Around Wellington Spotlight: The Law Office of Malcolm E. Harrison, P.A.
Saving Families from Foreclosure, One at a Time By Krista Martinelli
Do you happen to know someone who is about to lose their home? Thanks to a perfect background for foreclosure defense, Malcolm E. Harrison has been able to save many families in our area from being evicted from their homes.
With a Harvard Law School degree, a master’s degree in real property law from the University of Miami and a personable style, Harrison could have taken his practice in many directions. The Palm Beach County native worked as a bank lawyer on Wall Street, prior to returning to Florida and is “very familiar with talking with bankers” and speaking their language.
In 2006, a friend asked for his help in a foreclosure defense case. Harrison did an excellent job with her defense; she told a few friends, and soon after he had helped ten people with foreclosure cases. It was just at the beginning of the economic downturn. He helped because he cared, and the clients kept coming.
Today, after approximately 4,000 clients have sought out his help, Harrison is a leader in his field. His business started out of his home and now the Law Office of Malcolm E. Harrison, located in the heart of Wellington just one block away from the Wellington Community Center, employs fifteen people. Another lawyer Michelle Moore joined the firm in the beginning of 2010. It’s a good thing that their office keeps expanding because the foreclosure problem does not seem to be going away quickly. “There’s a silent massacre going on in Palm Beach County,” says Harrison. While everyone knows that there are a couple of empty houses on just about every street, they do not know the actual numbers. Currently, there are approximately 49,000 foreclosure cases not yet settled in Palm Beach County. An average of 360 foreclousures occurs every week in Palm Beach County. “These are local families losing their homes,” says Harrison, warning that these numbers could worsen before the situation gets better. “People are scared, desperate and frustrated after their experiences with the banks,” he explains.
What can the Law Office of Malcolm E. Harrison do to help these families, who are about to lose their homes?
There are two ways that they can help, depending on the situation. 1. They can help families to get loan modifications and ultimately stay in their homes. 2. They can actively fight foreclosure, making the bank prove their case.
Harrison wants people facing foreclosure to know that they have options. The most common misconception is that they cannot afford a lawyer; however, Harrison offers very affordable rates. The initial consultation is free. He outlines a number of options in the first (free) hour that he spends with a new client, including the “Cash for Keys” program, loan modification options, and helpful information about the timing of the foreclosure. If people have questions, Harrison is happy to provide answers in the initial consultation. “It’s my community service,” he explains cheerfully.
His clients truly appreciate the peace of mind that they get. “One lady calls me her ‘Ambien man,’” says Harrison. Many others have confessed that after their initial consultation, “it’s the first night I’ve had a good night’s sleep.” Even in the cases where clients cannot keep their homes, Harrison can give some perspective. “I can give you a better idea of the actual date that you will have to leave,” he says. Also, clients can sometimes receive $5,000 toward the move (Cash for Keys program). The main thing, according to Harrison, is just knowing that no one is not going to be knocking on your door tomorrow. “It’s certainty versus uncertainty.”
Last year the Law Office of Malcolm E. Harrison helped 265 families to find their way out of foreclosure and stay in their homes. In many cases, this is accomplished by getting loan modifications via direct mediations with the banks. According to Harrison, it’s similar to mediation in the case of a divorce. The face to face mediation brings with it a greater chance of success. In foreclosure defense, the goal is to make the banks prove their case. In many instances, this slows down the foreclosure process. While this is a by-product of the main goal, it’s also helpful to the client, buying them time to look for additional income.
Most difficult of all is the human suffering that comes with being displaced, and the role that Harrison sometimes must play. “I’m not a cheerleader,” says Harrison. “I will fight for you . . . but I will not lie to you.” So the unpleasant job of telling someone that they need to leave their home comes with the territory. The rule of thumb for buying a house used to be in the range of three times your annual income. It’s not surprising that Palm Beach County was headed for a big fall – when the median income was approximately $60,000 and the average home price was $380,000.
Harrison and his staff are all local residents, working to save their “neighbors” from foreclosure. They aim to save families from being displaced, allowing them to keep their homes. In the cases where this is impossible (for example, when there’s no income or only a partial income), they help the family to make a “graceful exit.” For example, an exit is better over the summer in the case of kids, so that they are not “jerked out of school” during the school year.
What makes The Law Office of Malcolm E. Harrison stand apart from the rest? “We actually care and actually help people,” says Harrison. His true compassion for others combined with his inside-out knowledge of the world of foreclosure makes Harrison a force to be reckoned with. You definitely want him on your side – especially if you’re trying to hold onto your home in these challenging times.
Remember: If you don’t move on your foreclosure, your foreclosure could end up moving you!