Active Rain November 22, 2011

On the Closure of a Foreclosure Mill

I seem to recall a Twighlight Zone episode where a bigot wakes up one morning and is transformed into the ethnicity that he has been persecuting. That was the first thing I thought of when I read that the law firm of Steven J Baum is closing and laying off 89 employees. The closure comes as a result of the firm losing its major accounts in the wake of the New York Times running an article on a recent Halloween party at the firm where employees dressed in costumes mocking borrowers in foreclosure

I read that article on my tablet while at a home inspection last week. It was incredibly vulgar- at the party, Baum employees dressed as debtors, people in squalor, and even set up a mock subdivision called “Baum Estates” which were all homes that were repossessed. There was a a significant show of derision for people who sought to prevent their own foreclosure, and even a mock set up to ridicule someone who made a critical Youtube video of the firm. 

The Times article caused Baum to lose their big accounts with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and they then filed to dissolve the firm. 

How incredibly ironic. Loss of a job and loss of income is the surest way to default on your mortgage, and you can bet that some of those 89 people -70 of whom are apparently attorneys- are going to get a fat envelope from their own bank down the road informing them that they are in default and face foreclosure. I have seen that fat envelope, and the people who had them, my clients, were scared. And when they reached out to the firm issuing the letter to try and work things out, they were faced with people who couldn’t care less.

We see it all the time in short sale negotiations, mid management grunts who worship the holy trinity of coffee, lunch and 5pm. They lose faxes, act nasty, and in general make the borrowers feel like garbage for having gotten sick, losing their job, or losing their business. And the worst, by far, in the whole industry are the law firms that were at the root of the robo signing scandal in their zeal to separate people from their homes. 

I am not for people living for free or shirking their debts. But I am for due process and compassion. And before we start celebrating that the witch is dead, believe me, most of these people will regroup elsewhere and keep doing what they do best under another roof. But a few of them will learn a tough lesson: turnabout is fair play, and when you know the person on the other end of the line is the same troglodyte as you were 6 months ago, you’ll have to swallow hard. 

Be careful who you mock.