Home, Not So Sweet Home

House home improvement money financing mortgage interest rates

Ask homeowner Bernice Williams what brought her out to the country, and her answer is as clear as the mountain air.

"I always loved the Poconos," says Williams. "It's quiet - the trees, the deer, the bears, the whole nine yards."

For Williams, those nine yards turned into a financial marathon.

"I wish I had it to do over again, I'd know better," she says. "You learn from your mistakes."

It all began with this ad: a brand new home for only $1,000 down, and $685 per month.

Compared with the high cost and high anxiety of renting in the city, it seemed to offer her and hundreds like her an affordable way out.

And there was more. The man in the ad, Gene Percudani, offered to pay their rent for a full year while their new home was being built, giving them the ability to save for a down payment.

"When you're hearing something like this, it's like a dream come true," she says.

Williams' dream lasted until she tried to re-finance. Suddenly, it turned into a drain. She bought the home for $160,000. But her new appraiser valued the home at barely over $100,000.

"I'm losing over $60,000."

A new appraiser found her home was never worth the original price. And she's not alone.

Bob Nichols bought into the deal too. His loss?

"I'm looking in the range of about - with the re-writing of the appraisal - a good $50,000 in cash," Nichols says.

State investigators say these first-time home buyers were led down a not so lonely road: a massive scheme targeted directly at them. Pennsylvania's attorney general agrees that the home builder did offer a great deal - but to do it, conspired with a local appraiser to jack up the price of the homes to make up the difference.

Just how many homes?

"We're close now to 135, 140 homes (in) one county ... involving one builder and one appraiser," says Pennsylvania Attorney General D. Michael Fisher.

Attorney David Banks says the actions of those involved amount to "appraisal fraud and mortgage fraud."

A 12-count lawsuit by the state of Pennsylvania is seeking nearly $4 million in restitution and fines and an injunction against the builder.

"Everything that's been paid in terms of the principal and the interest the past three years that I've been here," says Nichols. "It's a washout. I'll never see it again."

Percudani insists he's done nothing wrong. As for why his homes are plunging in value, his attorney, blames the economy.

"That has to do with the market conditions beyond the control of my client,"
says attorney Marshall Anders.

"But that's just not the case," Fisher says. "One, the market hasn't dropped in the Poconos - the true market hasn't dropped."

Neither has the number of complaints, which could top nearly 300 by the end of the year.

Homeowners think it was a trap, one they'll be stuck in even if their lawsuits are won.