CREATED Nov. 1, 2013
Las Vegas, NV (KTNV) -- They say home is where the heart is. That's definitely true for one local woman, who lost her house after struggling to pay her upside down mortgage.
And as Contact 13's Tricia Kean warns, even hiring legal help for a loan modification was no guarantee.
"I was living in a condo, and it kind of felt like an apartment," says Alexis Aronova.
She says buying this spacious home was her dream.
"3 bedroom, 2 and a half bath," says Alexis.
It was back in 2005 when she moved into the house in the community of Traccia", across from Red Rock Country Club. Buying brand new, she had the chance to choose every last detail.
"Berber carpet, got like granite counter tops, and picked out cabinets," says Alexis.
But in 2010, she was struggling. We were in a recession, the cost of living was on the rise and paying the mortgage was getting difficult.
"I was paying paycheck to paycheck," says Alexis.
She tried applying for a loan modification with her lender on her own. But when that didn't work, she turned to attorney Monica Centeno, who she met at a seminar.
"When I went to see her, she told me she did not take cases that she can not win. That was her words," says Alexis.
She signed this contract with Centeno in 2010, agreeing to pay her an up front fee of $3,500, for help getting a loan modification. Just a few months later, she was having trouble getting updates on her case.
"When I tried to call and call and call, nobody would respond to me," says Alexis.
These emails show her frustration. In May 2010 Alexis wrote: "I haven't heard anything in a while so I'm hoping some progress has been made." And in August: "I have tried to contact your office several times within the last couple of months..."
"Then I started getting letters from my mortgage company, from my lender. Letters saying they're denying my loan modification because of the lack of paperwork that they're requesting," says Alexis.
Alexis says she had given Centeno all the paperwork she needed. So when she didn't get the modification, she paid a visit to Centeno's office, looking for answers. Alexis says she was surprised by an offer that was made.
"The audacity to ask me to file for bankruptcy, and she would help me. I was floored. I was floored," says Alexis.
She also got this letter, saying Centeno was available if Alexis ever needs legal representation in the future.
"And here's some business cards that you can give to your friends and family. I thought that was priceless," says Alexis.
Unfortunately without the loan modification, Alexis lost her home in 2011. Now 2 years later, she's reaching out to Contact 13 for help.
Monica Centeno's office is here at 4th and Gass in downtown Las Vegas. She didn't want to go on camera, but says she did her job and she's sorry Alexis didn't get her loan modification, but says it was ultimately the lender's decision. Centeno also says she never made any promises. And that's in black and white, right on the contract Alexis signed it says "no guarantees."
"I don't believe it's necessary for homeowners to pay up-front for loan modifications or foreclosure prevention services," says Christine Miller with the Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada.
She says a lot of services attorneys or loan modification consultants charge you for, are things you can do yourself. But if you decide to hire a professional, they should be able to help review paperwork from a lender, so you understand what's expected of you. And that's not all.
"If a homeowner is denied a loan modification, there may be grounds for an appeal. So something like that, I would expect an attorney to help me with," says Christine.
Alexis says she wanted to appeal, but claims Centeno wouldn't help.
"She said no, they still won't do it. I said well how about you try? No, they still won't do it. So she just refused to do it," says Alexis.
So here's the Contact 13 bottom line. If you hire a loan modification consultant, they should be licensed, registered and bonded with Nevada's Division of Mortgage Lending.
Also, it's illegal for companies to collect any fees until a homeowner has actually received an offer from their lender.
However, attorneys are not subject to these rules.