(HELEN, Ga.) — Of the nearly 1.9 million homes that went into foreclosure last year, few owners had any thoughts about sticking around. They packed up their bags and left.
But not the Gearings of Helen, Ga., a small town about 25 miles from the North Carolina border. They are trying to buy back their foreclosed home from the bank to avoid an eviction on Nov. 5, but nothing about the process has been easy.
Jeannette and Bill Gearing and their seven children, by their own account, were doing “very well” six years ago. In 2006, they built and moved into their five-bedroom dream home. Then the recession hit.
Bill Gearing, 54, a salesman, had invested a large portion of the family’s savings in real estate beginning in the late 1990s, including a farm and their home. He also had started a small business in early 2005; it provided farm equipment and had a fully stocked nursery.
The $1.4 million mortgage on their 5,500-square-foot home has monthly payments of nearly $7,000. With a major drought in the area and the economic downturn in full swing by 2009, Bill’s customers began to go out of business and so did his company. The mortgage payments were too much for the family.
They filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in February 2011. Their home was foreclosed on the following July.
“My husband did very well,” said Jeannette Gearing, 42. “We worked very hard, obviously. We’re just victims of the economy just like everyone else. It affected everybody on all levels.”
Her husband continued to work as a salesman, but he makes about a quarter of what he used to earn. To try to earn more money, Jeannette has cleaned houses and worked as a substitute teacher while taking care of her children, ages seven to 17. An aunt who has Alzheimer’s disease also lives with the family.
Jeannette said there didn’t seem to be any options to save their home because the mortgage was so high.
“We just didn’t know who to call,” she said.
A loan modification seemed overwhelming as well.
“My husband started packing when we were notified of the foreclosure,” she said. “I didn’t give up.”
Earlier this year, the Gearings found renewed hope when a family friend contacted them and said he would be willing to purchase the home at its current market value so they could continue to live in it. They would pay the friend, who has so far chosen to remain anonymous, back over time. While the Gearings’ financial situation hasn’t improved much, they now say they have hope that they can stay in their home.
Meanwhile, the number of foreclosure filings in the country dropped to a five-year low in September, according to the foreclosure listings firm RealtyTrac.
The family friend compared their home to other neighboring homes that have sold for much less than their original worth, and submitted a cash offer of $300,000 to an attorney they thought represented U.S. Bank.
But it was complicated. The Gearings said they had difficulty figuring out who owned their home after the foreclosure. A number of financial firms seemed to have some involvement in the ownership of it.
Initially, they had tried contacting U.S. Bank, which was identified on their foreclosure filings. A friend of the Gearing children started a petition on Change.org, initially asking U.S. Bank to allow them to purchase the home. The petition was signed by nearly 200,000 people.
They eventually learned that U.S. Bank was only the trustee for their foreclosed home, which is owned by a trust. They later were directed to Chase, which they confirmed only earlier this month is the mortgage servicer.
A spokeswoman for Chase said the bank has spoken to the family to try to resolve the issue.
“In servicing a property, we follow the investors’ guidelines to avoid foreclosure when possible and to minimize the loss in the case of foreclosure,” Chase said in a statement. “After foreclosure, we seek to sell the home for fair market value.”
The family said Chase has now said it may be willing to entertain an offer if an independent appraisal is conducted on the home first. On Thursday, Chase sent a real estate agent to assess the home’s value. On Tuesday, an appraiser is scheduled to visit.
Jeannette said she has looked at apartments in the area so the children can continue going to school, but she has struggled to find spaces large enough for the family. If they are evicted, she said they would still likely try to buy the home. But moving with seven children and their aunt is something the Gearings would like to avoid.
When asked if the Gearings’ family friend would be willing to pay a higher price to meet the appraisal value, Jeannette Gearing said they would be willing to pay a “fair” price for the home.
“I’m glad something is happening,” she said. “Hopefully it will be a good thing and we can get something resolved.”
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio
Jeff Wuorio, Deseret News
Chris Isidore and Robert Mclean, CNN Newswire