Lending practices in recent years made it easier than ever to buy a home in Ohio.
But Robin Slagle of Norwalk knows keeping that home is a different story. Slagle's home went into foreclosure in 2005, and she's been fighting to hold onto it ever since.
Her attorney, Reese Wineman, says her experience with lending companies is a cautionary tale for any prospective homeowner.
"A lot of people don't realize what some of these banks are doing: preying on desperate people, telling them we'll save your home," Wineman said.
Slagle, 48, and her disabled husband, Douglas, lived with her late father, Jack Severns, at their 284 Woodlawn Ave. home from 1996-2001.
Severns bought their house in 1998 with a Washington Mutual Bank mortgage loan, but he was forced to retire from his position at the Norwalk water filtration plant in 2001 after he was diagnosed with terminal cancer.
Slagle said she quit her job as a pet groomer to care for her father, who continued to pay for their house and expenses with a lump-sum check he received from the city for vacation and sick days.
When Severns died later that year, she and her husband had no income, and she feared they would lose their house.
"We thought for sure the house was gone," she said. "My husband got hurt back in 1988 and has not held a full-time job since."
Slagle says she would've done almost anything legal to save her home, so when Washington Mutual allowed her to assume her father's mortgage, she was more than happy to take it -- even though she didn't have a job.
"I honestly didn't think they would let me take the loan, because at that point my credit was not that good," she said. "They told me there was no credit check. I just assumed the loan."
Slagle said monthly payments on the mortgage were about $458, and the house was valued at about $49,000 when she assumed the loan.
Making payments wasn't a problem at first, because she received about $1,200 per month from her late father's retirement fund.
But when her then-unemployed son moved into her house with his wife and two children, it became harder for Slagle to make ends meet.
When Washington Mutual foreclosed in December 2005, Slagle was 11 months behind on her mortgage payments.
That same month she was contacted by a representative from Foreclosure Solutions, a company that negotiates with mortgage lenders to help people keep their homes. The company promised to negotiate with Washington Mutual on Slagle's behalf so she could keep her home.
Slagle sent Foreclosure Solutions about $1,000 to do just that.
But after researching the incident, Wineman says Foreclosure Solutions never contacted Washington Mutual. The company hired a Kentucky law firm to work on Slagle's case, but the firm never responded to a summary judgment action filed against her by Washington Mutual.
"I made calls because I couldn't believe lawyers would do this to these people," Wineman said. "You get a summary judgment filed in a civil case and you don't respond to it, what do you think is going to happen?"
Michelle Gatchwell, a spokeswoman for state Attorney General Marc Dann's office, said Foreclosure Solutions has victimized dozens of people in Ohio and throughout the country.
Dann's office filed a consumer protection lawsuit against Foreclosure Solutions on Aug. 8 on behalf of at least 45 people the company allegedly victimized.
"(Foreclosure Solutions) was taking money from these people with a promise that they'd get sent out of foreclosure," Gatchwell said. "They'd take the money, but what eventually happens is it's foreclosed upon anyway, leaving the homeowner with little besides broken promises and broken dreams."
Slagle's home was scheduled to go up for sale in May 2006. With the sale date quickly approaching, she said she gave up on Foreclosure Solutions saving her home.
She negotiated a forbearance agreement with Washington Mutual before her sale date, sending the company a $4,000 lump-sum payment and making monthly payments of about $585.
"When we worked out the forbearance with Washington Mutual, we thought everything was going to be all right," she said.
But in November 2006, she began receiving letters informing her Wells Fargo Bank had purchased the rights to her home. Slagle said she made numerous attempts to work with Wells Fargo.
"When I contacted them they told me everything was boxed up, so they couldn't say too much about the files. They told me since Washington Mutual had signed a forbearance with me, they more than likely would work with me, too."
But after sending Washington Mutual more than $7,000 and negotiating with Wells Fargo for months, Slagle in August received a check for more than $3,200 from Wells Fargo, which filed an order of sale on her house for Dec. 10.
Slagle didn't find out her house was for sale until Nov. 6, when she read it on the foreclosure list in the Norwalk Reflector.
"(Wells Fargo) said they spoke to me, and I said I didn't want my house," she said. "I told them I'd never spoken with anyone and said that."
During that same week Slagle hired Wineman, who filed an emergency order to vacate the sale date of her home in Huron County Common Pleas Court.
"We're waiting on a ruling from the judge on that," Wineman said Monday.
Slagle said she realizes all this trouble could've been avoided if she had just paid her mortgage on time.
She went back to school in 2005 and now works as a nurse, providing residential assistance for the elderly and earning more than enough money to pay her bills.
"I know it's my fault that I fell behind. Sometimes you get in a position where you try to do the best you can, but it doesn't work out," she said. "I don't want to bother anybody. I just want to live my life and take care of the things I need to take care of."
Washington Mutual and Wells Fargo were contacted Monday, but representatives from both banks said they could not comment on specifics involving Slagle's case without written consent.
The Register is working with the two companies and Slagle to further investigate her situation.
Wells Fargo is involved in at least 257 foreclosure cases in Huron County alone, according to the clerk of courts' Web Site.
Washington Mutual is involved in at least 67 cases in some stage of foreclosure.
The Attorney General also offered these tips for avoiding foreclosure rescue scams:
* Don't panic. Get detailed information about the deadlines you face in resolving your problems. Pay special attention to the date on which you would lose legal right to ownership of your home.
* If you have a pending lawsuit against you for your home, you can contact legal aid or the bar association to find an attorney to represent you.
* If you are getting letters threatening foreclosure but are not yet in a lawsuit, contact a certified HUD counselor for assistance
* Be wary of any claim to stop foreclosure for a fee.
* Never sign a contract under pressure. Take your time and consult a lawyer if possible.
* Never make your mortgage payments to anyone other than your lender. If you can't pay, do not ignore warning letters from your lender. Contact the lender immediately to work out payment arrangements.
* Don't sign anything with blank lines or spaces; information could be added later without your knowledge and consent.
* Call the Better Business Bureau and the attorney general's office to see if there are any complaints against a company before doing business with it. Contact the attorney general's office at www.ag4ohio.gov or by calling 1-877-AG4OHIO.