Foreclosure man Richard Nakamura is on a tight schedule these days. Business is booming, even here in the relatively prosperous Greater Seattle area. It's never-ending, the list of homes, condos and even entire apartment complexes that Nakamura visits in his Toyota pickup. Nakamura's official job title is posting agent, and he is one of three...
The foreclosure man, Richard Nakamura, is on a tight schedule these days.
Business is booming, even here in the relatively prosperous Greater Seattle area.
It’s never-ending, the list of homes, condos and even entire apartment complexes that Nakamura visits in his Toyota pickup. He’s got a Wi-Fi-ready laptop on the passenger seat, a printer on the back seat, a GPS device to guide him.
Nakamura’s official job title is posting agent, and he is one of three such employees who work for Foreclosure Expeditors/Initiators of Bellevue, one of the bigger players in the business.
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They’re the ones who bring the official notice by the front door that in essence says: Pay up now — or lose your property at auction.
Compared with the rest of the country, the Seattle-Everett-Bellevue area hasn’t experienced the same wave of foreclosures as the U.S. real-estate market softens and the subprime-lending crisis widens.
Still, according to the Recorder’s Office, King County has had 1,356 foreclosure notices in the first quarter of 2008, compared with 887 in the first quarter of 2005. Snohomish County went from 482 to 666. Pierce County went from 663 notices to 1,287.
Dean Street, an Eastside real-estate agent who has 35 years of experience in foreclosures, remains optimistic about the Puget Sound area.
“We have people coming into the area for jobs, and they’re not going to live in their cars,” he says.
But right now, for Nakamura and his colleagues, the work goes on.
Three years ago, he says, he did seven or eight properties a day. Now, it’s a dozen or more.
He sees himself kind of like a mailman.
“I’m the bearer of bad news, that’s the reality,” he says. “It’s a job that needs to be done.”
Up Goat Hill
One day last week, Nakamura begins his rounds at Kirkland’s Goat Hill, an appropriate name for a neighborhood with steep, winding roads leading to homes with fabulous views.
He stops at a house that could be somebody’s dream home. Four bedrooms. Three-and-a-half baths. A huge deck.
It’s appraised at $622,000. That’s $58,000 less than what someone paid for it in 2005. The ugly math is that the owners have monthly payments of $4,592.66.
There is no one home.
Nakamura uses a thumbtack to post the notice on the front door.
In boldface letters, it announces the “amount required to cure payment.” That’s the bottom line.
Nakamura doesn’t really read the details.
“My job is just to post it, not to read it,” he says. “Most of the homes I post, I couldn’t afford those things.”
There is no working phone number for a man listed as an owner of the Goat Hill property.
Street says it doesn’t surprise him when owners of foreclosed properties are unreachable.
“They’re not going to answer the door,” he says. “They don’t know if it’s somebody trying to serve them. Foreclosure is all about denial. People don’t want to admit the situation they’re in.”
There is also a woman’s name on the notice at the Goat Hill home. She is 40 and runs a day-care business. When reached by phone, she said she was surprised to hear what’s happening.
“I just thought I was doing a friend a favor by cosigning,” she said. “And then he was going to refinance and get my name off the loan. I can’t afford for this to happen.”
“A simple life”
What Nakamura posts is a Notice of Default, the first step in foreclosure. Next will come a Notice of Trustee Sale. Then the property is sold at a foreclosure auction.
Nearly five months can elapse while the various legal steps are taken, and right up until the morning of the auction, the foreclosure can be stopped if an arrangement is made with the lender. Only about 20 to 30 percent of foreclosed homes in the Puget Sound area actually are sold at auction, based on statistics from the counties.
Nakamura is 61 and has been doing this job for six years, putting in some 200,000 miles of driving.
He used to be a driver for Darigold, but he got tired of getting up at 3:30 in the morning. He’s married, with a grown daughter, and lives on Beacon Hill.
He and his family have lived in the same Seattle house for three decades — a two-bedroom, one-bath place.
Nakamura is low-key, polite. He dresses casually and wears a cap that reads “Maui,” where he grew up.
Let others wheel and deal.
“I’m a simple person. I have a simple life,” he says.
Once he posts a notice, he never lingers.
“I put myself in their spot,” he says. “I try to respect their privacy.”
Once in a while, a homeowner will come outside. “I take a couple of minutes to hear them out,” he says. They tell him about illnesses in the family, or about the divorce.
Sometimes Nakamura tells them he’s just the messenger. Sometimes he just says, “I’m sorry.”
He also carries dog biscuits in his pickup, just in case. When a watchdog comes, he throws a biscuit as far as he can, then runs up and posts the notice.
One time, he backed his pickup up to a garage, climbed into the bed where the dog couldn’t get him and posted the notice.
Among Nakamura’s stops is a home in White Center. It’s appraised at $237,000. It’s 720 square feet.
No one seems to be home here, either. There are red and yellow tulips in the garden.
A neighbor expresses surprise at the notice. He says a young woman lives there, and she “just comes and goes.”
Another stop is a large house that was purchased in 2004 for $1.41 million. It’s now appraised at $1.32 million.
It’s on a dead-end street in Seattle’s popular Madrona neighborhood, and it has a grand view of Lake Washington. But the 3,100-square-foot house, built in 1904, is pretty run down.
Again, no one’s home.
A neighbor says he sees the owner only once in a while and doesn’t know her very well. Not that such tidbits matter much to Nakamura.
His days revolve around the notices coming into his laptop, ready to be printed out.
More people are about to lose their homes. That’s just the way it is.
Erik Lacitis: 206-464-2237 or firstname.lastname@example.org