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Hey Chase, should we burn the house down?

My home is priceless to me, but as of 1/31/10 the assessed value of my modest two-bedroom, one bath house is $159,800. I designed and built the all-wood, metal roof home and it is unique. Unique, however, does not mean saleable, or even rentable, as my realtor friend had made abundantly clear.   

In an all-wood home the possibility of loss by fire is a concern, especially after a raging fire destroyed 39 Avalon, NJ condos in December 2003. Coupled with an article I read about the importance of insuring properly for “replacement value”, I’d kept a close eye on my property insurance.  

By January 2006 I worried I might be under-insured and took a closer look at my policy. The replacement value seemed low and I feared that if my home burned to the ground I wouldn’t be able to replace it. I requested an increase to a dollar amount I thought was more realistic, only to get push-back from the insurer.  I pressed the point so Selective Insurance Company sent out an appraiser who set the replacement value at $285,000. This was still low in my mind, but in mid-February 2006 we compromised at a value of $425,000. 

I escrow my insurance and property taxes. Once comfortable with the replacement value on my home, I moved on, until I pulled the policy for review in December 2009.  I was stunned to find my home insured for $905,000, more than double the figure I’d reached with Selective. Of course the payee was Chase, and as I followed the paper trail I saw the folks at Washington Mutual had upped the value of my home on me. So now Chase thinks I’m living in a $905,000 house. Hey Chase, I love my home but in Avalon parlance, it’s a “tear-down”. Is that why you won’t work with me on a loan modification? Do you think I’m living large in some big house? I’m not. I’m living very small in my tiny home on the bay.

Chasing Answers about My Chase Loan Modification

March 22, 2010, 8:30 am: I called Megan to confirm receipt of all information and to schedule the interior appraisal. She was not in so I left a voice mail. 

March 23, 2010, 7:45 am: I called Megan again; she was not in so I left a voice mail.

March 23, 2010, 12:40 pm: Megan called back and confirmed receipt of checking account statements and confirmed that no additional paperwork was required. I asked about scheduling the interior appraisal and she said it depended on the review of the bank statements. I protested as the bank statements were no different from those submitted in Dec 09. She said they still had to be “reviewed”. I asked her to confirm that indeed my loan modification file HAD been reopened and she said it had. 

I noted that when Jacqueline Ham left for vacation, she never came back – might that happen with Megan? Megan said she wouldn’t be surprised; “they are reassigning a lot of cases” and she did not know what state(s) she might end up with. She reiterated the bank statement review takes precedent over the scheduling of the interior appraisal. I asked who I should speak to while Megan was out of the office; Megan instead put a note in the file to contact me directly for scheduling or if any additional information was required; she said she’d be back on 4/5/10. 

I told Megan while I appreciated her help, she was a conduit, not a decision-maker; I went on to say I would drive anywhere to meet face-to-face with an empowered decision-maker. Megan said I would not be allowed to meet with “those people” and I was at the highest possible level with her.

Hello Chase, I really do live here!

March 4, 2010, 10:45 am:  I called Megan who told me she had “no record of a denial” although there “may be a question as to my residency”. Megan indicated I should only call her; if I called the Customer Service line I would get conflicting information. That may be, but the “conflicting information” I gleaned was often accurate. I offered to provide additional documentation to verify my residence but she said to wait. Chase likes to wait, except when it comes to being paid. 

March 11, 2010, 8:45 am: I called to follow-up; Megan was not in so I left a voice mail regarding the BPO and my residency status. I was starting to panic; I had to be in Florida for business and nothing was happening at Chase. Would they padlock my home while I was away like Bank of America did to the lady with the parrot? 

March 15, 2010, 8:30 am: I called again to follow-up; Megan was not in so I left another voice mail reiterating the need for an answer on the BPO and my residency status. 

March 16, 2010, 8:30 am: I called Megan and she advised that my residency was an issue – Chase was “unable to verify owner occupancy”. I pointed out that I’d submitted three years of Federal Income Tax returns with this address and she agreed. Nonetheless, Chase wanted the following information:

1. Copies of last 4 months bank statements (previously submitted)
2. Copies of last 2 months pay stubs (previously submitted)
3. Copies of most recent utility bills with service address (previously submitted)
4. A P&L for 1099 “business” 

I told Megan this had all been submitted with my modification request in December 2009. I told her I didn’t own or operate a business; I am a W-2 employee who supplements my income as a 1099 employee for another company, as reflected on the tax returns.

Megan steadfastly reiterated the need for all of the information and a P&L regardless of what I said; she also noted she’d be out of the office 3/24/10 to 4/5/10 and I should get this information to her as soon as possible and call to confirm receipt. 

