The Penate family tried to do just that. The mother and daughter, Sylvia and Jacqui, were fixated on the pride of ownership and the sense of stability and security it conveys. Unfortunately, they have become victims, specks in the gush of widespread foreclosures.
They are now silent statistics to a bureaucracy bedeviled by the need to put order to the housing crisis. In the context of a flagging economy and the housing bubble burst, many like the Penates have come to realize that owning a home, the American dream they have labored hard to achieve, is impermanent.
In February 2008, the Penates finally became homeowners in the east side of 108th Street in Los Angeles. In addition to the two, another Penate sibling, Jennifer, together with her husband Angel and their three kids, were accommodated in the same unit. Jacqui financed the construction of an annex, adding living space to the otherwise congested quarters.
It was a combination of pitfalls in the system, the deficiencies in educating prospective homeowners, and a cesspool of deceits that connived to heave the Penates in turbulent waters soon after. In the first place, they committed the fatal fault of asking an uncle to front for them in the ownership documents because both their credits are shot. Jacqui, 26 and a single mother of four, has a part-time job and is the sole breadwinner of the household.
Then the monthly interest payments faltered and the notice of default showed up several months later. The Penates thought they had found a lifeline when they saw a TV ad from COOP Management about guaranteed loan modification.
After reviewing their home documents, COOP Management told them a short sale of the house would solve their problem. But first, the Penates would have to pay $14,000 for the services with $6,000 upfront.
Technically, a short sale is used as an alternative to foreclosure, as it would be financially less damaging to the property owner. However, this would work only if the creditor agreed to take whatever amount a short-sale house could get at current market price and release the borrower from the balance of the lien on the real estate. Often short selling during this economic period is very difficult.
It wasn't clear to the Penates how this financial method would work but since they were so desperate at this point, Jacqui came up with the money anyway. Not only that, but the COOP Management even persuaded the mother and daughter to sign a rental agreement to relocate to the city of Palmdale, about 77 miles away while their house is put up for a "short-sale."
"We just didn't know what to do," Jacqui said.
But after a month's stay in that new Palmdale address, it dawned on them that they were being taken for a ride. Some people were coming in, they said, to look over the property. It was up for sale. Additionally, they heard nothing credible from their supposed short-sale agent, H & S Holdings Co. LLC - COOP Management. They demanded for the return of their money but were refused.
Pinas made efforts to get the side H & S Holdings at the address shown on a Letter of Understanding in the Palmdale property transaction. That address on North Maclay Avenue in the city of San Fernando turned out to be a post office box address. Later Jacqui was informed that the company has a new address in Sylmar.
When following up with the COOP Management office, a lady who identified herself as Anna Moreno directed Pinas reporter to wait in an anteroom of the COOP Management office while she went inside supposedly to retrieve the record of the Penate transactions. She came out later to inform that the records sought for is not with them.
She provided a note with the name NHA Investments on it. The location was traveled to in Newhall, but it turned out to be another post office box.
The collapse of the so-called subprime housing mortgage in the last few years has enabled a crop of scam artists to surface.
Frauds come in many shades and some even succeed in convincing house owners to deed their properties to them. Even the knowledgeable but inattentive are sometimes victimized as some scams are sophisticated.
The research firm RealtyTrac indicates that nationally 2.9 million homes were foreclosed last year. It also predicts that before the current year ends, more than 3 million will suffer the same fate. One in five of the foreclosures occurred in California, according to the Los Angeles-based Home Defenders League. In the San Fernando Valley, an urbanized valley north of Los Angeles, the RealtyTrac report shows that last month's sales had tumbled 21 percent, a record low.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has launched a campaign to help homeowners facing foreclosure find trusted resources and housing counselors. The agency also has bared new forms of scams such as loan modification.
As of this writing, the Penates were back in the house they called home in Los Angeles.
Redfin, an online real estate website, shows that their unit was put up for auction on April 6, 2011, for $316,984.
The Penates received a Notice to Quit dated July 7, 2011, from the Huntington Beach-based law offices of Les Zieve. The notice directs them "to quit and deliver possession" of the house within three days.
"This Notice to Quit specifically terminates any possessory interest you may have in the above-described real property," it says.
However, it was long past the deadline to vacate, and the movers had not yet arrived. The light still switched on, the tap still had water. But Sylvia and Jacqui said that they didn't know what to do and where to go if indeed they are ejected from their place.
This article was written as part of a 2011 New America Media Fellowship Program on Responsible Lending Reporting for Ethnic Media Journalists.
Julian Do contributed to this report.