Hurricane Dorian Storm Damage

Many people will have a potential insurance claim for storm damage so what should they do? 
  1. Stop additional damage from occurring if possible. You have a duty to act reasonably to prevent additional damage and the insurance company will assist in paying for this. There are companies like Service-Master that may be used as well.
  2. Read your insurance policy. Often the way a claim is worded may mean you do or do not have coverage. For example if your house floods and the water came UP it may have to be covered by flood insurance. If the rain came DOWN it may be your homeowners insurance. 
  3. Determine your deductible and if it is worth a claim. Hurricane deductibles can be a percentage of your home's replacement cost. This may mean you don't have enough damage to receive any benefit from an insurance claim, but it will count against you! 
  4. Consider talking to a professional before signing contracts and finding out you may have given away your rights. Be especially careful if you are requested to sign an "Assignment of Benefits" call an AOB. This means you are definitely having the repairs done by that company. An attorney can evaluate your deductible and based on what damages are present determine if you should file a claim. They can also assist with the review of any contracts. 
  5. Make your claim. Many insurance policies will not accept a late claim. 
  6. Lastly make sure if you do this on your own that you pay attention to anyone who sends you a "Notice to Owner" This means someone is telling you they have an interest in your property and it is your job to be sure they are paid. Failure to do so means they can lien and foreclose on your property. For instance if the shingle manufacturer send you this notice before final payment is made to the roofer. Make sure the company is paid. Otherwise you are responsible for that invoice! When in doubt talk to a professional.

How could this happen to the El Faro?

How could this happen to the El Faro? Although I am a full-time attorney I am also licensed by the US Coast Guard as a Captain. I don't pilot freighters but am very familiar with what it's like to be a captain. Currently, Adsum Law Firm has been requested by a family member to look into the legality of what happened. First, I would like to say that my heart goes out to each and every family member who has to suffer through this tragedy. I have recently been told that the Coast Guard has officially ended their search for any survivors. Here is the El Faro by the numbers. • 735 feet - the length of the boat • 33 - crew members aboard • 391 containers loaded with material bound to Puerto Rico • 293 cars also going to Puerto Rico • 2 lifeboats and several rafts • 50 survival suits • 17 knots or approximately 20 mi./h the maximum speed (fast for freighter of this size) • 140 miles per hour sustained winds of the hurricane • 30 foot seas near the hurricane • 120 miles north of Crooked Island in the Bahamas • 1 human remains found in a survival suit The question remains as to why the ship sailed directly into the path of a category four hurricane. It appears that when the El Faro lost power it began the list 15°. With the weight of 391 containers possibly containing 40,000 pounds apiece, and 293 cars estimated at 2,500 pounds apiece, and with 140 mile an hour sustained winds it is unquestionable that the ship would be lost. There are several reasons why a captain may make a poor decision to continue onward despite this bleak and known weather forecast conditions. Unfortunately most of these are financial reasons, putting the entire crew and ship directly in the path of a vicious hurricane. Even our military's nuclear battleships and carriers run from this type of danger. Maritime law is complex and may involve multiple jurisdictions and most specifically the Jones Act. This is also known as a Mariners act of 1920. This federal law enables boat owners to be sued as a result of injury or death to seamen. This act includes provisions for when the ship was poorly maintained, or when the negligence of a captain or crew puts others in danger. Besides the act there are other laws which may also govern any recovery. Currently, Adsum is working on finding out details, attempting to obtain communications between the boat and others, and determining what relief is appropriate for the families that have lost loved ones. We will keep you posted on this as his ongoing investigation continues. Our deepest condolences to all been affected by this tragedy. - Gust G. Sarris, Esquire and the Staff of Adsum Law Firm

Duval County Tac Appeals ( Real Estate)

You must appeal your 2011 property Taxes by September 13, 2011! Failure to appeal will result in the taxes being "locked in" at the rates you have just received. If you have any questions please call my office at 904 398-9510.

