Seeing humor in refi mess

If I ever try stand-up comedy as a career when I retire, I'll hire Peter Bradley of Media to write my material.

Bradley sent me copies of the correspondence he has sent to Wells Fargo, which holds the loan on the house he and his wife, Valerie, own in Sea Isle City.

Before you grab pitchforks and torches, know this: The Bradleys are not in danger of losing their Shore house to foreclosure. I'm not writing about them to elicit sympathy, nor do they want it.

Wells Fargo invited the couple to refinance the loan on the Shore house in July, just as other lenders have solicited other borrowers with good credit to do. Some have shared their stories with you through this column.

What has become fairly clear from those stories is that lenders are overextended. The fault is theirs: They are already overwhelmed by various programs designed to stem the tide of foreclosures.

Wells Fargo, with 8,000 employees at the launch of the federal Making Home Affordable refinancing/modification program in February, had to quickly hire 4,600 more people, senior vice president Joseph Ohayan told a Philadelphia conference in October.

The other 61 lenders in the program have similar issues. If they can't get it right with people with foreclosure problems, why should we expect them to do better now?

But back to the Bradleys. After five months of providing Wells Fargo with everything the lender demanded - probably two or three times - the couple was refused the refi Dec. 15, in a form letter with "Unable to verify residence" checked.

Peter Bradley wrote that he was amused by the form letter "because you don't believe I live where I say I do." But he pointed out that Wells Fargo lent him the money to buy the Sea Isle house in 2002. He had an almost 90 percent equity position in it based on a recent tax assessment, and has a better credit standing than 99 percent of Wells Fargo's borrowers.

The Bradleys have lived in Media since 1973 and in their primary residence, to which Wells Fargo sends all its correspondence, since 2003.

Wells Fargo now has "more personal information than my accountant, lawyer, wife, or myself know," he wrote.

Yet his amusement is tempered by reality: "My lawyer pointed out this is no laughing matter, because you [Wells Fargo] have done me a serious discredit and disservice" by rejecting the application. (If not corrected immediately, credit reports will show the refinancing was rejected.)

Why doesn't Wells Fargo know where Bradley lives? (It was on all the tax returns he submitted.)

Well, Bradley acknowledged, he does spend a lot of time at his office, which is also in Media.

"Of course, if you talk to my wife, she'll tell you I live there because I spend 61/2 days a week there," he wrote.

But Bradley went on to say that he does sleep at his primary residence - and has since 2003. Other lenders "seem content with that arrangement, because they keep reselling my [primary] mortgage to other institutions with ever decreasing rates," he wrote.

I e-mailed Bradley's story to Ohayan, since dealing with Wells Fargo's media staff (and every other lender/servicer's) gets me a "I can't discuss because of customer confidentiality" reply - followed by a behind-the-scenes scramble to correct the problem so they can look good.

What Bradley told Wells Fargo in closing, however, sums up what the vast majority of you have been saying, too - and it isn't funny by any stretch:

"Please do not say it is not your fault. As a leading U.S. bank backed by the U.S. government, you have enormous power, and I have complied truthfully with your every request for information.

"Please reply immediately that you understand this request, so I know I am not writing to a robot."


Inquirer real estate writer Alan J. Heavens is the author of "Remodeling on the Money" (Kaplan Publishing). His home improvement column appears Fridays in Home & Design. Contact Alan J. Heavens at 215-854-2472 or aheavens@phillynews.com.

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