I faxed items 2, 3 & 4; putting my 1099 earnings in a P&L format to satisfy her request. I also took it upon myself to obtain and fax my Cape May County, NJ Voter’s Record indicating my residency since 2005. As I was in Florida on business, I couldn’t access my checking statements but told Megan I would provide them by Saturday 3/20/10 when I returned home.   

A word about voting. I vote, and not just in the “big” elections but all the elections, and care as much, maybe more, about the school board and the sheriff as I do about who will be our next President. Because I vote I had no problem writing to my Congressman and my Senators to both ask for help and express outrage over opaque banking procedures and predatory lending practices. 

March 17, 2010, 1:00 pm: I called Megan to confirm receipt of the information. Megan reviewed the submissions and agreed the information received  (3 pages voter’s records; 5 pages P&L + two months paychecks; 3 pages owner occupied cover memo & utility bills) was in order and legible. I again confirmed that checking statements would be sent 3/20. 

March 20, 2010, 10:30 am:  I arrived home to find a denial letter dated 3/5/10 and postmarked 3/8/10 indicating I was denied for a loan modification as Chase was “unable to verify residence“. I immediately called Chase; Megan confirmed I had been denied but the case was reopened as my voting record satisfied “them”. Chase also wanted a contact telephone number to schedule an interior appraisal. I gave the same number I’ve provided since 2/24/09 and asked again about the BPO. Megan indicated it was a 32-page document; she tried to extract a price/value from it while I waited but after putting me on hold and speaking with a co-worker, decided she was unable to do so. Megan said the interior appraisal was important and she would be going away so the sooner I sent the checking account statements, the better. That evening I faxed:

1. Copies of last 4 months bank statements

2. A formal notice indicating my contact phone number for scheduling an interior appraisal

March 20, 2010: The mailbox held a second letter from Chase, dated March 10, 2010, from the JP Morgan Chase Home Lending Executive Office, 2201 Enterprise Drive, Florence, SC 29501.

The subject line: Issue Still Being Reviewed

The letter:

Dear Martha Wright:

I am writing in response to your correspondence we received on December 24, 2009, about a loan modification.

At this time, the matter you brought to our attention is still being reviewed. Please be assured that we will make every effort to provide you with the timeliest response possible.

Chase’s goal is to provide the highest level of quality service to each of our customers. We appreciate your business and value our relationship with you.

If you have any questions in the interim, please contact Megan Valdivia (888) 310-7995, extension 7850, Monday through Friday between 8:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m., Eastern Time.

Sincerely,

Home Lending Executive Office

Was this in reply to my December 16, 2009 letter to Jamie Dimon, Chairman & CEO JP Morgan Chase, my January 15, 2010 letter to Jamie Dimon, or perhaps my letter to Jamie Dimon dated February 18, 2010? I had no idea, and the letter said absolutely nothing.

March Madness: Chasing a Loan Modification

March 1, 2010, 3:45 pm:  On calling the Chase Executive Lending Office I was advised my loan had been reassigned from Jacqueline Ham to Megan Valdivia (Megan.l.Valdivia@chase.com). Per Megan, she (Megan) had all the information required; it appeared I would be denied again as my equity was “too high”. Megan indicated that a Broker’s Price Order (BPO) had been received that day and much depended on what it said. 

March 2, 2010, 2:45 pm:  I called Megan to follow-up on the BPO; she had no new information. 

March 2, 2010, 2:46 pm:  I called (800) 848-9380 as Lisa Walsh had suggested scheduling a Financial Interview. I spoke with Rodriguez who had no idea what I talking about; he wanted transfer me but had to check the number. After he verified he had the correct number to transfer me I was put on hold and then the message came on “We’re sorry, but we cannot continue to process your call” and disconnected me.

How much equity is “too much” for Chase?

February 12, 2010 3:45 pm: Jacqueline Ham phoned me and advised that loan equity guidelines are based on a percentage and that 30% is the limit for equity. At 30% or even 29% equity, Chase would not modify the loan. She had no status update on my loan modification request and at this point, I had no idea how much equity I had in my home.

February 15, 2010, 9:00 am: I had a follow-up appointment with Doris B. at the Consumer Credit Counseling Service of Delaware Valley in the Philadelphia, PA office. (It had been rescheduled due to snow) We called Chase and confirmed all paperwork was in hand and learned that Tannette McCray was handling my loan. We got her e-mail: Tannette.x.McCray@jpmchase.com and asked to speak with her but were denied. Doris updated my file and indicated there was little we could do but wait for an answer from Chase; she asked me to e-mail Tannette and keep her in the loop on my correspondence.

