so that you can live without fear.
You’ve heard the saying that 70 is the new 60? Well, it’s true. I know some septuagenarians whose energy levels, innovativeness and effective participation in our extremely fast-moving work world is beyond parallel. They take meticulous care of their physical and mental condition, and are rewarded with vitality.
But I also know 40-somethings who keep retelling their tales of woe and, thus, end up stuck and living in that past while everyone else involved moves on. Don’t be one of these people. Look forward and put a plan into play.
In terms of when you’ll have to move, here’s the deal. Some banks are letting people stay in their homes for months or even years after a foreclosure; in fact, Citibank has a formal policy of allowing some troubled homeowners to remain in their homes for up to six months in exchange for signing over the property deed to CitiMortgage and $1,000 in relocation assistance.
The more vacant foreclosures your bank is already responsible for maintaining in your area, the more likely it is to let you stay for free. Banks do not generally lease foreclosed homes back to the former owners, out of a concern that they will accrue tenant’s rights under local laws.
More often, though, the bank will hire a local real estate agent who will contact you regarding your move-out plans; if you do not cooperate and work with the bank to move out in a timely manner, the bank can and will likely sue to evict you.
If you do cooperate, however, you can often negotiate a move-out assistance payment called "cash for keys" — I’ve seen these payments to foreclosed owners range from several hundred to several thousand dollars, and I’ve seen these owners get anywhere from two weeks to two years to actually vacate the premises.
Given your current finances, it makes sense for you to stay in your home payment-free, as long as the bank will let you. If and when you are contacted about moving out, negotiate as high a cash-for-keys payment and as long a move-out time frame as possible. Then work with the bank to move out and leave the place in good shape (without spending money on repairs or improvements); the last thing you need is an eviction on your credit report.
In the meantime, begin getting rid of all your unnecessary belongings, selling things of value that you haven’t used in the past year to simultaneously declutter and to raise funds. (Use eBay and consignment stores, as well as the old standby: yard sales.)
This pre-move shedding of stuff is good both materially, so that the prospect of moving when the time comes will not be so daunting, and psychically, as it helps you to shed the emotional weight and history of the last few years.
Also, start job-hunting! Network with your former colleagues, including completing a profile and inviting people you know to join your network on LinkedIn. Take some of the online courses or courses at your local association of Realtors on Internet marketing in real estate, and look for an immediate job in administration or sales management of a busy local real estate office.
As hard as this market is even for agents who have stayed active in the recent past, I would encourage you to get a salaried job for some immediate, regular income, rather than just relying on being able to get out there and start closing deals.
This way, you can brush up on your skills while being valued for your experience, and maybe even be able to sell homes on the side once you reconnect with your old client list. Aligning yourself with an office that is doing well in this market (almost every area has a few) is the best way to get infected with a prosperous energy and get back into the game.