LAS CRUCES, NM (KRQE) — A New Mexico woman says she’s worked her entire life to pay off her home forever. However, a surprise knock on her door changed everything.
Maria Zaragoza’s quiet corner house has been her haven for the past 16 years. “It means everything to me,” Zaragoza told KRQE News 13.
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The retired home nurse bought her home in April 2006. She bought the home from another Spanish-speaking couple, Jacenta and Crisofo Garcia, signed and notarized a real estate contract, and made a $20,000 cash deposit on a property for sale. Stand alone deal.
“I would work over 60 hours a week,” Zaragoza said. Before her retirement, she took care of sick and elderly patients at home for a home healthcare company.
Zaragoza arrived in the United States from Mexico in the 1960s and moved to the Las Cruces area to raise her three sons in a secure environment. She said she followed the American Dream and worked hard to put down roots here to buy something of her own.
“This is where I want to die,” said Zaragoza, referring to her home. She said she made monthly payments of $1,000 to the sellers in cashier’s checks, with an agreement that when the final payment was made, she would receive title to the home.
“I have all the copies,” she explained. When asked if she ever defaulted on a monthly payment, Zaragoza replied, “No, because I received a notarized letter at the time of purchase saying I would be charged an extra $100 if I was a day late. “
In 2011, Zaragoza made the final payment on their home. “I was happy and content until I found out the lady couldn’t give me the title because the bank had it and I panicked,” she recalls.
Zaragoza explained that after making the final payment and asking about the title of the house, the seller admitted to having taken out a mortgage on the house after she sold it to Zaragoza. It turned out that her real estate contract was never registered by the county assessor.
Zaragoza said she has become really ill from the stress over the situation and is afraid of losing her home. For years she felt her hands were tied as the title of her house was in limbo.
A knock at the door
Then, in 2016, Zaragoza explained that there was a knock on her front door, which turned her world upside down. Someone she’d never met let her know that the house she thought was paid off was actually heading for foreclosure.
“It was a great injustice what happened to Ms. Zaragoza,” said Karina Rocha. Rocha is an Associate Attorney with New Mexico Legal Aid, a nonprofit organization that provides free legal advice to eligible low-income New Mexico residents.
Rocha took over the case of Zaragoza in November. “I found it bizarre that the case had gone on for so long and still not been resolved,” Rocha told KRQE News 13.
She said there had been a change in judges handling the case, a number of motions had been brought to trial and the vendors had failed to appear at hearings. “The goal is to try to get Ms. Zaragoza to keep her house and then get the banks to stop their foreclosure on the house,” Rocha said.
Rocha explained that the defaulting mortgage was originally held by Wells Fargo, then the debt was sold to Master Participation Trust LSF9, a company that appears to buy foreclosed mortgages in bulk.
“A few months later, after signing the contract with Ms. Zaragoza, this couple received a loan on the property of about $78,000 which has now accrued interest and I believe it is now at $142,000.
Fighting a surprise foreclosure
For years, New Mexico Legal Aid has been able to fend off a foreclosure. Rocha, however, claims LSF9 has been more aggressive in court this year, trying to recoup the cost of Zaragoza’s home and filing a motion for summary judgment and the sale of the home.
“Just for being almost 70 years old and having to go through this anxiety and depression not knowing you know if she’s going to be homeless in a few days,” Rocha explained of the stress her client is going through. “Sometimes I don’t even sleep when I think about it,” said Zaragoza.
Zaragoza’s living room is mostly empty. Her kids said she’s already started packing, just in case. When asked if she had to move in with one of her sons, Zaragoza replied, “Yes, they won’t leave me alone,” she smiled, wiping a tear from her eye. “I have really good kids.”
She said she wanted to share her story as a warning to other home buyers. “Be very careful because there are abusive people out there,” Zaragoza said.
The Garcias do not have a registered attorney. Rocha said they went missing in action and that she will press a trial so her client can present evidence she was deceived by the Garcias.
Rocha said Legal Aid plans to report the case to the attorney general’s office for possible criminal charges. Meanwhile, Zaragoza is patiently awaiting the end of the looming court battle.
“My hope is God and we,” Zaragoza said. “It’s my only hope.”
After KRQE interviewed Zaragoza and her lawyer, a new judge from the Doña Ana District Court was appointed to the case and an emergency motion to postpone the foreclosure sale was granted.
Attorneys for New Mexico Legal Aid said they would continue to push for a civil trial and then contact the AG’s office to file fraud charges.