February 16, 2010: I e-mailed Tannette McCray and copied Doris at CCCSDV. I fully expected the e-mail to bounce back as non-deliverable, but it didn’t. Nonetheless, there was no response from Ms. McCray.

February 23, 2010 1:00 pm: Phoned Jacqueline Ham to follow-up on the status of my loan modification request. Her outbound message indicated she was out of the office 2/18-2/25/10; her mailbox was full and not accepting messages.

February 23, 2010 1:01 pm: Phoned Chase (866) 550-5705 and spoke with Carrie. My loan modification application was still in review. It was with the underwriter and waiting for a BPO (Broker’s Price Order) aka an appraisal. As of 2/19/10, Chase wanted to pull a credit report on me and needed my date of birth; allegedly they had sent a letter requesting this information. I verbally provided my date of birth. Carrie indicated that Tannette McCray was a “processor” then qualified that by saying “that’s just the coding in the computer”. Carrie did not understand why they were pulling a credit report and asked if I wished to be transferred to an analyst. I said yes and that ideally I’d like to speak with Tannette. She indicated that I could ask to speak with her and transferred me. Immediately a message came on “We’re sorry, we cannot continue to process your call” and disconnected me.

I then e-mailed Tannette McCray and copied Doris at CCCSDV; there was no response from Ms. McCray.

No letter requesting my date of birth was ever received.

February 23, 2010 1:01 pm: Phoned Chase (866) 550-5705 again and spoke with Tony. I reiterated the conversation I’d just had and he said he would transfer me to an analyst. Immediately the same message came on “We’re sorry, but we cannot continue to process your call” and disconnected me.

February 23, 2010 1:05 pm: Phoned Chase (866) 550-5705 yet again and spoke with a different Tony and filled him in on the disconnects and the message. He said he would effect the transfer…and stay on the line until it actually happened. I then spoke with Dwayne who verified he needed my date of birth which I again provided. Dwayne indicated that Chase was going to conduct an “exterior appraisal” and I asked what that meant; he said he thought it was a “drive-by” but he wasn’t certain.

February 25, 2010 8:30 am: Phoned Jacqueline Ham who was to have returned 2/25/10; her mailbox was full and not accepting messages. This was not good. What happened to Jacqueline?

February 25, 2010 9:45 am: Phoned Chase (866) 550-5705 and spoke with Nzube. My file had been assigned to a “decision maker” on 2/11/10. Please allow 30 – 60 days. I said this was not acceptable and asked to be transferred to Imminent Default. He said okay and transferred me. Immediately the message came on “We’re sorry, we cannot continue to process your call” and disconnected me.

February 25, 2010 9:49 am: Phoned Chase (866) 550-5705 and spoke with Kewanna. I went through the drill and told her I needed to be transferred to Imminent Default. Shandaia picked up and told me she was unable to give a status update as the modification was with “Lee Escalation”. She indicated that “someone” would phone me back in 72 business hours. When pressed, she indicated the callback would come from the person handling my loan; I asked if that was Tannette McCray and she said yes. I said I wanted to be sure I understood correctly that Tannette McCray would call me back within 72 business hours with a status update and she said yes.

I also e-mailed Tannette McCray and copied Doris at CCCSDV; there was no response from Ms. McCray.

No phone call from Tannette McCray was ever received.

February 26, 2010, 2:30 pm: Lisa Walsh from Chase Home Finance called, looking for the February payment. I told Lisa I’d been in constant contact with Chase, as recently as the day before at 10:00 am seeking a loan modification. I shared the content of my conversations including the fact that a credit report was being pulled; BPO requested and I was due a call back in 72 business hours. Lisa concurred these notes were in the file and asked when I could pay. I told her I had promised to make a payment by March 5 but it would be a partial. She said not to bother; a partial payment would just sit in a suspense account and would not be applied until received in full and partial payments might be applied to late fees, etc. Lisa told me to call (800) 848-9380 on or after March 1 and request a Financial Interview. That would calculate all money in and out of the house in order to create a payment plan to bring the debt current. I told her a payment plan was not likely as I could not meet the current mortgage payment. She said in the financial interview to be sure to tell them how much I could have paid in the partial payment. She said given my financial situation and the fact I was already in loan review for a modification, I would be denied for a payment plan and then they would try to put me on a trial or “second” modification program. These are the steps I must go through (interview, denial, etc.) If I can make the new payments for 3 months it might become official. I then asked if this course of events was independent of the modification I had already requested and she said yes.

What does home equity mean to Chase?

