As they stood in line for Saturday's foreclosure workshop at Modesto Centre Plaza, couple Frank Lewis and Christina Crick had loan documents, financial statements and optimism.
With their Merced home's loan resetting Tuesday, they said, optimism is vital.
"If we can't get the payments fixed, we'll lose the house," said Crick, 36. "You have to be optimistic. At least we're not behind yet."
More than 1,000 worried homeowners attended the workshop, sponsored by The Bee, the city of Modesto and the state.
The homeowners hoped that meeting with a lender's loss mitigation department could get them a lifeline to keeping their homes.
Bank of America, Countrywide, Wachovia and Washington Mutual had representatives on hand, and counselors from government agencies, including the Department of Housing and Urban Development, were there to assist if a lender wasn't present.
But the Northern San Joaquin Valley's reputation as the hub of the nation's housing meltdown meant demand for help outstripped supply.
By early afternoon, volunteers told attendees hoping to meet with Wachovia, Countrywide and Washington Mutual that a one-on-one session couldn't be guaranteed that day.
And Eduardo Morales, a housing counselor with El Concilio, a Modesto agency that serves the valley's Latino community, said there was another stark reality that limited how much help some lenders could give.
"When you have negative equity in the home, and you don't have the income to make it, it's really hard," Morales said.
Such a scenario described many of Saturday's attendees. They said they bought homes with adjustable-rate loans before housing values plummeted.
As housing slowed down, many of them lost jobs in construction or related real-estate fields. Some described paying mortgages with credit cards to get by.
Paperwork and patience
To meet with a counselor or lender Saturday required not only paperwork and hope, but patience.
In a central plaza meeting room, borrowers asked general questions about foreclosure while a volunteer periodically announced numbers held by borrowers that signified time for a one-on-one meeting.
The people lined up outside and in the plaza's hallways were from every background: young and old; white, black and brown; in dress slacks and denim shorts.
Blanca Rivera of Modesto hoped to find help for her 72-year-old mother, who nearly had her valley house paid off when she got a mail notice about supplementing her income by cashing out equity.
Rivera said a lender estimated her mom's income by adding in that equity. She's now on the verge of foreclosure, with a mortgage payment of up to $1,500 but an income of $1,200 in Social Security.
"The family is helping her out as much as we can, but we can't do it forever," Rivera said. "We all feel she was taken advantage of in this process."
Saturday's event was structured to prevent that from happening again. The lenders were represented by experts in loss mitigation, the industry term for loan modification, so that there was no financial reward if those experts helped refinance a loan.
Amanda Fulkerson, communication director for the state's Consumer Services Agency, said sponsors and participants agreed that anyone at the seminar found selling services or trying to drum up business would be told to leave.
Still, Fulkerson said, she discovered that a loan consolidation group had set up shop in a neighboring Doubletree Hotel conference room. She had signs posted warning attendees that the group wasn't affiliated with the workshop.
For the people looking for help, there were mixed results. Marco Vega, 38, had a wide grin after learning he could change his variable-rate loan to a standard 30-year fixed-rate loan.
"Hopefully everything goes through now," said Vega, a construction superintendent who lives in Modesto. "There are some days I can't even sleep, and now I'll sleep well."
But Joyce Perez of Modesto was downbeat as she left. Though she and her husband are three months behind on housing payments because their income was reduced, she said their lender, Bank of America, would agree only to add the missed payments to the end of the loan.
"They're not very helpful," said Perez, 32, who had arrived at the workshop at 9:30 a.m. but left about 2 p.m. with no resolution. "We might have to relocate now, go to a different area or even a different state."
Perez said she was concerned for many of the other borrowers at the workshop who were in desperate straits but were guaranteed nothing.
"I heard a lot of people say this was their last effort."
Bee staff writer Ben van der Meer can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2331.