With this week’s $3.3 billion settlement by banks who engaged in faulty foreclosures, you might think that the worst tales of the housing bust are behind us. But the predators of the foreclosure era are still out there, still making money on other people’s misery.
According to a complaint filed last month in King County Superior Court, just such a scenario happened to Ames Larson.
Larson is a 67-year-old Vietnam veteran and former prisoner of war who, as recently as this past December, owned his three-bedroom Lake City home free and clear. But that’s about all he owned. He lived on roughly $1,100 a month, most of it coming from Social Security, according to his attorney, David Leen, who recently started a non-profit called the Northwest Consumer Law Center. Larson couldn’t afford to pay his utility bills; Leen think he was using candles for light. He also couldn’t keep up with his property taxes.
Had he known about King County programs for seniors offering tax relief, he probably could have qualified, according to Leen. But he didn’t. In June of last year, the county initiated tax foreclosure proceedings against Larson. To stop it, he needed to come up with $11,000.
He didn’t have it. In October, however, several representatives from a business calledNorthwest Home Buyers knocked on Larson’s door. “We buy homes: any house any condition,” declares Northwest’s website, which also proclaims the ability to provide “quick cash” for homeowners facing foreclosure and other difficult situations.
The Northwest representatives offered Larson $120,000 for his home, according to the complaint But when another company representative, by the name of Chris Lundquist, showed up at the house a month later with paperwork for Larson to sign, the offer was reduced to $70,000. Zillow estimates the house to be worth a little over $300,000.
Leen says Larson felt he had no choice but to sign. His house was scheduled to be foreclosed upon in just two weeks. In the end, he came away with only about $40,000, after payment of back property taxes and various transaction fees, according to Leen.