WINSTON-SALEM, N.C.-- In 2007, a knock at Barbara Freeman front door, came with a great opportunity: to be debt-free and take care of her sick husband.
This year, another knock at that same door was a sheriff's deputy serving foreclosure papers -- and that's when her nightmare began.
The widow is now at the brink of losing everything she and her husband worked for all because of a reverse mortgage. In the most simplified terms, reverse mortgages differ from "regular mortgages" because in the latter, a homeowner makes monthly payments to a lender.
But, in a reverse mortgage, a homeowner borrows against their home equity -- which means a lender pays (s)he either a lump sum or monthly, while the homeowner pays nothing.
The lender gets the money back when the homeowner dies or sells the home. Reverse mortgages are designed for seniors. Freeman says she and her husband were talked into signing up for one, about 6 years ago, and now after her husband's death, the bank is back trying to kick her out of the home.
"I just feel like I've lost everything," she said, her voice filled with sadness.
Freeman raised seven children in the home. Her marriage of more than 40 years was all in that home. However, as soon as next month, Wells Fargo might force her to leave all those memories behind and move out.
"It's all I have. It's all I have left. I've lost my husband," Freeman said. "I can't think because I don't know what direction I have. I don't know what the alternative is going to be."
If she could have a do-over she would go back to the summer of 2007; that was when a Wells Fargo reverse mortgage salesman showed up at her door.
At the time, Barbara's husband was a three-time cancer survivor, they had just gone through bankruptcy and things weren't looking any better.
They needed money.
So, when the salesman pitched - they signed.
"They just told us to follow their instructions and that our home would always be secured and remain...we would retain ownership," she explained.
Freeman admits she didn't know much about reverse mortgages and it sounded too good to be true. An attorney even advised the couple to wait until Barbara turned 62 years old.
At the time, she was 57 and only her husband qualified for a reverse mortgage.
To get around that, she had to sign a Quitclaim Deed which turned over ownership of the home.
"As Wells Fargo was telling her that she'll not lose her home, they were having her do something that would cause her to lose her home later," said Freeman's current attorney, Robert Lefkowitz. "You have older actors and a variety of people touting how wonderful they are, reverse mortgage is, on television and they don't really explain what the negative sides of it are".
Now, Barbara is finding out the hard way. Just months after her husband's death, Well Fargo has come back to take the house.
"On his death bed, he looked at me and said I hate to leave you but at least I know you have a home not knowing that this is what I was going to be facing," Freeman said.
Lefkowitz says while it's legal for Wells Fargo to be claiming the home now because of the Quitclaim Deed, it's morally wrong.
He says Freeman didn't understand the terms and the Wells Fargo salesman committed fraud and unfair trading practices by not making sure the couple was properly informed.
WFMY News 2 reached out to Wells Fargo for a comment on Freeman's case.
A spokesperson sent us a statement:
We are very sorry for Mrs. Freeman's loss and we can appreciate the difficulty of managing the personal tragedy of losing a loved one and any related financial difficulty. It is always our goal to help customers remain in their homes and avoid foreclosures whenever possible. The foreclosure hearing has been postponed and we have reached out to other resources to explore options that might be available to help Mrs. Freeman remain in the home.
A reverse mortgage has specific origination guidelines: One requirement is mandatory pre-purchase counseling from an independent, HUD approved, non-profit agency to ensure the borrower understands all aspects of the loan. Family members not listed on the loan note are not required, but encouraged to attend.
When the last surviving borrower on a reverse mortgage passes away, the loan is called due in full per the requirements of the note. At that time a Wells Fargo team member is assigned to work with family members on all available options to avoid foreclosure.
Meanwhile, Freeman wants her story to be a warning to anyone out there, thinking about getting a reverse mortgage. They are good but not for everyone.
A reverse mortgage allows seniors to convert equity in their homes to cash and don't have to pay back the loan and interest, as long as they live in the house.
But on the other hand, it can lead to aggressive lending and false advertising promises by lenders that target seniors.
Starting October 1st, new federal rules will go into effect to better protect homeowners who have reverse mortgages. One of them protects surviving spouses from being evicted.
Wells Fargo stopped issuing reverse mortgages in 2011.
But there are other banks still offering them to seniors.
If you are facing foreclosure, contact the Department of Housing and Urban Development and speak with an approved counselor: 1-800-569-4287.
You can also contact Making Home Affordable for help by visiting MakingHomeAffordable.gov.
You need to make sure the loan is federally insured.
Click the links below for more information on Reverse Mortgages and what you need to now before taking one.
Should You Use Reverse Mortgages?
Five Reasons To Avoid Reverse Mortgages