January 28, 2010, 3:45 pm: Jacqueline Ham phoned me. We discussed what it meant to be denied a modification for “too much” equity and how I might get a copy of my denial letters. Jacqueline committed to send a letter recapping the 8/25/09 denial based on: property exceeds guidelines/too much equity. Jacqueline said I should call the Chase Home Ownership Center in Media, PA on March 2, 2010 once I was officially 31 days late and try to schedule a March 3, 2010 appointment rather than wait until 3/18/10 as I’d planned.

I asked her what the guidelines were regarding “too much equity”. Was it a dollar amount or a percentage? Because if I had too much equity in 8/09, why would it be any different now? (If I’d pulled my head out of the sand I might have realized property values were dropping by the minute and my equity could have radically diminished in five months). Was there a number one had to be above or below? She said these were good questions; she would ask and get back to me Tuesday 2/2/10 at the latest with answers. I asked what other Chase loan modification programs there were beyond Obama’s Making Homes Affordable and she said there was only one. She also noted I was still in Loan Review and she asked that it be escalated.

February 2, 2010 9:00 am: Phoned Jacqueline Ham to follow up on our January 28, 2010 conversation and get answers on my denial, the equity formula and the status of my modification request. She was not available. I left a detailed voice mail.

February 4, 2010 9:15 am: Phoned Jacqueline Ham to follow up on our January 28, 2010 conversation and get answers on my denial, the equity formula and the status of my modification request. She was not available. I left a detailed voice mail.

February 5, 2010 8:30 am: Phoned Jacqueline Ham to follow up on our January 28, 2010 conversation and get answers on my denial, the equity formula and the status of my modification request. Her mailbox was full and not accepting messages.

February 5, 2010 11:30 am: Phoned Jacqueline Ham to follow up on our January 28, 2010 conversation and get answers on my denial, the equity formula and the status of my modification request. She was not available. I left a detailed voice mail.

February 6, 2010: Received a letter postmarked January 28, 2010. It was the long sought-after August 25, 2009 denial letter from Washington Mutual. Jacqueline Ham had delivered the goods. It was a form letter, customized with my name, address and account number, with a space left open to accommodate a denial reason. The letter read as follows:

Washington Mutual (FL5-8806)

August 25, 2009

Martha Wright

*** * **

Avalon, NJ *****

Statement of Eligibility for Loan Modification

Account ********** (the “Loan”)

Property Address: *** * ** Avalon NJ ***** (the “Property”)

Dear Mortgagor (s)

Washington Mutual is writing in response to your recent request regarding a loan modification on the above-referenced account through the Making Homes Affordable (MHA) program. After researching your account, we have determined that at this time you do not qualify for a modification under the MHA program or any other program we offer for the following reason(s):

Your property equity exceeds our program guidelines.

If your Loan is current, you may be able to qualify for refinance that may provide you with more favorable terms than you have now. If you are interested in finding more out about that option, please contact us at (866) 888-5935.

If your Loan is delinquent, we may be able to offer alternatives to help avoid the negative impact a possible foreclosure may have on your credit rating, the risk of a deficiency judgment being filed against you, and the possible adverse tax effects of a foreclosure on your Property. If you are interested in discussing these possible alternatives, please contact Customer Care immediately at (866) 926-8937.

Our credit decision was based in whole or in part on information obtained in a report from the consumer reporting agency listed below. The reporting agency played no part in our decision and is unable to supply specific reasons why we have denied credit to you. You have a right to receive a free copy of your report from the reporting agency, if you request it no later than sixty (60) days after you receive this notice. In addition, if you find that any information contained in the report you receive is inaccurate or incomplete, you have the right to dispute the matter with the reporting agency by contacting the agency at the number provided below:

Transunion

P.O. Box 2000

Chester, PA 19022-2000

(800) 916-8800

FEDERAL ECOA NOTICE* (*Removed for brevity)

If you have any questions, please contact us at the number provided below. At Washington Mutual, we value you as a customer and want to ensure your continued satisfaction.

Sincerely,

Imminent Default Department

Washington Mutual

(888) 708-3336

For California customers, …* (*Removed for brevity)

Washington Mutual is attempting to collect a debt, and any information obtained will be used for that purpose.

We may report information about your account to credit bureaus. Late payments, missed payments, or other defaults on your account may be reflected in your credit report.

To the extent your original obligation has been discharged, or is subject to an automatic stay of bankruptcy under Title 11 of the United States Code, this notice is for compliance and/or informational purposes only and does not constitute a demand for payment or an attempt to impose personal liability for such obligation.

LM001

February 9, 2010 10:45 am: Phoned Jacqueline Ham to follow up on our January 28, 2010 conversation and get answers on my denial, the equity ratios and the status of my modification request. She was not available. I left a detailed voice mail.

