Francesca Lia Block takes her mortgage woes public
She called me back after talking to the public radio show "Marketplace." That's the kind of person children's book author Francesca Lia Block is: She writes kids books about fairies. She doesn't like to cause conflicts. And she calls people back.
But Bank of America has not, according to Block, always shown her the same courtesy.
For close to a year, Block, author of the Weetzie Bat books for kids, has been calling and talking to various representatives at Bank of America. Some call her back, some disappear, some give one answer, some another. She says she's underwater on the mortgage but has never missed a payment -- all she wants to do is renegotiate terms and save her house. On Friday afternoon, she posted a record of her travails on Facebook and a new blog, Save Francesca's Faerie Cottage.
"The bank did call me today," she said Monday, "and said we saw your stuff online and we want to follow up." Whether anything will come from that is still uncertain -- she was speaking to the media relations department, which told her something different from she'd heard from the president's office on Friday.
Block could have predicted none of this in 2007, when she and her mother bought a Culver City home together. At that time, the Los Angeles housing market had been going up, up, up; buyers were wild to get in before being priced out. Block, who has two children, was eager to buy a home that was convenient to schools; she realizes now that the mortgage she'd gotten was ill-advised.
"I trusted them," she says of her broker, who was with a large firm that she declines to name. She got an interest-only mortgage; its payments will balloon a year from now. There has been a precipitous drop in home prices -- her home's value has dropped by $150,000. Together, that would be enough reason to seek new terms with the bank. Yet Block has had two personal calamities that make the issue more critical -- and more complex.
The first is her own health. The author of the Weetzie Bat series, Block is a successful author by any measure. "I've done quite well over time," she admits, "but it was a bad year." That was the year her eye "just split" -- technically, it was a spontaneous perforated retina. She has a cataract in her other eye. Working -- looking at a computer screen -- was difficult.
In addition, her mother fell ill. Diagnosed with cancer in 2008, her mother died a year later. Not only was Block negotiating that loss emotionally -- her mother's name was on the loan.
"We talked to an attorney about what to do, and it was clear that the house would be in my name, so we didn’t think it was a problem," she says. "She and I were very open about what was going on; she, more than anything, wanted me and the kids to stay here. But it didn't help."
Block was unable to switch the loan to her name, the bank told her, because the house was underwater. Her mother left her the house, but Block -- who was the one making the payments all along -- needs a loan to be in her name. At one point, the bank told her that she'd need $150,000 cash to secure it. She began trying to figure out how to come up with that enormous sum, and waited, and waited. The bank never called her back.
2011 was a better year -- better, perhaps, save for the ongoing efforts to keep her house. She applied for the Making Home Affordable program in April 2011. And called, and faxed, and called again. And she wrote.
"I worked every day last year, seven days a week, to make the payments," she says. "I physically can’t do it anymore. If this doesn’t work, I think I’ll have to give up."
Last week, she reached the president's office and was told her case was under consideration -- and that they would call her back.
-- Carolyn Kellogg
Photo: Francesca Lia Block and her children. Credit: Nicolas Sage