"In a word – broken. It is very hard to put yourself back together...to move forward, to plan, to hope again."
Currently there are some 17,000 families in danger of losing their homes in a giant tsunami that threatens the very heart of our little island. These are the so-called underperforming loans that the ECB has asked the Irish pillar banks to clear up. Actually they were asked about five years ago to sort these loans out – mostly mortgages split between home and investment properties – but the banks did very little. This is well documented.
On the flip side, much has been said in the paper that these people are not engaging with their banks. In reply to that, and having been in the self-same position, I can acknowledge that it is very hard. The overriding emotion is to run away and ignore the situation especially if you have a lost a job, become divorced and just had pay cuts that have reduced your ability to repay. And as for the investment mortgages under fire it often escapes notice that there are families renting those homes too.
But my question is - Where are we going to put all these distressed people?
I did engage with my banks but I still lost my home. I had been offered €500,000 for my home – but the mortgage was €800,000 plus arrears – and so the bank refused permission for me to sell. I, along with the rest of the country, was flabbergasted. My buyer went away. In the ensuing publicity I got another offer of €250,000 but the banks still refused consent to sell.
And so I was served with court papers looking to repossess my home. I went to Bray Circuit Court with a friend of mine. The registrar was lovely, castigated the banks, and held my case over for mention. In my innocence I thought I was winning. I had been helped by a debt advocacy group but I think I must have lost my usefulness to them or I was more useful to them as a bankrupt. I was given no advice on what to expect. No one came with me. I remember ringing the MD on my way into Bray on a Monday morning to go to court and he said just tell them the size of the mortgage and the size of the arrears.
So I left the courtroom positively buzzing. I was high on emotion. I had won the first battle – or so I thought. In fact, it was just procedure that the first hearing gets held over for a second listing, nothing more.
A number of weeks (I cannot remember exactly) I was there again. So confident was I that I went alone, I brought a book. I had not filled in any affidavits. I don’t recall seeing any bank affidavits. I sauntered into the courtroom and took out my book to read. I was convinced the bank’s barrister would get a jolly good telling off again.
So imagine my surprise when I called to the bench. I was asked the size of the mortgage and the amount of the arrears. The registrar looked up at me and asked if the mortgage was sustainable. I didn’t know what to say so I mumbled ‘no I guess’. ‘Repossession order granted,’ she said.
It took less than two minutes and I was out in the carpark again. The shock of the sudden repossession of my home hit me hard. I sat in the car and bawled me eyes out. Despite being a client of a major advocacy group I had not been told this would happen. I was clueless.
The bank went to sell my home for €165,000. That was in 2013. This week it is back on the market for €550,000. I am not critical of the owners but of the system.
Having one’s home repossessed is beyond horrible. It takes years and years to get to the actual repossession point. Like that poor fly going down the sticky petals of the flycatcher it is a slow and painful process.
I question why wasn’t I offered the opportunity to buy back my home at that price – I am sure I could have rallied family and friends – after all it is only the price of a ruined cottage in rural Wicklow.
And why could I not compel the banks to take the €500,000 offered? Why did they have the authority to refuse that offer which ultimately condemned me to bankruptcy and poverty as a result?
Back to the tsunami
As a country that claims to cherish its citizens and especially its children, we can’t allow the vulture funds to evict 17,000 families. As a country we cannot afford to house 17,000 families in non-existent properties. As an economy we cannot afford to apply even greater pressure on the already heaving Dublin property market.
What does it feel to have your home repossessed?
In a word – broken. It is very hard to put yourself back together again after such an experience; to pull yourself up by the bootstraps, to move forward, to plan, to hope again.
So why are we inflicting this misery on the 17,000 families in the firing line? It makes no sense on a human level and it makes no sense on an economic level.
It will cost us more in human and economic capital if we do not protect these people. So whether you are motivated by empathy or hard economic reasoning, we need to stop the repossessions.
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