Fine print filled the inch-thick stack of papers in front of Leslie Parks at a Maple Grove mortgage office Friday. But signing and dating each document was a task she was happy to take on.
The papers meant that, after nearly two years of desperately clinging to a south Minneapolis duplex that had slipped into foreclosure when her mother was duped into an adjustable-rate mortgage, Parks finally owned 3749 Park Av. S.
"Can you believe we're here?" asked a beaming Liz Peter, senior planner for Waterstone Mortgage.
"I can, actually," Parks replied.
The closing marked a happy ending to a painful saga that drew the attention of U.S. Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken, who pushed measures last year to protect consumers from the kind of predatory lending practices that had jeopardized Parks' house.
It began in December 2009, when Parks arrived home from work during a blizzard to find that the locks had been changed on her mother's former duplex.
Parks was in the midst of negotiating with lender OneWest Bank of Pasadena, Calif., to stay in the home after it had slipped into foreclosure the summer before.
Her mother, Tecora Parks, had refinanced her fixed-rate mortgage with a subprime adjustable-rate loan to pay for city-ordered window upgrades for the rental property.
OneWest Bank, recognizing it had made a mistake in changing the locks too early, contacted Peter to help Leslie Parks buy the duplex back from the bank.
'A story about hope'
Peter's first step was to get Parks, 48, a logistics coordinator for a roof shingling manufacturer, in touch with Edina credit and debt consulting firm Christopher & Associates. The firm spent five months pulling Parks' credit score out of the gutter -- a score that had been shot when Parks racked up credit card bills trying to save her mother's duplex.
Christopher & Associates CEO Michael Stroozas said they negotiated with creditors and arrived at a sum, about $3,100, that Parks could pay off with a low-interest loan.
He surprised her Friday with the news that the company had decided to convert the loan into a grant that she didn't have to repay.
"God bless you," Parks said, wiping away tears.
"You're welcome," Stroozas said.
While companies worked on Parks' credit, Peter directed her to home buyer classes that qualified her for down payment assistance from Minnesota Housing and Central Neighborhood program funds. A local title company contributed a job loss protection policy, while volunteers helped fix up the house.
Parks has been living there throughout the negotiations. On Friday, she signed the papers.
"It's a story about hope, and it's a story about teamwork where we all came together to make this work," Peter said.
Mortgage products are considerably safer now than they were when the Parkses got in a bind.
Still, Stroozas said, at a time when a quarter of the nation's residents have credit scores below 600 because of job loss, there shouldn't be a stigma attached to financial strife.
"There's still a large taboo about credit and debt problems in our country and it needs to go away," he said. "We're addressing it in the private sectors with companies like us being their advocates, but I don't think we're addressing it on the grander stage of things."
Parks credited the Minnesota Coalition for People's Bailout and other local organizations in helping her not only help herself, but also to speak for thousands of others who risk losing their homes under similar circumstances.
"I was willing to talk about what needed to be done and I needed a vehicle to do that," she said. "It was going on everywhere, but people needed to talk about it."
Parks said that she looked forward to entering her new home Friday night. She knew the same old duplex was going to feel different.
In the meantime, she had to search for a new tenant for the other half of the duplex. She had become not only a homeowner, but a landlord, too.
Abby Simons • 612-673-4921