HOA Foreclosure - A New Trend in Florida - Is it Legal?

Recently many HOA's have begun to foreclose on homeowners for small amounts of past due debt. Most of the debts are less than $5,000. Usually this forces the homeowner to pay - but what if the homeowner doesn't? Generally the properties are sheriff sold and some other person now has the chance to buy your house for the debt owed to the HOA. If the house has equity you will lose it! A person recently purchased a house worth $175,000 for $3,900. The homeowner is then instructed to move out within 48 hours! The bottom line is HOA's and Condo associations do have the right to sue you and take your property! If you are sued I highly suggest contacting an attorney immediately to prevent losing your home.

Home Owners Association - Foreclosure

Can a Home Owners Association Foreclose on my Property? The Answer is YES! A HOA has the right to enforce the restrictive covenants that are recorded. Although the "City" or the state may allow something the HOA may not. For example you can park your work vehicle in your driveway by most city rules. However, the HOA may not allow that if it is in the restrictions. Other examples are boats, trailers, RV's and possibly even the colors you can paint your house! Also it is important to know that the fees run with the land. This means that if you purchased the home in a foreclosure sale - you may owe HOA fees. Many times I hear that people don't think its fair but Taxes also run with the land and everyone knows you have to pay them. Do not ignore fees, fines, certified letters etc. It will not go away. Just recently I had a client who almost lost his home over a $198 HOA fee that was missed. The HOA has the right to foreclose on your property if you do not pay the fees. Although most Florida home are upside down and lack equity some HOAs will foreclose anyway. When it goes up for Sheriff sale the highest bidder wins who may know obtain a Writ of Possession and have you thrown out within days! Do not ignore your HOA as it was created to maintain the value of ALL the properties. I often hear, "my neighbor has higher grass or breaks the rules more often." This may or may not be true, but just like getting a speeding ticket you may just be the one in the wrong place at the right time. Often the neighbor is being fined but you don't get the notice about your neighbors. If you have a property next to you that is already in foreclosure often the HOA has no power to really do anything as they are already losing their house. If you have any questions feel free to e-mail me.

Gust G. Sarris, Esq.

Property Appeal Deadline for Real Estate Taxes Duval Florida September 13, 2010

Everyone who disagrees with their appraised value is entitled to appeal, but the deadline is Monday, September 13, 2010. I have posted instructions on how to do it yourself on or you may consider Affinity doing your appeal. For only $75 we will file a petition on your behalf and request all the evidence. We then prepare ours and determine if you have a good case for appeal. If not we withdraw and you know you are being treated fairly. If we can negotiate this down based on our evidence and we are successful during our meeting with the appraiser, your total cost is $125. If we appeal to let the VAB's Special Magistrate make a ruling the total cost is $200. We can perform this appeal with a licensed attorney who has performed hundreds of appeals because we have a very streamline system. All negotiations and appeals are performed by a licensed Florida attorney! Please call us if you would like more information. (904)398.9510

Affinity annouces lower rates for Real Estate Appeals in Jacksonville Duval County Florida

Affinity Law Firm announces new lower prices for people wishing to challenge their property assessments. ALL FEES ARE FLAT FEES REGARDLESS OF SAVINGS AND ARE NON-REFUNDABLE.
These rates are for Duval County only, call for other counties.

For $75 Affinity will:
• File petition with VAB (Duval county)including the $15 cost!
• Provide homeowner with a checklist of things that would be helpful for the appeal such as photos of interior, etc.
• Request all evidence from the property appraiser.
• Obtain the property card for you property.
• Review all of this and determine what we should do next out of the 3 options...

1. The appraiser was correct - No additional cost and we dismiss hearing voluntarily.
2. We negotiate based on their evidence an obtain a lower value Additional cost $50 for a total of $125.
3. We decide a full hearing is necessary. Three comparable properties are pulled from a multi-list service. All of our compiled evidence is sent in to the VAB and we prepare for the hearing. We attend the hearing and await the results from the special magistrate. Additional cost of $125, for a total cost of $200 for having an attorney represent you at this hearing.

