Thursday, March 22, 2007 | For most families, the thought of losing their home due to missed mortgage payments is their worst nightmare. But in a wood-paneled office on University Avenue in La Mesa, one family rallies around the real estate F-word: foreclosure. Indeed, for Donna Sanfilippo and two of her sons, Erik and Robert Weichelt, foreclosures are the family business.
The brothers’ wives also work in the office, as does Sanfilippo’s husband, their step-dad. Sanfilippo opened the office in 1992. Robert got into the business in 1986, and Erik followed in 1996. Even Robert’s 11-year-old son told his grade-school class a few years ago he wants to grow up to be a “loaner” — a mortgage broker, like his dad.
They work for lenders, selling the homes for which borrowers have fallen months behind on their mortgage payments. Their business, San Diego REO Realtors, is named for the real-estate-owned designation placed by banks on homes in the last stages of foreclosure.
They become the local eyes and ears of faceless nationwide mortgage lenders, the hands that tuck a moving notice in the doorframe of the homes inhabited by embattled homeowners. They are the liaison between whoever lives in the foreclosed home — even an unsuspecting tenant — and the lender. And at a time when every month bears a higher number of county homeowners missing payments and moving into the foreclosure process, business in this part of the market is exploding.
Around lunch time in the REO Realtors office one recent afternoon, agents swap files and papers in between bites of gyro sandwiches. When a new listing comes in from the lender, the agents write it on whiteboards with blue and orange markers.
By the time the office gets the listing, the bank has already posted a notice of trustee’s sale on the homeowner’s door, warning them the home will be auctioned. The REO Realtors drive to the property to see if anyone is still living there. They deliver a letter to the home, alerting the inhabitants of any money the lender may be willing to send their way to help them move. They set a deadline with the inhabitants, and when the house is cleared, they recommend repairs and give a price estimate to the lender. Then the agents list the home for sale and sell it on behalf of the lender.