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Opinion

From the American dream to a foreclosure nightmare

I got behind on mortgage payments. Now I’m at the courthouse to see if my house is up for auction. My story is a preview of the next, ugly phase of America's housing crash: ultraquick foreclosures managed by a team of mercenaries.

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It happens so frequently that our congressman, Scott Rigell, has a team hip-deep in casework trying to save thousands of Virginians from this fate. They tell me they are not having much luck because Virginia is one of the fastest-moving foreclosure states. A class action suit would move faster than legislation, but realistically, if someone needs a lawyer for something like this, it's a lock that they can't afford one.

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I was working through both our loan processor and a law firm representing Fannie Mae and neither knew what the other was arranging. It turns out the same law firm assigned to "help" me work out the reinstatement is also the auctioneer.

At the courthouse

So, here I am on the courthouse steps with two of my four sons (one of whom has special needs, which keeps me from working full time). Even though the loan servicer accepted my reinstatement payment a week ago, the law firm didn't get that memo. I have an 11th-hour e-mail printout to hand over.

It's surreal that homes are auctioned away so casually, outdoors, on the steps of the court building amid traffic noise and the stiff spring breeze. A woman from the law firm is the trustee/auctioneer.

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As I try to ask her questions, two men in jeans, T-shirts, and shades continually berate me and try to drive me off. I am told these are the "investors" who'll buy up the homes.

The auctioneer from the law firm is clad in an incongruous ankle-length, sleeveless, red silk dress. She tells me my home is now off the list. I am dismissed with a nod.

Curbside auction

But I can't leave the scene. (Watch the video clip below.) It's like being on the road and slowing down to watch a 12-car pileup. I have to stay and watch the auction and make sure we're still among the living. Also, I am now conditioned to disbelieve what I am told.

The fact that one of my sons is recording this with his Flip camera makes one "investor" so irate that he grabs my 15-year-old, trying to take the camera. Shaking a crumpled wad of papers, he rages, "See? BANK! BANK! BANK! BANK! ALL nice and legal, see? They're all goin' back to the bank. So ... get outta here!"

And that was it. The trustee rattled on and tapped into her cellphone like something out of a street theater piece.

The auction began and ended in minutes, red silk snapping in the wind. The two men bought, as traffic passed and American dreams were sold to the lowest of bidders.

I would like to help America wake from this nightmare, but I am no expert. One thing is clear: We have to go hard on the problem, but soft on the people. The "restructuring" that needs to happen must include the way lenders treat people.

To other embattled homeowners I have a tactic to recommend. It's called "the false surrender." Used in rape prevention, it's a difficult tactic, but it worked to keep me whole. The basic idea is to override our instinct to flail wildly and panic, because it expends the energy needed to focus, fight well, and escape. It worked for me against the attacks by the companies and lawyers by making me stop getting angry and argumentative – and start taking notes.

RELATED: My housing bust redemption

If you are in foreclosure, you're not alone and you're not powerless. Take your story and go tell it on the mountain, over Capitol Hill, and everywhere.

Lisa Suhay is a children's book author and volunteer for the Gracie Bullyproof program and Hip-Hop Chess Federation in Norfolk, Va.

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