OCEANSIDE — May 8 was a good news/bad news day for Ryan Walker and Kelly Hart. That Friday, The Coast News Group ran a story about the couple’s unsuccessful attempt to obtain a $3,500 refund for an upfront fee they believed they were illegally charged to modify the loan on their Oceanside home.
The good news was a phone call from Paul Jacobson, an attorney for the loan modification company, telling the couple a refund check had been issued and they could pick it up anytime.
The bad news was it was Walker’s last day of work. The construction company where he worked was forced to issue layoff notices, and he received one the day before.
The day ended with an unannounced visit from two lawyers offering to represent Walker and Hart in a class action suit against Better Life America, the loan modification company with which they had been working. The attorneys said they had filed suits against similar companies for illegally charging upfront fees. They left a thick packet of information and told they couple they could be eligible for compensation up to three times the amount of the fee.
Walker and Hart said they never opened the envelope.
“All we wanted was our money, and we got that,” Hart said. “We weren’t trying to do them (Better Life) any harm.”
Even with no money down and two mortgages, Walker and Hart said they could afford the monthly payments when they bought their 936-square-foot, one-story home in 2005.
About two years later, after Walker took a 25 percent pay cut because of the declining construction industry, the couple tried getting loan modifications through their lenders, but they were turned down. So they contacted Better Life.
Taylor Trakas, the initial screener, told them in October 2008 they were “perfect candidates” for a modification. Walker and Hart paid the $3,495 fee and their case was turned over to Mary Moi, whom Trakas described as the company’s most qualified modification specialist.
Records indicate Moi contacted the couple’s mortgage lenders on their behalf. More than 30 e-mails providing updates were exchanged, but seven months later, their loan status hadn’t changed.
Calls to Moi and Jacobson were not returned.
Walker and Hart said the refund couldn’t have come at a better time, but a modification would have been preferable, especially given their current employment situation. The fitness center where Hart worked part time as a massage therapist closed without notice in early May.
The gym sold its memberships to another center, but Hart has not received any new clients. Walker is still looking for construction work.
They resubmitted their paperwork directly to their lenders under federal guidelines put in place March 4. Despite a backlog of requests, they were told they didn’t lose their place in line that was set when they started the process with Better Life.
Not surprisingly, the couple said they have learned a lot. In future business dealings, they plan to get all claims in writing and have everything reviewed by an independent attorney. Most important, the couple discovered how resilient they could be.
“We never knew we were as strong as we are,” Hart said. “Just when we thought something else couldn’t go wrong, it did. But we still have our sense of humor. That was unexpected.”