Daniel Rubin: A preservationist fights to keep her own home

"It's been hard to share this with my family," Linda Kaat says. "It's private. It's sad. . . . Home is everything."
"It's been hard to share this with my family," Linda Kaat says. "It's private. It's sad. . . . Home is everything." (CLEM MURRAY / Staff Photographer)
Posted: November 16, 2012

Linda Kaat describes herself as an amateur preservationist - she has led campaigns to keep the Brandywine Battlefield open as well as to save a colonial tavern and honor the last Leni-Lenape woman of Chester County.

Lately, the ex-wife of Phillies pitcher Jim Kaat has been waging the preservation war of her life, a quiet one that has been testing her considerable spirit.

She's fighting to keep her own home. When the housing bubble collapsed in 2008, it landed directly on Kaat. She was working at a Morgantown development, selling new townhouses. Properties stopped moving - she went without a commission a full year.

She fell behind on payments for a house she'd fallen for in historic Marshallton.

When Kaat and her mother first looked at the property on West Strasburg Road, her mom shook her head.

"You're buying an old gas station?" her mother asked. It had also been a deli and a doctor's office. Kaat says she has always been drawn to tarnished jewels, such as Sweetwater Farm, the Glen Mills inn that her pitcher husband bought her as a wedding present.

The Marshallton property had been on the market four years. "No one wanted it," she said. "It was across the street from two condemned structures."

The house sat tight against the road in the village proper - a storybook place halfway between Philadelphia and Lancaster once populated by smiths, publicans, and wainwrights.

Friends and family loaned Kaat almost all of the $90,000 in cash she paid for the property in 2002. Three years later, her mom - who lived on a farm in Illinois and had the better credit - signed a note for $269,500. That became the mortgage on the house, which Kaat put in both their names. And with that money, Kaat paid back those who had helped her buy the place, and funded a $125,000 renovation.

Then came the crash. She had trouble making the $1,681 payments to JPMorgan Chase.

What happened next is the subject of a thick file in Chester County Court. For anyone who has battled a bureaucracy and lost patience at a revolving cast of call-center reps, Kaat's suit makes for epic reading.

Her attorneys, Louis Kupperman and Joseph Carroll, seek to document the hoops that Kaat had to jump through for the bank - some "outrageous and inane," as they put it.

That includes having to send the same set of documents over and over, and then, when her mother died, having to field calls from bank reps who would not accept her mother's demise.

After receiving $25 billion in federal bailout money, JPMorgan Chase renegotiated with homeowners who had failed to make payments, including Kaat, whose monthly bill dropped to a more manageable $1,123.

After making three payments, she had a deal for a loan modification, her attorneys claim. Not so, the bank counters, contending that the mod was temporary and that she never completed the required forms.

This June, the day after her 62d birthday, a sheriff's deputy knocked on her door, serving notice of foreclosure. That she joined more than 36,000 other Pennsylvanians in similar trouble gave her no comfort.

"It's been hard to share this with my family," she said. "It's private. It's sad. It hits every button. Home is everything."

Her brother figured she was a deadbeat, she said. "I told him, 'You don't understand. It's a modification.' Until you walk in these shoes, you don't understand."

When I spoke to Amy Bonitatibus, a JPMorgan Chase spokeswoman this week, she said the bank was going to send an offer that would allow Kaat to modify her loan, provided she can show she can afford the payments. "We want to keep as many people in their homes as possible," Bonitatibus said.

Kaat's attorneys said they would review the offer. When I spoke with her earlier in the week, she didn't seem eager to give up.

"You know what mortgage means in Latin?" she asked. "'Death pledge.' I'm not walking away from my house."

Contact Daniel Rubin at 215-854-5917, drubin@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @danielrubin or Facebook at http://ph.ly/DanRubin

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