Business

How to fight harassing calls from a lender

DEAR MR. MYERS: I am being harassed by my mortgage lender. Although my payment is due on the first day of each month, my loan documents clearly state that I have a 15-day “grace period” before a late penalty can be charged. Nonetheless, if I don’t pay on the first of each month, people from the bank constantly call every day and (usually rudely) demand that payment be made immediately, even though the 15th hasn’t arrived. I have explained the problem to several people at the bank, but the calls keep coming. What can I do?

ANSWER: Your best bet would be to file a complaint against the lender with the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Do so by visiting the agency’s website, consumerfinance.gov, or by calling it toll-free at 855-411-2372. There is no charge for its help.

The bureau will then forward your complaint to the bank and demand that it responds to you and the agency within 15 days. All but the most complicated disputes are resolved within 60 days, the bureau says.

Now, here’s a really cool thing: If you consent, the bureau also will publish your complaint on its website for the entire world to see. Your private information (including your name and account number) will be redacted, but the name of the company always will appear.

Most lenders, credit-reporting bureaus, collection agencies and other financially related companies hate this feature because they don’t want their “dirty laundry” to be shared with the public. Consumers and consumer-protection groups love it.

REAL ESTATE TRIVIA: Builders and contractors who do shoddy work or fail to start or complete a job accounted for the second-highest number of complaints made by consumers last year, according to a survey jointly conducted by the Consumer Federation of America and a nonprofit group called the North American Consumer Protection Investigators. Only car-dealers and auto-repair shops scored worse.

DEAR MR. MYERS: We are getting ready to put our home up for sale. I think that we should tear up the old carpet in our living room and put in a new one, but two sales agents who have toured our home suggested that we remove the carpet and refinish the hardwood floor underneath. What do you think we should do?

ANSWER: Follow the advice that the two agents gave you. They know the market better and likely have a much better idea of what local buyers are looking for when shopping for a new house.

If you install a new carpet, there’s a good chance that your eventual buyers won’t share your taste in the flooring and just tear it out anyway. That means that your money would have been wasted.

Conversely, if you refinish the hardwood, the buyers can either keep the floor like it is or buy carpeting of their own.

DEAR MR. MYERS: I want to sell my home, but am thinking of marketing the property myself in order to avoid paying a professional sales agent a 5- or 6-percent commission. If I sell the home myself, would I be legally obligated to disclose any of its problems to a buyer even though I don’t have a real estate license?

ANSWER: Yes, you would have to disclose any home defects that you know about – or should have known about – even if you don’t hire a licensed pro to do the marketing job for you. All sellers must follow their state’s disclosure laws, regardless of whether an agent is involved.

Any smart buyer who wants to purchase your property will make the offer contingent on first obtaining a satisfactory report from a professional home-inspector. So, any defects that you fail to disclose likely will be discovered anyway.

Even if the inspector misses a problem, big or small, you still could be sued by the buyer if you didn’t disclose it. It’s also worth noting that inspection firms and their lawyers have a good track record when it comes to laying any financial liability resulting from a buyer’s successful failure-to-disclose lawsuit on the shoulders of the seller rather than the inspector.

Selling a home is a complicated process, filled with lots of marketing and legal issues. That’s why I always suggest that sellers hire a licensed real estate agent or broker unless they have plenty of experience in buying and selling homes.

Nobody wants to pay an agent thousands of dollars to sell their house. But it’s money well spent if the agent’s marketing expertise fetches a higher price than the seller could get by doing it alone, deals with all the headaches that the transaction may involve, or helps to avoid a lawsuit after the deal closes.

David W. Myers’ column is distributed by Cowles Syndicate Inc.

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