OH in the newsroom: “What’s a foreclosure sale?”

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(This blog was originally posted on Tea & Stumpets group blog site.)

I work at a news organization that considers shining the light on the actions of local governmental one of its prime responsibilities. So every day in the paper we publish different “Your Right to Know” briefs–things like what budget dollars are allocated for a specific thing. We also publish a count of the number of foreclosure sales listed in the day’s paper.

One morning an older woman called the “tip” line and said, “What do you mean by ‘foreclosure sales’ in that little box at the top of the page?”

I said, “I’m sorry, what is it that you don’t understand?”

She huffed. “I want to know what it is you’re referring to. It says ‘7 foreclosure sales’ and to check out legal ads on page 17.”

Trustee_SM“Oh,” I said, it’s a count of the number of foreclosure sales advertised in the day’s paper.”

“But what do you mean by ‘foreclosure sales’?” she repeated. “Are the houses being sold?”

Suspense author that I am, I couldn’t help wonder WHY she was asking this question. Was her house one of those listed? Had she fallen on hard times, unable to pay her taxes, her pleas falling deaf on the ears of the banker? The image of a Snidely Whiplash type, twirling his handlebar mustache, thrust itself into my brain. Or had there been some grievous error that had thrown a widowed, possibly ill, woman out on the street? Destitute? No family? Sick and…

Now I was worried and didn’t want to give the wrong information. I quickly grabbed the day’s paper, turned to page 17 and found exactly what I expected.

“Well, yes, ” I answered. “They’re listed as ‘Trustee sales’.”

“But are those houses foreclosed?”

Now she’d gotten my thinking so twisted, I wasn’t sure anymore! Forget what I thought was common knowledge. I dragged my mind back 20-some years to the days when I was a legal secretary, and I told myself to think–carefully–before answering. You never know what “they” (callers to the tip line) will do with those tidbits of knowledge you might share.

Praying I’d grabbed the right “tidbit” from my brain, I said, “Well, I’m not a lawyer, but as I understand it, when the foreclosure is completed (I couldn’t think of the legal term, and wasn’t sure it would have helped anyway), ownership of the property transfers, and a trustee is appointed for the sale. So, yes, the houses or properties are first foreclosed upon, then sold.”

My answer was met with silence. Now I was certain my earlier suspicions were correct.

“Hello, ma’am? Are you there?” I’d inserted as much sympathy as I could into my tone while still maintaining some modicum of professionalism, then held my breath and prepared for a tearful response.

“Yes.” Her tone wasn’t at all tearful, just curious. “But do they have to sell?”

Oh help meeeeeeeeee. “Well, I suppose not. But what would the bank, or whoever brought the action, do with the property if it didn’t sell?”

“Oh!” She said it as if the proverbial light bulb had flashed over her head, then laughed. “That makes sense. I couldn’t understand. Thank you so much!” Her voice had lightened and filled with relief, like I’d explained the mysteries of life.

“You’re welcome. Glad to … uh… help.”

I still don’t understand what it was that she didn’t understand. But I couldn’t dwell on it because the tip line was ringing…again.

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When not answering the “tip” line and supporting the newsroom staff, Leah writes a blog and weekly column about her local writing community. And when she’s not in the newsroom, she writes stories of mystery and romance, good and evil and the redeeming power of love. Learn more at LeahStJames.com. Friend her on Facebook, follow her on Twitter or check her storyboards and other pins on Pinterest.

Interested in a scary-ish story? Check out novella “Adrienne’s Ghost.” FBI agent Jackson Yates had never believed in ghosts…until now.

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