Juanita and William Fager paid the mortgage on their north Spokane home for 23 years. They were only $7,000 away from paying it off.
But on Friday morning they lost their brick home on Central Avenue when it was auctioned off on the Spokane County Courthouse steps.
The Fagers didn’t know there was a foreclosure sale going on.
William Fager didn’t even know his wife had fallen about six months behind in the mortgage payments.
In her effort not to alarm her work-stressed husband, she hid the growing crisis with the mortgage and foreclosure companies.
Plus, she thought she’d taken care of her problem and settled the debt. The last warning she said she received indicated she owed $2,500 in back payments and penalties. So she borrowed that amount from her father and sent it to the mortgage company on Sept. 6.
But that didn’t settle it.
Three bidders dueled for the home on Friday morning before it sold for $40,000 - about $25,000 less than its market value.
The Fagers plan to challenge the sale in court early next week.
Juanita Fager first heard about the sale Friday morning when an attorney with the Seattle firm of Professional Foreclosure called to tell her it had happened.
She cried and yelled, and her hands trembled as she ransacked a manila envelope crammed with letters to and from the mortgage and foreclosure companies.
“They sold our house!” she yelled. “They sold our house! We’ve got to stop this!” Her face was pure panic. One of her three children cried in the hall while her boyfriend hugged her.
Juanita called her friends for help, but she didn’t call her husband. She wanted to wait until she picked him up from work at Pacific Steel and Recycling before breaking the news.
“He’s going to kill me,” she said numerous times. At one point she added: “And I deserve it.”
Nobody from Fleet Funding Co., an enormous national mortgage firm that holds the Fagers’ mortgage, would discuss the Fagers’ case, instead referring all inquiries to an attorney for Professional Foreclosures.
“She was warned,” said James Cramer-Shreve. Cramer-Shreve indicated the Fagers received all appropriate materials, and that notification of the sale was printed in a local newspaper and recorded at the county auditor’s office, as is required by law.
He also said there was nothing unusual about the case and refused to discuss it further “because I don’t need to.”
John C. Schreiner Jr., president of Spokane County Title, said it was unlike almost any foreclosure he has seen in 15 years.
“It’s highly unusual for a couple to make payments for 23 years, then lose their home over a $7,000 balance,” Schreiner said.
He also said the Fagers didn’t have the typical track record that leads to foreclosure.
“Usually, we will not see such a clean record. We will see judgments, liens and second and third mortgages.”
The Fager home was purchased by David Hepton, a real estate man who often attends foreclosure sales, according to people in the business.
If the sale is upheld, Hepton could evict the Fagers immediately. Efforts to reach Hepton were unsuccessful.
Soon after she heard about the sale, Juanita Fager called a friend who is married to an attorney. She cried as she told attorney Mike Beyer her predicament and said that she couldn’t pay him anything.
Beyer called back late Friday and told her he discussed the case with Spokane Legal Services and Gonzaga University Legal Assistance and had their support.
Red-faced, eyes closed, Juanita Fager pumped her fists above her head in relief.
Beyer said he plans to file a lawsuit by Tuesday claiming that the sale should be canceled because of a procedural error.
He says the foreclosure was invalid because the Fagers never received their $2,500 check back from the mortgage company, or had any letter informing them the check was insufficient payment. He said the law requires such information be shared 11 days before a foreclosure sale.
“(Juanita) had done what she thought was a payoff,” he said.
Beyer also said an attorney for Fleet Mortgage was searching for the Fagers’ check. Fleet claims it sent the check back to the Spokane couple on September 15. The Fagers insist they never received it.
Juanita Fager said she fell behind on the mortgage because the couple, and their two children still living with them, get by on $1,200 a month from William’s job, and her part-time work at the Lewis and Clark High School cafeteria.
She said energy, dental and medical bills piled so high last winter that she kept putting off the $232.70 mortgage payment. She also admitted she let it go on for way too long. “I screwed up big.”
Peter Witherspoon, a Spokane attorney with experience handling foreclosures, said he needed to know more about the case before he could assess it. “It’s difficult for me or anyone else to conclude that this is a travesty.”
However, Witherspoon, like Beyer, thought the Fagers might have a case. He also noted that he has seen at least four cases where a wife has kept a foreclosure secret from her husband. He said in each instance that was not a successful defense to block a sale.
After hearing the news, William Fager was more upset at the mortgage company than at his wife - although he wished she hadn’t hid everything from him. The foreclosure sale is the latest punch in a long brawl with Fleet Funding, he said.
“Those people are just as crooked as a dog’s hind leg,” he said, claiming they routinely call early in the morning and demand payments long before payments are due.
He leaned back in his recliner in his living room and almost smiled. “This is looney tunes,” he said.