Facing Uncertain Future, Young Renters Get Happy Outcome at Foreclosure Auction

Saturday, May 16, 2009
Jondi Gumz
Santa Cruz Sentinel

Can a foreclosure story have a happy ending?

Elizabeth Titherington, Ariel Ma'ayan and Alison Maupin would say yes.

The
three young renters waited nervously Friday afternoon to find out if
they would have to move out of the lavender house with a white picket
fence on Caledonia Street, all because the landlord did not pay the
mortgage.

"It's beautiful," said Titherington, 25, who is
studying holistic nutrition at Bauman College and works at the farmers
market selling Beckmann's bread. "I want to stay there forever."

She appreciates the pink marble in the bathroom and the rose bushes outside.

There's
more -- like the persimmon and pomegranate trees, said Maupin, 20, a
Cabrillo College student and a photographer for a vacation rental
business. She's lived there for two years.

"And the garden,"
said Ma'ayan, 23, who is studying at Five Branches University and
expects to finish in four years. "I'm so done moving."

The
Eastside location is a bonus: It's near Shopper's Corner, the popular
local grocery, and the newly opened Whole Foods organic market.

The trio and their two housemates are among the many renters caught in the wave of foreclosures sweeping Santa Cruz County.

Last
year, a record 900 homes were sold in foreclosure auctions. About one
out of three sales affect renters, according to estimates from Tenants
Together, a statewide advocacy group.

This year's pace is similar, according to the Santa Cruz Record, which
tracks the data. So far, 224 foreclosed homes have been sold, down
slightly from a year ago, but lenders have issued default notices for
770 properties, slightly more compared to last year.

Auctioneer
Liese Varenkamp took up her post on the steps of the County Government
Center, where foreclosure auctions have been a daily occurrence since
August, and announced four sales, three cancellations and more than a
dozen postponements.

The starting bid for the Caledonia Street house was $382,500, less than half the debt of $846,464.

The property had been purchased in 2005 near the market's peak for $908,000.

Two months ago, the renters learned about the landlord's financial difficulties.

"He
said his partners didn't pay him," Titherington said. "He said we
wouldn't get our deposit back and he told us to stop paying rent."

At the auction, a man in sunglasses surprised the trio, saying he planned to bid. He didn't want to give his name.

"You guys look like good tenants," the man said. "I don't want these kids to have to move."

Titherington broke into tears. Maupin gave her a hug, then hugged Ma'ayan.

In
most of the county's foreclosure sales, no one bids, according to
Varenkamp, who has been calling the auctions for a year and three
months. The property reverts back to the lender to satisfy the debt.

Buyers
must present a check for the full amount of the purchase, unlike a
traditional sale, where a down payment can be as little as 3 percent.
Since foreclosures have soared, lenders have turned cautious, which
explains why auctions have so few bidders.

The man in the sunglasses pulled out a thick envelope full of checks, which Varenkamp inspected.

Titherington folded her hands as if in prayer and brought them to her lips.

"One dollar over," announced Varenkamp.

"Oh my God," said Maupin.

"Going once, going twice," said Varenkamp, looking around but seeing no other bidders. "Sold for $382,501."

Titherington had just one question for the man in the sunglasses.

"Can we hug you?" she asked.

How often does this happen?

Varenkamp's answer: Never.

FAIR USE NOTICE. This document may contain copyrighted
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