I am at a loss as to where to get information in our current situation, so I am hoping to find some insight. Our family's story is a long, hard to follow situation, so bear with me. It actually involves several parties, everyone wanting to point fingers at the other for the errors.
My wife and I bought a home in a small community in 2005. It was our first time buying a home, so I went through a mortgage broker to acquire the financing for the home. They offered Bank of America as the lender that would best suit us. At the time, our income was more than sufficient for the original agreed monthly mortgage payment. We were also eligible for a first-time homebuyer's break, which we didn't get, but after their filing, disqualified us from ever being eligible.
At day of signing, I was broadsided by the mortgage broker, that the original agreement on what my monthly payment was going to be would be substantially increased due to their office neglecting to add the PMI into the calculations. It was going to be a few hundred dollars more a month, but was assured that with my 15% down-payment, I would be able to refinance once the PMI was paid at the 20% amount of the purchase price, which never happened.
After 3 years of owning the home, employment change, and some drastic life changes (fostering 5 minor children because of a drastic horrific murder of their mother). In the midst of all of that, my wife was given a year to live. She has an inoperable thyroid, hemophilia, and CFS. So with medical bills and the foster children, we were unable to keep up with the payments on the house, and we decided to put the house on the market for sale. The realtor pushed for us, with the dire housing market and it being a difficult area to sell homes, that we leave our home furnished versus removing all furniture and belongings off of the property. What furnishings we didn't leave in the home, we were instructed to store in our detached garage, so there was no clutter in the home.
This is where our situation turned almost surreal for us. Our home sat on the market for a year with no offers. We ended up having to rent a home over an hour away to house the foster children since our home that we owned was not large enough for the state's liking. So with renting a small home in the area where they had resided, along with other financial struggles, we got several months behind in payments, resulting in the bank starting foreclosure proceedings.
We decided that we needed to vacate the property of our belongings, but the realtor assured us that since we were only a few months behind, we still had time to keep the house on the market and attempt to try to sell. Most of this time, with us being so far away and heavy snows, we had been unable to check on the property for ourselves for almost two months. My daughter had attempted to access the property in that time on a few occasions, but after several attempts, her key wouldn't work the door. The realtor told us the deadbolts had to be changed because they were inoperable.
What actually happened was the realtor moved a family into our home, without our consent or knowledge, and was attempting to make a profit off of the "rent" these people were supposed to pay, of course, payable to him personally. Our first tipoff that there were people residing in our home was a contractor friend of ours calling us and asking about our property. Apparently a frozen pipe had burst in our home, needed repair, the realtor was a mutual friend of this contractor, and probably didn't think about him possibly contacting us concerning our property. I immediately panicked because all of our belongings were on that property.
I am not new to the idea of leaving behind personal property when selling a home until funds are available to relocate them, as my family have made a few moves when we have had to leave personal property stored at the home, while waiting on the sale of that home to have the funds from the proceeds to ship the belongings. Not quite the case here, because as soon as I was able to get funding and weather permitting, I went to our house to retrieve our belongings. I was greeted at my door by a gentleman that said that the realtor had rented him the house and I was not gaining access to the home. I was infuriated so I contacted the local police. They told me it was a civil matter and they would not be able to get involved. They apparently were under the assumption that this was an eviction (as though I had rented to these individuals) and was a court matter. After several days of explaining the situation, they then decided that it was not a civil matter.
By the time the police made the decision, it was too late. The family had vacated the property, taking every stitch of our belongings with them, and what they didn't take, was trashed or given away.
I was a little perplexed why the property was completely cleaned out like it was, including fixtures and the like. We were told by the police that we needed to contact our insurance company, that this was now considered a theft. We were unable to make the mortgage payment for a few months, but our insurance was still current because it was packaged in with our auto insurance, so I thought I would be covered.
The insurance company said that since we rented the house out, we were not covered. This was not the case, because "we" did not rent the house out, the realtor did without our knowledge. And worse yet, the realtor was not the only culprit in this scheme. It was actually another realtor from a totally different company that came to him with a sob story that this family was homeless and needed a place to rent, so she asked our realtor if they could rent our home and our realtor surrendered the keys. Neither realtor knew any background on this family. They barely even got their names.
The police said that the family left in a small moving truck, so the next question was, where did all of our belongings go? A small 16 foot truck doesn't hold much.
We contacted Bank of America, just to see if they had ordered for the property to be cleaned out, which they denied ever having done that. Something still didn't seem right. Bank of America told us we could contact their property cleanup company, which we did, and they also denied ever having been to the property. That was a partial truth.
Lo and behold, after much investigation, we did finally figure out what may have happened to our belongings. The family that was squatting in our home was approached by Bank of America (or the property cleanup company, we can't get an honest answer) for a "cash for keys" deal, meaning the keys for a home are surrendered in exchange for a determined amount of money, usually to the tune of several thousand dollars. They signed the paperwork and accepted the money.
From what we gather, what the family didn't take with them, the rest was either sent out with the curbside garbage, or taken by the property cleanup company. Our major tip-off that the cleanup company realized a problem is an email we have possession of. It basically states a report to Bank of America, from the cleanup company, that they went to the property and the family told them that we had been at the house to get our property, and the cleanup company reported back to the bank that "there may be a problem".
The major problem with this whole situation, besides the fact of these people being unauthorized by us to reside on the property, is that we were only a few months behind in payments. It had barely been in court, we had received no notification of any sort to court proceedings or any way to try to work out any deal to either catch the payments up, or completely vacate the property and give up on trying to sell and surrender the property, which we would have been willing to do. We were told later about the family accepting the "cash for keys" deal and that attempts from Bank of America and others concerning the property had been intercepted and accepted by the family that was squatting in our home.
We decided three years ago to seek legal action against both realty companies (for unlawfully renting out our home and loss of property as a result), our insurance company (will not pay out because they said renting out our home voided being able to claim theft), and the family that was squatting in our home (for our belongings that we have knowledge they removed and took personally). We lost everything, including irreplaceable heirlooms, antiques, and especially personal information and forms (information that could potentially lead to identity theft). The family has basically fell off the face of the earth, as no one can seem to locate them. The other litigants told us to take a hike.
We were told to estimate replacement value (lower than new item value) on everything we lost, which came to a total of $180,000. This past week, we were offered about 4% of that estimated value "for our troubles" and a "shush order", meaning that we are not to contact the media about the issue.
I am outraged that we have been dealing with all of this for over three years, and basically told that we are "just out", and to give up. This is not even remotely about a monetary gain. I am a machinist by trade, as well as doing automotive and contracting work. My wife dealt in several industries as well. The majority of things we lost were tens of thousands of dollars of my equipment and tooling, as well as her ceramic and antique wares. There were many items not even included in the initial loss because we were told that if we couldn't find a comparable replacement for loss items, then they could not be listed. Hard to do with one-of-a-kind antiques and some of my tooling.
I tend to go through my day feeling this is yet another case of "the little guy", and honest family getting the shaft, simply because large companies can do so, because who is going to challenge them? In all actuality, we would just like to have our belongings back, but we know that is not feasible.