The real estate fiasco has left thousands of homeowners to sort out big mortgage messes and many don't have the slightest inkling about what it all means for them—and after finding out they are about to lose their biggest asset, many don't have the money to hire a lawyer to provide them with legal advice.
Around Phoenix lawyers do not do free consultations. The going rate is usually around $200 to $250 for an hour of a lawyer's time. "I was getting a lot of inquiries and I had several people pay those prices for a consult. They were coming in with questions about foreclosure and what they face if the bank takes their property," says Harper.
Taking that much money from people already in a difficult situation did not feel right to Harper. "So I decided we would set aside three or four hours a week and we would do these consults for $40."
A half day of Harper's time is usually worth around $2500, so his contribution is significant. The problem is that there really is not much Harper can do. "Occasionally, we find out there is something else happening and we can help," he says, "but for the most part we just give people some information to navigate the situation."
What Harper usually finds is that, what people do know about their situation is that they have mortgage payments they cannot afford and they will likely lose their home. "They don't know if they are going to have to pay the mortgage company for the rest of their life, they don't know what other obligations they may have, or what the tax implications are or what is going to happen to their credit," adds Harper.
He finds people are just lost and looking for information. "I do have a few clients that have came out of those consultations," says Harper. "Sometimes I can negotiate deals with their banks, if they are in a position to do that."
From time to time Harper will spot something "fishy about the mortgage deal," as he calls it. "Sometimes I can give them an avenue of relief. Sometimes we find people have been the victims of mortgage fraud and they don't realize it."
The sub-prime calamity in the Phoenix area is in Harper's words, "as bad as it gets." Prices rose dramatically in the area and contractors were building houses faster than an Arizona wildfire. Now a killing frost has set in and the damage is significant.
Interestingly, in the state of Arizona, lawyers are not usually involved in mortgage agreements. Most of the documents are signed at a land title office or with a mortgage broker.
Although it is a good idea for people with mortgage issues to see a lawyer now, it would have been even a better idea to see one before those papers were signed. Although some states like Arizona do not require borrowers to include a lawyer in mortgage deals, Harper says he has many clients who do ask him to review documents. "Many of them are from back east where lawyers are involved in mortgages deals."
Of course, life always looks better in the rear view mirror, but there is a lesson here for home buyers. "Certainly I think if everyone had brought the documents to a lawyer," he says, "a lot of people would have been spared some pain, because the lawyer would have pointed out the trouble they were going to get into."
Most of the work Harper's firm does is litigation related. He deals with buyer-seller disputes, non-disclosure problems, and construction defects.
A modest and sincere kind of fellow, Harper admits he has gained a few clients from his $40 consultations and maybe gathered some goodwill in the community for his efforts. "I really just wanted to give these people a break when they need one," he says.
So are clients lined up around the block in the morning for a $40 consultation when Harper arrives for work? Harper chuckles at the question. "No," he says with a smile in his voice, "but we have been pretty busy, I'll admit that."
Kevin Harper is a 1998 honors graduate of the University of Arizona College of Law. His current practice emphasizes business and real estate litigation. He formed Harper Law with the goal of combining the quality and expertise of a large law firm with the speed, efficiency and personal service of a smaller enterprise. Harper has substantial experience representing insurance companies and other entities in complex product liability matters, class actions, and other large-scale complex litigation.