After three years of fighting to stay in her City of Tonawanda home, Heidi Kleiber just wants her bank to give her a chance.
Kleiber, a 33-year-old single mother and flight attendant for United Airlines, has been trying to no avail to get Bank of America Corp. to adjust her mortgage so she can repay what she owes.
She doesn’t need to lower her rate or write off any part of the principal balance, since she can afford her $600 monthly payment. But she fell behind in 2008 after being sick and out of work for eight months, and she wants the bank to tack that past-due amount onto the end of the loan to make her current.
“That’s all I want to do is save my home and move forward. I don’t want to lose it,” said Kleiber, who has a 9-year-old son.
She’s called, she’s sent faxes, and she’s written emails to more people than she can think of — she’s kept track in a spiral notebook filled with page after page of names and phone numbers — but never hears back.
She even spent more than 10 hours over two straight days sitting in the lobby of the bank’s national mortgage servicing center in Getzville in hopes of meeting with someone, but no one ever came to talk to her.
On Friday, she attended a Bank of America mortgage modification “tour” at Belmont Housing Resources for WNY — the giant bank’s first such program here. She met face-to-face with a loan specialist from the Getzville facility, who reviewed her situation and gave her hope.
Then they dashed it a few hours later, saying she doesn’t qualify for one option, and it’ll take a few weeks to decide the other.
“I walked out of there in tears,” she said. “I’m right back at square one. Once again, a whole day wasted with Bank of America, and the weight’s still on my shoulders.”
Kleiber is one of more than several dozen Western New Yorkers who hoped to benefit from the opportunity for a one-on-one sit-down with a bank employee empowered to help them with a mortgage they can’t afford.
Big banks have been under fire for several years for failing to help millions of borrowers struggling to repay mortgages. They’ve been exhorted, cajoled and pressured by lawmakers and regulators to do more, and they’ve pledged to do so.
Critics have called on the lenders to modify far more mortgages by lowering the interest rates, writing off some of the principal balance or taking other steps to alleviate the burden on borrowers.
But big banks and mortgage servicing firms have been overwhelmed by the volume of delinquent loans and foreclosures.
They’ve added staff to handle the demand — Bank of America has tripled its “default servicing staff” to more than 40,000 since early 2009 and opened more than 40 “customer assistance centers” nationwide this year.
“They’re a little bit more organized, but it’s not better,” said Sandy Becker, senior home ownership counselor at Belmont. “It’s still the same issue that there’s always been. We still are seeing people getting turned down for modifications that we think they should qualify for.”
One of the biggest criticisms against large banks centers on communication, and borrowers’ struggles to contact anyone who can help them. Paperwork is sent in, and then lost. Telephone calls aren’t returned. Borrowers are passed from one person to another.
Bank of America is trying to address that through its in-person outreach initiatives, with big events over three days in major cities and two-day regional “tours” to smaller cities.
The goal is to get troubled borrowers to sit down in person with specialists and work out solutions to avoid foreclosure. Loan underwriters are on site or linked in remotely to provide immediate answers — including modifications.
“Our job is to get our associates into the cities, and make sure our customers and associates have one-on-one time,” said Eddie Martin, senior vice president and national outreach events manager. “We want to make sure the customer’s needs are addressed. … to provide our customers with some closure.”
About 30 percent of attendees will get either a same-day loan modification or a final decision within seven to 10 days about other kinds of help. The rest have to present more information before a decision can be made. The bank can also discuss options such as a short-sale or deed-in-lieu of foreclosure.
By the end of the year, Bank of America expects to have held 45 big events and six mobile tours. It’s also joining other banks at more than 200 other events. In all, the bank has participated in more than 750 events in 39 states and Washington, D.C., since January 2009, meeting 117,000 customers.
The Buffalo visit is part of the bank’s upstate tour, which also includes stops in Poughkeepsie, Albany and Syracuse.
The bank reached out by letter and phone last month to 10,400 customers across upstate who are at least 60 days late or have been trying to get help — including 1,477 in Western New York — and invited them to attend one of the four programs. About 64 signed up for Buffalo, plus 77 in Poughkeepsie, 67 in Albany and 48 in Syracuse.
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