A home foreclosure nightmare has become a dream come true for a father of three who had to battle what he says was an unbending finance company in addition to stage 4 kidney cancer.
Forty-year-old Angelo Kontarinis of Exeter, N.H., an adjunct professor at the New Hampshire Institute of Art, was diagnosed with kidney cancer early in 2007. Last fall, he learned that the disease had spread to his lungs and brain.
Falling behind on his mortgage payments and unable to continue working, Kontarinis and his wife, Melissa, contacted their mortgage company, Florida-based Taylor, Bean and Whitaker, in an effort to restructure the financing on their three-bedroom, $265,000 home.
"They told my wife that they wouldn't talk about restructuring until the mortgage was three months behind," Kontarinis said.
"So we fell three months behind. And then they refused to talk to us."
Five months of "constant rude comments" from employees at Taylor, Bean and Whitaker ensued, Kontarinis said, and then he and his wife received an attorney's notice last week indicating that their home would be auctioned on May 8.
"We thought we were going to be out on the street," he said. "My wife compared it to a steaming locomotive that no one was able to stop."
But a seemingly innocuous e-mail Kontarinis sent to Kidney-Onc, a discussion list for relatives, researchers and physicians of kidney cancer patients, led to "literally thousands" of good Samaritans who became determined to help Kontarinis avert foreclosure.
"People just kept calling and e-mailing over and over again," Kontarinis said. "This thing took on a life of its own."
One supporter called Taylor, Bean and Whitaker at least 21 times, Kontarinis said. And others chimed in — the Consumer Credit Counseling Service and some local politicians, including Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen.
Then the unthinkable happened, Kontarinis said.
Eric Whitelow, his case manager at Taylor, Bean and Whitaker, called late Thursday, and "Within 10 minutes, he restructured our mortgage over the phone," he said. "It was amazing. He worked with us and even lowered our interest rate."
Kontarinis is breathing easier now, since he no longer has to worry about cramming his children — Jack, 7, Tess, 3, and Pearl, 2 — into an apartment. But he knows that others facing foreclosure may not be so lucky.
"There are other people out there who don't have a thousand other patients supporting them, and in the end, maybe shame is a good thing," Kontarinis said of the complaints Taylor, Bean and Whitaker received. "There might be a reason why I got cancer after all. Maybe this is it."
Calls to Whitelow and to Taylor, Bean and Whitaker CEO Paul Allen were not returned Friday. But complaints against stonewalling mortgage companies are not uncommon, according to Roger Phillips, a New Hampshire attorney who said he has heard at least four similar accounts in the past six months.
"It's a story I've heard often," Phillips said. "I've had plenty of clients tell me that their mortgage companies have told them they're unable to do something to help them unless they fall three months behind. And then people who acted in good faith learn 90 days later that the mortgage company will foreclose on their home."
Phillips said he had not received similar complaints in connection to Taylor, Bean and Whitaker, but rather to larger firms like Wells Fargo and Citigroup.
"What intrigues me is that in today's market, when the value of homes are declining and the equity might not be there, when there's an opportunity for a mortgagee to do something in good faith, I don't understand why the mortgager would want to jeopardize their investment in that property and not be willing to deal with the consumer," Phillips said.
Kontarinis, meanwhile, just finished two weeks of intensive IL-2 therapy for metastatic renal cell carcinoma at Boston's Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. In a few weeks, he'll undergo tests to determine if his tumors have responded to the treatment. While he recognizes the larger fight at hand, Kontarinis is just happy to have a home.
"I am mentally and physically exhausted after this fight, but I have an amazing newfound belief in humanity," he said. "One thing cancer has taught me is how good people can be — these were strangers. I believe in the power of people."