February 10, 2010 10:30 am: Phoned Jacqueline Ham to follow up on our January 28, 2010 conversation and get answers on my denial, the equity ratios and the status of my modification request. She was not available. I left a detailed voice mail.

February 12, 2010 8:15 am: Phoned Jacqueline Ham to follow up on our January 28, 2010 conversation and get answers on my denial, the equity formula and the status of my modification request. She was not available. I left a detailed voice mail.

February 12, 2010 10:00 am: Phoned Chase (866) 550-5705 and was advised my loan was still in review. I asked to be transferred to Imminent Default and was disconnected.

February 12, 2010: I received a letter dated February 8, 2010 from Chase Home Finance. The subject line: Issue Still Being Reviewed.

The letter:

Dear Martha Wright:

I am writing in response to your correspondence we received on Monday, December 21, 2009, about a loan modification.

At this time, the matter you brought to our attention is still being reviewed. Please be assured that we will make every effort to provide you with the timeliest response possible.

Chase’s goal is to provide the highest level of quality service to each of our customers. We appreciate your business and value our relationship with you.

If you have any questions in the interim, please contact Jackie Ham (866) 605-9253, extension 4663, Monday through Friday between 8:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m., Eastern Time

Sincerely,

Home Lending Executive Office

Was this in reply to my December 16, 2009 letter to Jamie Dimon, Chairman & CEO JP Morgan Chase, or perhaps my letter of January 15, 2010? I hoped not, because the letter said absolutely nothing.

A New Year but the same old Chase

January 20, 2010, 10:15 am: I phoned Jacqueline Ham in response to the January 12, 2010 letter and left a voice mail.

January 21, 2010, 9:50 am: I phoned Jacqueline Ham again in response to the January 12, 2010 letter; her voice mail was full and not accepting messages.

January 22, 2010, 11:45 am: I phoned Jacqueline Ham in response to the January 12, 2010 letter and left a voice mail.

January 20, 2010, 11:47 am: I phoned Chase (866) 550-5705 and spoke with Mindy who verified all information and advised the loan was currently “under review”; all paperwork was in place. Mindy offered to transfer me to Imminent Default. I said yes, and was put on hold after hearing “Your call will be answered by next available representative. We are experiencing a high call volume…” after 20 minutes on hold I listened to another “this is an attempt to collect a debt” announcement and  then spoke with John who told me that on 12/15/09 the loan was put in underwriting review status. No final decision had been made and at this point it was taking 30-60 days; I should check back once a week. I told him I could not make the February payment and I needed answers. He said he appreciated my honesty but I just needed to wait for an answer.

January 27, 2010, 11:35 am: I phoned Jacqueline Ham in response to the January 12, 2010 letter and left a voice mail.

January 28, 2010, 8:35 am: I phoned Jacqueline Ham in response to the January 12, 2010 letter and left a voice mail.

Chase Home Lending Executive Office

I’m guessing that Jamie Dimon, Chairman & CEO JP Morgan Chase, isn’t opening his own mail. He’s probably not reading it either, because after sending him a letter on December 16, 2009, this is what happened:

January 15, 2010: I received a letter dated January 12, 2010 from Chase Home Finance. Jacqueline Ham, a Home Lending Executive Office Analyst in the Home Lending Executive Office, indicated she was “investigating” the issue. The subject line: Initial Response.

The letter:

Dear Ms. Wright:

I am writing in response to your correspondence we received on Monday, December 21, 2009, about a loan modification.

I am investigating your issue, and will work with you to provide you with a complete and accurate response in a timely manner. Chase appreciates your patience in this matter.

Chase’s goal is to provide the highest level of quality service to each of our customers. If you have any questions in the interim, you can reach me at (866) 605-9253, extension 4663, Monday through Friday between 8:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m., Eastern Time

We appreciate your business and value our relationship with you.

Sincerely,

Jacqueline Ham

Home Executive Office Analyst

Home Lending Executive Office

As I scramble to scrape together the soon to be delinquent February mortgage payment, I realize patience may be a virtue at Chase, but it’s a one-way street. I’ll be paying a late fee in exchange for Chase’s patience.

January 15, 2010: Letters remained on my mind. I’d heard back from Senator Lautenberg’s office and submitted forms authorizing the Senator to take action on my behalf. Congressman LoBiondo provided brochures on HUD, HOPE NOW and a one-page printout “Foreclosure Fast Facts”. (Was he trying to tell me something?) I wrote them both along with Senator Robert Menendez and The Philadelphia Inquirer’s Alan J. Heavens, updating them on the situation and asking for additional help.