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Home, again

If Louie Painter hadn't purchased a new car in April, he wouldn't have a home.

The 71-year-old retired veteran had been living a nomadic life in the wake of his divorce in 2007, traveling to military bases across the country while living in the back of his truck. But that began to change in April when he traded in the truck, and by May he was living in the 2,600-square-foot east Medford home he previously thought he no longer owned.

It was while Painter was at the Lithia Chrysler Superstore trading in his truck for a new black Dodge Challenger that friend and salesman Dave Struble told him he would've qualified for a lower interest rate if he didn't have a house in foreclosure. 

“If the car dealer who was selling him a car didn’t tell him, he still wouldn’t know,” ACCESS housing counselor Jodie Barnes said.

The news was a complete surprise to Painter, who was renting a home at the time he bought the vehicle.

"He was just living his merry way, assuming he was not a homeowner anymore," Barnes said.

Painter had purchased the home in 2006 with his former wife, Nancy, but when they divorced, he left possession of it with her, or so he thought. He recalled signing documents authorizing a short sale while on the road and sending them to his ex-wife via fax. He had put the home along with much of his previous life behind him.

Assisting someone who didn't know he had a house was atypical for housing counselors at ACCESS.

"That in and of itself was new for us," Barnes said.

The Veterans Affairs' Southern Oregon Rehabilitation Center and Clinics in White City put Painter in touch with housing counselor Barnes at the ACCESS Homeownership Center. After verifying that Painter met income and debt criteria — Painter said he'd lived simply on his pension and Social Security after his divorce — Barnes met with him to explain the loan modification process on April 30.

"We were under a huge time crunch," Barnes said.

The meeting was just 40 days before the foreclosed home was scheduled to be sold in a sheriff's sale on June 9. In order to save a home from foreclosure, a series of loan modification applications must be submitted to the mortgage company within 37 days of a sale date, according to Barnes.

“We usually make contact with them before it’s scheduled for sale by the sheriff,” Barnes said.

ACCESS assists with homes facing foreclosure only if they are owner-occupied, so Painter quickly moved back into the abandoned home in May to meet ACCESS criteria.

Days after Painter's loan modification application, ACCESS heard from the mortgage company with an offer.

"They had to know that day they made the offer that he'd accept," Barnes said.

But Painter, who struggles with combat-related issues such as post-traumatic stress disorder, wasn't answering his phone that day.

So Barnes drove to Painter's home on her vacation day and rang the doorbell until he answered. Then she got his signature.

"That was the piece where I went above and beyond," Barnes said. “I didn’t want him to lose something he had worked so hard on because he didn’t get his phone call.”

Barnes said specific figures in the loan modification are confidential, and Painter was unclear on exact figures, but according to property records, the 2,684-square-foot home in the 4000 block of Park Ridge Drive, near Vista Pointe, was purchased new in 2006 by Louie and his wife for $517,500. The home's current appraised value is $327,500.

"It's got a money view," Painter said.

The one-story hillside home with a basement is a significant change from the pickup camper Painter was living in a year before. He called it a "mini-mansion," because the home is comparatively smaller than others in his neighborhood.

"This is not one of those homes, but it's mine," Painter said.

Barnes said that although ACCESS moved faster than usual for Painter with the deadline looming, its assistance was otherwise typical.

"We didn't really do anything special for him," Barnes said.

ACCESS employs the only Housing and Urban Development-certified housing counselors for Jackson and Josephine counties, and they provide loan modification assistance for free. Barnes said the first step for homeowners seeking assistance is to call the intake receptionist at 541-774-4305.

Reach reporter Nick Morgan at 541-776-4471 or nmorgan@mailtribune.com.  Follow him on Twitter at @MTCrimeBeat.

Jodie Barnes, ACCESS housing counselor, left, Louie Painter and Dave Struble, Lithia Chrysler Superstore salesman, stand outside Painter's home on Friday. Barnes and Struble helped Painter get back into a home he didn't even know he owned. Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch