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August 20, 2013

Notarizing people who live in their cars or stores

It was during that time in 2008 when everything was going bust. People were losing their homes, and the “liar loan” bubble was bursting all over. But some enterprising souls came up with a way to make ends meet and keep working….even if they had nowhere to live. An Indiana notary, a Michigan notary, and a California notary recall some of their experiences during the years following 9/11 that led to the “liar loans,” the false security of adjustable-rate mortgages and easy credit.

“Once I was called to notarize a medical document for a man who was apparently living in his tiny car,” says one Indiana notary. “He used his sister’s address for mail, and went through elaborate schemes and ruses to make people think he had an address, he admitted,” recalls this notary from Indiana. “It was in Gary, a town that used to be prosperous about 50 years ago. He had some kind of job at the airport, but he was worried he would be laid off any day. Things were grim,” says the notary. “He had everything organized in the car, but it was very cramped. There were holders made out of duct tape or electrical tape taped to the backseats, even the bottoms of windows: a toothbrush holder, a place for towels, a garbage bag… There were piles of clothes and towels…and it really smelled like a locker-room shower in there,” recalls the Indiana notary. “My notary stamp was doing funny things at first because it was so humid. The smell reminded me of a pawn shop or a Goodwill store. There were even pictures taped up to make it more home-like. I guess at night, he taped up pictures of his family (the man was divorced) and then took them down during the day. He had a tool box on the ledge in front of the steering wheel, and a crucifix hanging down from the rear-view mirror. Both the tool-box and the cross were his tools, I remember thinking. He wasn’t insane or odd; in fact, he told me that having to give up everything made him appreciate life and make a better plan for the future. It took me 10 minutes to do my notary work. Then, I wished him well, and I left,” the Indiana notary tells us. “I didn’t even charge him. I just wouldn’t have been able to sleep that night otherwise.”

Our Michigan notary recalls that “After 9/11, for a few years, all sorts of people were losing work in Michigan– even a few lawyers and doctors. One notary I knew lost his house and lived out of his Jeep. He was homeless for about a year. He parked all sorts of different places at night so that people wouldn’t suspect he was living in his car. He often parked in a church lot or K-Mart parking lot. He sometimes even covered his car with a sheet so that at night he could sleep and no one would bother him. He charged his laptop through the cigarette lighter; he had some sort of converter that charged it. Anyway, he had no more health insurance, and he needed me to notarize documents to cash out an insurance policy just so he had a wad of cash to subsist on. Inside his Jeep,” continues this Michigan notary, “were pictures of his parents and brothers. Everywhere. His parents had been wiped out by 9/11 and the stock market stuff in the following years; then they died. He had sold all their furniture or given it to the brothers, but he was too proud to ask his brothers for financial help. Everything was neatly organized in the back of the Jeep, but there was too much stuff–blankets and clothes and boxes filled with bathroom-type stuff like razors, a blow dryer, and an electric toothbrush. There was even a small vacuum cleaner. He had a loan on his Jeep,” says the Michigan notary, “and he said he would rather pay for that than a house if the loans were so crooked. These days, in 2012,” says our Michigan notary, ” the governor has clamped down on loans to some people who lost their homes or had been on welfare, and conditions in Michigan for those in need are not much better in many ways in 2012. But people are a lot friendlier to each other in many areas of Michigan, just because we have all suffered.”

In California in 2012, one of our Los Angeles notaries points out that many city people have newer cars but live in simple or poor housing and shop at second-hand stores. She also discovered a homeless middle-class man living out of his elegant Santa Monica antiques store. “I was admiring the whole bedroom suite set up in a back room,” recalls our Los Angeles notary. “It was Stickley, not that popular here, so it wasn’t likely to be sold; he could keep it there almost indefinitely, and he had a really high price on it. I kept talking to the owner. It was about dinner time and no one else was in the store. The owner and I got talking about the economy, and suddenly he admitted to me that he had lost his house in Malibu in 2010 to one of those adjustable “liar loans,” his wife had left him, and he decided to live in the store! He said he didn’t want to live in his car because he had a friend who had gotten arrested doing that. I felt bad for him; he still was very sad about all this, I could tell. He also admitted that he might be closing the store. I had just come in to look at something I saw in the window, and this whole issue came out of nowhere. I had never thought that shop owners might be in this position in such a wealthy town on the Pacific Ocean. Funny: I ended up notarizing a bill of sale for him, and we occasionally get together. He has actually referred me some work. His clientele is very high class, and of course they have no idea how much this man has suffered,” says our Los Angeles notary, shaking his head.

The number of homeless in the United States is given on different sites as 1-3 million; there is no totally accurate count because, since the 1980’s, affordable housing programs were essentially done away with and the whole issue of homelessness has been kept quiet in a number of ways–particularly for the newly-homeless among the middle class. While we as notaries enjoy the good business that comes from refinances and the good company of borrowers with attractive houses and opulent lifestyles, we should take a moment to remember the “liar loans” era, think about where we are headed, and plan for the future. We should also continue to look out for those we notarize by explaining documents thoroughly and recommending they seek an attorney’s advice if they have any doubt that a loan is a good deal.


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