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Column: Homeowner tells Washington Mutual to take his money

With interest rates falling, John Dabnor thought paying off the mortgage on his Clearwater home would be a lot smarter use of his money than letting it sit in low-yielding CDs.

But Washington Mutual, which owned his mortgage, didn't seem to want his money. Sadly, customer service has been one of the casualties of the turmoil in the mortgage market, and not just at Washington Mutual, although WaMu was the culprit here.

Dabnor and his wife, Shirley, had been aiming for an early mortgage payoff for years. They faithfully added an extra $200 to their monthly payments to pay down principal on the adjustable-rate mortgage they got from Barnett Bank in 1986. Their mortgage was sold and resold, rates adjusted and ultimately they ended up making payments to Washington Mutual at a rate of 7.12 percent.

Dabnor's exercise in frustration began when he tried getting WaMu to give him, in writing, a mortgage payoff amount for January. He says he got no response. He tried again at the beginning of March. While he still couldn't get an amount in writing, he says he was told to send $45,484.66 by April 1. FedEx delivered the package March 31, which Dabnor says included a mortgage payment slip noting the money was a balance reduction payment.

"They sent everything back and their letter said 'insufficient funds.' I called and they said another $325.06 was owed on the next date we agreed upon," he said.

"I rushed to the bank and got another cashier's check. This time I took it to their own local mortgage office for verification and certification," he said. "That office told me the amount was wrong! This time I was short by $1.47."

Dabnor got a third cashier's check and delivered the package April 4 to the local office so it could be sent through WaMu's internal delivery system. He said he was assured it would arrive the next day, a Saturday. When he called April 7 to check, it wasn't there.

By then, Dabnor was getting really irritated. He called WaMu's corporate headquarters in Seattle and offered to fly out in person with the cash. He says he got a promise to "get right on it" and "make it right." Nothing happened.

"I called every day to their 'customer service' and nothing was there," he said. "I called every other day to see if the cashier's checks had cleared, but they had not."

Dabnor, 61, has a financial background and works as a purchasing manager. He also is very persistent. He contacted the Times, accusing WaMu of fraud. April 11, I sent copies of his distressed e-mails to Nova Barnett, vice president and manger of WaMu's national pubic relations department, to ask about his case.

"We apologize for the difficulty our customer has had paying off his WaMu mortgage," she e-mailed back April 22. "After researching the issue, we are taking care of the additional accrued interest and posting his payoff funds effective April 18."

To be fair, WaMu employees had plenty of other things on their mind during the time they were giving Dabnor fits, like whether their jobs would be among the 3,000 the company plans to eliminate. But there's no excuse for making it so difficult for a customer to give you money.

Paying down or even paying off your mortgage as Dabnor did can make a lot of sense in a low-interest rate environment. But be prepared to be persistent.

Column: Homeowner tells Washington Mutual to take his money 05/03/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, May 7, 2008 11:15am]
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