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Faces of recession: Timing works out for homeowner

By Steve Huffman
shuffman@salisburypost.com
A few months ago, Libby Wiggins may not have been at her absolute bottom.
But she wasn’t missing it by much.
“I said, ‘Lord, if you want me, just take me,’ ” Wiggins recalled. “I didn’t think it could get any worse.”
Wiggins, 48, is the single mother of a 27-year-old son. She lives in a brick ranch house in Sedgefield Acres, a quiet subdivision of well-kept homes off Long Street in Salisbury.
Wiggins has owned the house almost 10 years, but admitted that making payments over the past few years has at times been difficult. She was unemployed at one stretch for a year and in December 2008 was laid off from her job at Maxon Furniture.
But she’s always been a hustler when it comes to looking for work, at one point taking a temporary job with the N.C. Census Bureau and doing just about any type labor there is in an attempt to pay the bills.
Wiggins now works part-time at a day-care center and works another part-time job at Dillard Distribution. She also bakes and sells cakes.
“I’ll have friends ask, ‘Libby, can you bake me a cake?’ ” Wiggins said. “I say, ‘Oh, yeah.’ ”
Despite her best efforts, Wiggins learned several months ago that the bank was about to foreclose on her house. On March 13 (appropriately, Wiggins noted, a Friday), she called to speak to a representative with Wells Fargo, the bank that holds her mortgage.
“Ms. Wiggins, I don’t know what to tell you,” the representative said. “Your house has already been sold.”
And that’s when Wiggins thought things couldn’t get any worse.
“I said, ‘God, I’m at my lowest point,’ ” Wiggins said. “I said, ‘Lord, I need your help.’ ”
The Almighty may have sent that assistance in the form of Lou Adkins, a counselor with Salisbury Community Development Corp.
Wiggins had met Adkins a week earlier during an open house for people having trouble making their mortgage payments.
On that Friday in mid-March, Wiggins, with nowhere else to turn, drove to Adkins’ office. She was upset and didn’t know that Adkins didn’t work Fridays.
Never worked ’em.
Then she looked up and Adkins was walking in the door.
“It was the only Friday I worked all year,” Adkins said, laughing as she recalled the irony of the timing.
Wiggins poured her heart out to Adkins, telling her her dilemma, telling her that she’d just been informed that the mortgage to her house had been sold.
Adkins gave Wiggins a hug and made her a promise.
“You know I’m not going to take ‘no’ for an answer,” Adkins said. “Now go home and get some rest this weekend.”
About two weeks ago, Wiggins learned that Adkins had made good on her promise. It took a lot of effort on the part of both women, but Wiggins finally learned that the terms of her contract with Wells Fargo had been renegotiated.
She’s not going to lose the house into which she has invested so much.
This came after she was within three days of being booted from the premises.
“I’m sorry,” Wiggins said as she recalled the incident at her house one morning last week, “I’m going to cry.”
Wiggins said she can’t help but feel that Adkins’ help was heaven-sent.
“Everyone kept telling me, ‘You can’t do this on your own,’ ” Wiggins said of the process of getting the foreclosure mess straightened out. “Mama and Daddy were my upper backbone support. Lou was my lower backbone support. Together, they kept me fully supported.”
Adkins and Robbie Stevens, her fellow counselor at Salisbury Community Development Corp., work with any number of people who are in the midst of foreclosure problems. The corporation is affiliated with the Department of Housing & Urban Development, and secures grants through the N.C. Housing Finance Agency and a number of similar organizations. Adkins deals almost daily with the N.C. Banking Commission.
A consumer credit counselor works out of their office two days a week.
Adkins said if a homeowner is employed, making money and working with the lender to rectify his or her credit problems, they can almost always help them stave off foreclosure.
“The biggest thing is, they have to call and let us know they need help,” Adkins said of those facing foreclosure. “If they try to deal with the lender themselves, they’ll be transferred straight to collections and they’ll never get any further.”
Wiggins said that happened to her on more than one occasion. She said one collector from Wells Fargo called her repeatedly, demanding $1,200 and telling her not to call anyone affiliated with HUD.
“I finally told him, ‘How can I send you money I don’t have?’ ” Wiggins asked.
On another occasion, a consultant she dealt with assured her the agency was affiliated with HUD, but demanded $900 in up-front fees before taking another step.
Both Adkins and Wiggins stressed that any HUD-affiliated organization doesn’t demand up-front cash.
“There are so many predators out there trying to take a person’s last bit of money,” Adkins said. “I know one person who lost her last $900 to fraud. Any HUD counseling agency is free.”
Wiggins’ house measures 2,100 square feet and Wiggins said her interest rate wasn’t bad ó about 7 percent ó before late fees and penalties drove her mortgage appreciably higher.
She said she sought assistance from any number of community agencies, and speaks highly of the Salvation Army, which she said helped her one month with her power bill.
Wiggins emphasized that she wasn’t looking for sympathy, and said she agreed to a story in the newspaper only in hopes of informing those in similar financial situations that there are legitimate agencies willing to help those facing foreclosure.
“People just need to know this service is here,” Wiggins said of Adkins and the Salisbury Community Development Corp.
Adkins said that whenever she helps a couple or individual stave off foreclosure, she always sits down with them afterwards and helps plan a budget in order to prevent a repeat of the financial problems.
“I tell them, ‘If you want to stay in the house, this is what you have to do,’ ” Adkins said.
Wiggins took that budget advice to heart. She said her one weekly treat is a Cheerwine Slushie that sets her back a whopping $1.10.
“I told my mama, “Mama, Lou cut me down so much I can barely afford my Cheerwine Slushie,’ ” Wiggins said, laughing as she spoke.
She said she’s on the verge of landing a better, full-time job, and said she feels that with the economy finally about to turn the corner, her days of financial struggle are all but behind her.
“I’m hitting the pavement every day,” Wiggins said of her job searches. “Every morning, when I walk out the door, I say, ‘The Lord is going to bless me with a job today.’ ”
– – –
If you’d like more information about Salisbury Community Development Corp., contact Lou Adkins at 704-638-2154 or Robbie Stevens at 704-638-5383.

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