The Beckers tell of their years long struggle to save their house
GREG GORDON, MCCLATCHY NEWSPAPERS: This is Greg Gordon of McClatchy Newspapers. Meet Tony Becker and his wife Celia Fabos-Becker, as tenacious a couple as you’ll ever encounter. And they needed every bit of that toughness to take on a Wall Street goliath and hang on to their modest 1,500 square foot home in San Jose. The Beckers’ story has a different ending than most of the thousands of instances in which Wall Street firms had foreclosed on subprime mortgages and seized homes from delinquent borrowers. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. In 2000, after Tony Becker left a Silicon Valley company he cofounded, the couple started a jewelry business, targeting the many military personnel in San Diego County. Unfortunately, their customer base soon would be depleted.
CELIA FABOS-BECKER: We had a perfect storm. We had 9/11. Then in 2002 we had a wildfire, in August. At the end of 2002, George Bush announced he was going to go and invade Iraq. There went the rest of our reservists.
GORDON: The couple refinanced their house to generate cash, but wound up with two subprime mortgages and a $2,600 monthly payment. Then came another wildfire, and the jewelry business was ruined. Scouring the mortgage documents, Celia Becker found a clause that offered hope for disaster victims.
FABOS-BECKER: It said that you could negotiate with the note holder or the lender to ask for relief in the form of deferred payments.
GORDON: But the Beckers couldn’t negotiate, because nobody would admit to owning their mortgages. When they got wind the loans might be held by Wall Street giant Goldman Sachs, that touched a nerve—the Beckers also were making investment-related claims against Goldman.
FABOS-BECKER: I wrote to Goldman Sachs. I said, I understand you own our mortgage. And I wrote directly to Henry Paulson, the chairman of the board, the CEO.
GORDON: But Goldman denied owning the mortgage. For three years, the couple was in limbo as they fell further and further behind on their rising payments. Then, on the same day in 2006, Goldman asked a court to throw out the claims over their investment losses, and their loan servicer filed court papers to seize their house. With nowhere to turn, the college-educated couple filed for bankruptcy protection.
FABOS-BECKER: We were shopping at the flea market for canned goods [inaudible]
TONY BECKER: Trolling the Goodwills and selling antiques on Craigslist, taking any job we can.
GORDON: Finally, at a court hearing in 2007, an obscure Goldman subsidiary acknowledged holding the Beckers’ mortgage. The fight dragged on until this summer.
BECKER: It was hard to keep going, but we did.
FABOS-BECKER: In the bankruptcy proceedings, they tried to portray us as incompetent or deadbeats.
GORDON: At last, with the bankruptcy judge threatening Goldman with sanctions, the Wall Street firm agreed to give the Beckers a new 30-year mortgage at 5 percent interest. A spokesman for Goldman declined to comment on the case. Celia Fabos-Becker says she hopes the couple’s experience will lead to a change in the laws.
FABOS-BECKER: Nowhere is it required that the lender tell the borrower who he is and how to contact that person, especially when you have disasters and hardships. That is outrageous that we can’t even know who our lenders are.
GORDON: Tony Becker, once again fully employed, takes a certain pride over their brush with Goldman Sachs.
BECKER: I take solace in knowing that I was up against the worst possible opponent, the biggest, strongest investment bank in the world.
GORDON: This is Greg Gordon for McClatchy Newspapers.
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