This is How Public Notice is Supposed to Work

Sydney Henderson is a 100-year-old widow living in a small condo at Hacienda Carmel, a senior living community in Monterey County, California. If it wasn’t for a public notice published in a newspaper, she probably would have lost her home and been booted out on the street by a bank. Her story is a textbook example of why public notice advertising still belongs in newspapers and not on obscure government websites.

Wells Fargo held the reverse mortgage Henderson secured on her condo in 1998. According to Mary Duan’s recent column in Monterey County Weekly, Henderson mistakenly believed she had enrolled in a government program that automatically rolled the property taxes into her regular mortgage payments. So she owed $24,000 in back taxes when the bank began foreclosure proceedings.

Unfortunately, Henderson didn’t know the bank was coming after her property until a friend at Hacienda Carmel, Margee Bennett, saw the foreclosure notice in a local newspaper. Bennett contacted a local attorney, who sought Chapter 13 bankruptcy protection for Henderson and temporarily stayed the proceedings the day before her condo was scheduled to be sold at auction.

Bennett wasn’t looking for foreclosure notices when she picked up the paper that day. She saw the notice for Henderson’s home only because reading a newspaper is an inherently serendipitous process. The tactile experience of holding a newspaper and scanning its pages encourages readers to discover information they aren’t expecting to see. That increases the number of people who see a particular notice and enhances the odds that the information it contains will be conveyed to an interested party.

Even if she had internet access, Bennett almost certainly would not have seen the same notice if it had been buried within the virtual pages of a government or private-party website.

There’s a happy ending to this story. Champion Mortgage, which now services Wells Fargo’s reverse mortgages, contacted Henderson’s attorney and started to negotiate the day after Duan’s column was published.

“We are on our way to a full resolution. I have a written agreement with the attorney for Champion for them to withdraw their objection to Sydney’s bankruptcy,” the attorney told Duan in a follow-up column. “[It’s] not quite signed, sealed and delivered. That will come when the matter gets approved by the court.”

Photo of Sydney Henderson courtesy of Mary Duan