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Going once, twice ...

He buzzed around like a fly behind a windowpane. He could see daylight but no obvious way to break through or go around. He was frantic, panicked. His house was in foreclosure, and in a few minutes it would go on the auction block.

Pacing and smoking outside the hulking Baltimore County Courthouse in Towson, 47-year-old Andre Green pleaded his case with just about everyone he saw on the concrete steps.

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"I'm here to stop this sale!" he declared to auctioneer Ron Osher. Green waved a last-minute agreement with GMAC that would let him pay the lender $1,250 a month - and keep his late mother's brick rancher on a quiet street near Reisterstown Road Plaza. Osher told him to wait; Green kept buzzing.

Another day, another auction. This one happened to be on Tuesday. Three auction companies had advertised a dozen or so county homes. These forced sales are a grim reminder that the financial crisis on Wall Street sprang from the collapse of the housing market and from irrational mortgage lending practices.

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Singly, each sale is somebody's personal tragedy.

In the second quarter of the year, a record 36,000 prime loans in Maryland were delinquent or in foreclosure; so were a similar number of subprime loans intended for those with shaky credit.

The General Assembly passed a law this year giving homeowners more time to hold on, slowing the pace of new foreclosures. For Green, a court action in July had led to this moment.

Osher, a white-haired man with a having-seen-it-all weariness, had just come from a foreclosure auction outside the Clarence Mitchell, Jr. Courthouse in Baltimore, and he would be going to one in Bel Air.

Back in 2005, when housing was hot, 30 to 40 would-be bidders showed up for these sales and snapped up a third or more foreclosed properties.

Now the number of auctions is up, but interest from buyers is down sharply. Osher, who's with Harvey West Auctioneers, guesses that well over 90 percent revert to the lender. That saddles the lender with houses it doesn't want, further saturates supply and pushes prices lower. Yet the process still forces many people from their homes.

As Osher stood facing Bosley Avenue, he could tell that this auction would be typical. Just two would-be bidders. One, a man in cargo shorts, said he was just curious. The second, a fellow in sweats and a ball cap, insisted he was there "for fun." Right. A foreclosure auction is not fun.

So, there were as many auctioneers present, Osher and a colleague, as possible bidders. And the lender's trustee was yet to arrive.

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Looking on were two men in their 20s who wore white polo shirts with the name "Advanced Preservation Solutions." They weren't there to bid. They were hoping to make contacts for a new business managing foreclosed properties for banks and lenders. For them, the bust is a potential boon.

And then there was the frenetic, persistent Andre Green, his suit a charcoal blur. "I'm scared to death," he confided, "and I'm not scared of much."

Green, it turns out, is a first cousin of Mayor Sheila Dixon. Their mothers were sisters. Green's mother, Ellen, owned the tidy house on Parsons Avenue. In 2006 she refinanced, pulling out $25,000 in equity, documents show. Her son is not sure what she did with the money. The loan led to his current jam.

When she died in August last year, he was doing odd jobs. He could hardly make the $1,110 monthly note, he recalled, so he found work as a bill collector. ("And a pretty nice one.") But the job didn't last, and he last paid the mortgage in December.

Green has been in trouble over the years. He has several criminal convictions, including one in 2001 for second-degree assault that landed him in the Harford County Detention Center for 120 days. Green, who has a salesman's gift of gab, stressed he had not been convicted of any crime of "moral turpitude."

Now he had his eleventh-hour deal with GMAC and the wire transfer to prove he made an agreed-upon $1,250 payment. The trustee, Daniel Pesachowitz, a young lawyer in shades, said he could not stop the sale but did warn any bidders about a possible deal between Green and GMAC.

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Two other properties had been scratched before the auction. In one case, a woman filed for bankruptcy a day earlier, on the eve of her 50th birthday, to avert foreclosure. Her mother had bought a lovely 21/2-story house early last year for $417,000 - and borrowed every penny, 100 percent financing. Then her mother got sick and, even with the daughter's solid income, could not make the $4,600 monthly payment.

In May her mother worked out a new payment plan with the lender, but then the daughter lost her job - as a mortgage processor, of all things. Now the daughter has a new job as - would you believe it? - a debt counselor, so at least her clients may benefit from her real-world experience.

Of the three properties left on the auction block, Green's home would be last. Talk about stress. Nobody bid on the first two, although the fellow in sweats asked about the lender's minimum bid on one of them before walking.

Shortly before noon, Osher's colleague, Galen Roop, finally got to the Green property, calling out the minimum bid to start. Green watched intently.

"We have an opening bid of $157,250. Would you go $160,000?" Roop sang out. "How about $158,000? At $158,000, Parsons Avenue. Any interest at $158,000?"

Silence.

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"Sell it?" he quietly asked Pesachowitz.

"Yeah."

"Going once, twice, third and final call. Sold it back to the lender."

Green was greatly relieved. As he put it later, "That saved me." Odds are good he'll keep the house, for now. He has cobbled together enough money for the next two payments. But Green had better keep buzzing about something else he needs badly: a job.


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