Family fights to save home, lenders say to keep communication open

AUBURN — Jamie LaBonte's daughters love their home and aren't real keen on the prospect of leaving. But for the two girls — ages 10 and 5 — the possibility looms daily as the family fights to save from foreclosure the property they've called home since 2004.

To help raise the thousands needed to pull the family out of deep debt, the girls took it upon themselves to set up an iced tea stand in front of their Northern Avenue home.

"It's not easy to save money when you have a family," LaBonte said. "The house is worth so much more than what we bought it for. We tried. We tried. We tried. But nothing is working."

LaBonte said the family's housing nightmare began two years ago when she and the girls' father, Kevin Pease, separated for several months. During the split, money that normally went toward the house payment was used to pay rent on an apartment for her and her daughters, LaBonte said.

The breakup was short-lived — and the couple reunited in about two months — but the long-term effects turned out to be devastating for the family.

LaBonte said she and Pease ended up owing their lender, SunTrust Mortgage, several thousand dollars in a matter of months, and the company was unwilling to accept a partial payment to get them back on track. It was a matter of all or nothing, she said.

LaBonte said she chose the latter and stopped making payments on the home in 2008.

"I just got frustrated. I was trying to work," LaBonte said. Personal injuries complicated matters even more and led her to quit trying to communicate with SunTrust. "I felt like I was being attacked. I had a hard time even working. It was a mess, just a mess."

Pretty soon, SunTrust began the process of foreclosing on the property and forcing the family out of their home. Now, LaBonte said she regrets an earlier decision not to accept a loan modification offered by the mortgage company.

She said that while the last two years may have been a string of bad luck, the ordeal has brought her and her family closer together. It's also taught them some important lessons about mortgages.

They are lessons that every homeowner should pay close attention to, said Bob Valliere, a local loan officer with Rainbow Federal Credit Union.

"If an individual foresees that they're going to have a problem, then don't wait three, four, five months to call me. Call me right away so that we can work it out," Valliere said.

He said Rainbow Federal tries to work with customers to avoid disasters like LaBonte's case. The local financial institution — like others across the state — will work with families facing tough times in hopes of coming up with a solution that keeps the family in their home and the credit union from taking legal action, he said.

"We try to work with the individuals so that we can all see the light at the end of the tunnel," Valliere said. "There is nothing standard about any individual who has gone into default."

But critical to that equation, Valliere stressed, is communication between the customer and the lender. And, cases are reviewed on an individual basis.

"Things have a way of snowballing sometimes, but you have to work with (customers) to get them back on track, but they have to work with you, too," Valliere said. "Communication between the parties is a very key factor."

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