Stolen Property? 

An unscrupulous mortgage-collection firm sold Jim Hultman's Berkeley home out from under him, leaving behind a feud and an eyesore.

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Foreclosure specialists — among them professional Realtors, independent investors, and the occasional con artist — regularly comb through county records for names of homeowners in foreclosure, whom they rush to contact with offers before the lender sells off their houses.

Fairbanks had indeed recorded a Notice of Default for $8,150.65 in arrears against Hultman on February 6, 2004, by way of the National Default Servicing Corporation — a company to which Fairbanks outsourced its notice-posting and debt collection. The ambitious man at the door may have outpaced the postal system, but Hultman insists the notice never arrived. (A spokesperson for the NDSC counters that its notices are always properly delivered without exception.)

Immediately after the man left, Hultman rushed to call Fairbanks, he says. On the phone, a company representative told him that, no, his house was not in foreclosure, and that, yes, his account was current.

At this point, Hultman recalls, he had little faith in the company, and so he called back again. And again. And again. "On my fifth phone call," he says, "I was told by Fairbanks, 'Yes, we show you as behind in payments, but we can't tell you right now which payments, so let us work up a forbearance agreement and get it to you next week.'

"Well, I also read that Fairbanks did that," Hultman continues. "They would tell you that there was a forbearance agreement, and you wouldn't get it before your house was supposed to be sold, and you would lose your house."

Hultman called a few real-estate attorneys, who told him his only option was to file for bankruptcy. "I'm not bankrupt, but I went along with them and did it," he says. "It was explained to me that if you file bankruptcy, that'll stop it. Then just go refinance with another company, and get away from Fairbanks at any cost."

The bankruptcy filing put a stay on the foreclosure while Hultman weighed his options for resolving what he saw as a case of servicing fraud. "Fairbanks never really came up with the exact months they claimed that I was behind in payments, but for the next year, I was going ahead and paying them my regular payments while trying to refinance," he says. "I had eleven companies tell me they would refinance me, and all eleven had to back out because Fairbanks wouldn't give them my payoff amount. Every company came back and said, 'We would do it, but we can't get any information out of Fairbanks — they are the worst company to deal with.'"

By then, Fairbanks had changed its name to Select Portfolio Servicing to shed the bad publicity from the Curry settlement, and although Fairbanks/SPS claimed to have changed its ways, the testimonies against it on Web sites such as RipoffReport.com and MSFraud.org were — and still are — unrelenting. Contacted for this story, SPS spokespeople were given the opportunity to explain Fairbanks' foreclosure action against Hultman, and to refute his claims. But they never called back as promised.

As Hultman considered his refinancing options, a miscommunication with his attorney inadvertently ended his bankruptcy case without his knowledge. But NDSC, Fairbanks' default servicer, found out the bankruptcy had lapsed. Even as Hultman continued to make payments, it proceeded with the foreclosure.

Much like the previous year, it was only when Hultman found two unfamiliar men in his backyard in July 2005 that he realized something was amiss. He came home from work at 10 a.m. to pick up some tools and let his dog out, he says. When he opened the door to the backyard, he saw the men and demanded to know why they were on his property. "What the hell are you doing in my yard?" he recalls yelling.

One of the men laughed. "It's not your house for long," he chided. "I'm buying it this afternoon; it's up for sale! Enjoy it while you can."

"I don't care," Hultman says he told them. "Get the hell out of my yard."

Again, the company initially denied any intent to foreclose on his house, he says: "I called Fairbanks and they told me, 'No, there's nothing wrong. Your house isn't for sale. Everything's current.' And I called them a total of five times again. Every person told me that there was no problem. I was told, 'If we were selling your house, we wouldn't be accepting your payments.'

"The sixth phone call I make, the lady tells me, 'Oh, yes, we do show it as being scheduled for sale today. You should have gotten a notice.'"

But Hultman insisted he had never received anything. He then called his attorney and learned the bad news about his bankruptcy. Together, they rushed to the county courthouse and filed the missing paperwork, but it was too late. Minutes earlier, on the steps behind the courthouse, 2122 Ward Street had been sold to two buyers for $635,100.

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