Growing up on Cabin Creek, Dean and Patricia Green were teenage sweethearts. In a small frame house on a dirt road up Winifrede Hollow, across from the railroad track, they raised three children and took in 22 foster children.Several grown foster kids still call them Mom and Dad.Now, on Social Security, they are raising two small grandsons after their daughter’s death. And they are contending with a $47,600 mortgage that would cost $206,000 to pay off, according to their lawyer. The nonprofit Mountain State Justice represents them in a lawsuit against Bank of America, which owns that mortgage.Bank of America acquired the Greens’ loan in the late 1990s when they bought EquiCredit, a national lending company. EquiCredit bought the Greens’ loan from Decision One Mortgage, owned by HSBC, an international bank based in London and Hong Kong. Decision One issued the Greens’ loan, brokered by Community Mortgage, based in Dunbar, no longer in business.
In Chesapeake, Patricia Green had stuffed a drawer with payment notices. “Four different companies,” she said. “Why do they do that? We thought it would stay with Community Mortgage.”On Thursday, responding to a Gazette-Mail inquiry, Bank of America spokeswoman Shirley Norton said, “We are working on this. We want to do the right thing.” Bank of America is pressuring HSBC “to step up to the plate,” she said.The Greens’ mortgage troubles started in 2000, when a high school classmate called them. He worked for a Dunbar mortgage company, he said, and he wanted to let them know about a great deal. “He said we could consolidate our bills, pay them off, and have money to fix up our house,” Patricia Green said.They had never had a mortgage or wanted one. “We never wanted to risk losing the house and land,” she said. But Dean Green had had a heart attack and stroke, and they had bills.Their former schoolmate promised them their payments would stay low, around $300, they said.They didn’t expect to get much for their home. It’s a Jenny Lind house, which means it has no studs. It has no cement foundation and is riddled with termites. The roof is sagging and leaking, and the walls are off square.But Community Mortgage sent an appraiser who said the house was worth $56,000. On that basis, they were offered a $47,600 mortgage.It is illegal in West Virginia to issue a mortgage for more than the property is worth. “But a lender can get around that by getting a bogus appraisal,” said attorney Dan Hedges. “There are a few unscrupulous appraisers in any state, and if a lender has an arrangement with one or two, they can get a valuation at whatever level they request.”The day the appraiser came, “He sat right there,” Patricia Green said, “And he said, ‘Well, how much is the loan for?’ And I said, ‘Well, it’s about $50,000 for the mortgage,’ and he said ‘I’ll appraise it for that.’”“He didn’t ask about Jenny Lind or if this is wrong with it or that’s wrong with it,” Dean Green said. “He just come through that gate there and come right in and sat down and talked to us, then got up and walked out.”A 2005 retrospective appraisal, arranged by Mountain State Justice, valued the property at $18,000.
When they signed the contract, which they had never seen before, the ex-schoolmate “was kind of helping us, saying that’s what this is, and this is what that is,” Patricia Green said, “and they were rushing us, sign here, sign here.”Their monthly payments started at $487, then, after two years, started spiking upward. They had almost reached $600 by the time Dean Green had his second heart attack and stroke. They had signed a subprime, adjustable-rate mortgage.On a fixed income, the Greens had to declare bankruptcy, and they still face foreclosure.“Every day, I try not to think what could happen,” Patricia Green said. “I just have to trust in the Lord.”To contact Kate Long, use e-mail or call 348-1798.For more about the Greens’ story, tune in to “Aging with Grace and Dignity” at 3 and 9 p.m. Tuesday on West Virginia Public Radio.