My Real Estate qualifications are listed below.
* Real Estate Sales Agent in several states from 1989
* Mortgage Brokers License from 2005
* Series 6 & 63 License from 1989
* Series 7 License from 1989
* Real Estate Title Agent from 2006
* Bachelor of Science 1988
* Masters of Business Arts 2002
* Jurist Doctorate
* Hard money lender
* Owner of Title & Escrow company from 2006
* President of Raymur Villas Home Owners Association from 2007
* Managing Partner of Affinity Law Firm, P.L.
* Counsel for Real Estate Investment Club(s)
* Defended Mortgage Fraud, Fraud, Misrepresentation Criminal and White Collar crimes/cases.
* Licensed to Practice in Bankruptcy, State, Federal and Tax Courts
* Wrote a Land Use Manual for ALW requirements
* Due diligence for pre-purchase for Residential, Commercial, Industrial, Resorts and Islands
* Experienced in Phase 1,2, and 3 Environmental testing as well as mitigation.
* Experienced in complex construction law litigation
* I have taught Real Estate related courses, Attorney Continuing Education Credits (CLE’s), and instructed a clinic sponsored by Judge Dreyton on Small Claims Court.
* I have challenged assessed values from property appraisers offices in several states as well as VAB appeals, and Circuit Court Appeals.
* I have represented many of the “Real Estate Gurus” and many investors.
* I have been nationally published on an attorney referral website for loan modifications as article of the month.
* Affinity currently has over 125+ loan modifications / short sales and debt negotiations that are in process.

Real Estate Tax Appeal Petition Process Jacksonville Florida

What if I don't agree with my assessment / TRIM Notice?

If you live in Duval County, Jacksonville Florida, you must file your petition by September 13, 2010. If you do not file your petition, you will lose your right to have the assessment modified by the Value Adjustment Board. Below is a step-by-step process of what you must do if you wish to lower your property taxes. The steps below are to begin the appeal process only.

Information as to what you must present at the hearing is also contained on my blog at www. or www.Affinity Law Last year, I represented 125 homeowners who disagreed with their property assessment. More than 40% had a decrease in the assessment value.

1. Immediately obtain a petition. The petitions are available in the property appraiser's office at City Hall at 117 W. Duval St., Room 305, Jacksonville, Florida. You will also find them online at Then choose Value Adjustment Board Petition Form - Real and Tangible Property, DR486 (pdf)

2. Complete the petition, along with a $15 check, and send this to the VAB office at City Hall, 117 W. Duval St., room 305, Jacksonville, Florida 32202.

3. You will be assigned a date and time. You may only move this once if you have good cause.

4. Either hire someone to help you with the appeal or read how to appeal in my blog. Good Luck!

- Gust G. Sarris
Affinity Law Firm, P.L.

Jacksonville Florida (Duval County) TRIM Notices are out

The new TRIM Notices are out! If you do not like the assessment you have ONLY 24 days left to appeal! Time is ticking and after that you lose you right to challenge the assessment. I have instructions on how to appeal this on my blog or give me a call if you need help at Affinity Law Firm, Gust Sarris (904) 398-9510.

Real Estate Tax appeal Duval County Florida VAB TRIM notice Assessment Challenge

Real Estate Tax appeal Duval County Florida VAB TRIM notice Assessment Challenge

Duval County Tax Assessment Appeal

This guide was designed to allow you to appeal your real estate taxes in Florida. Although specific to Duval County it is good information and the concepts could be applied in many states. It discusses the entire process and what you should do to prepare.

Step One- Understanding the Process!

In Florida taxes are paid in arrears and are due in November. This means taxes start on January 1, but they are not due until death following November, 11 months later! Understanding this is very important, because the appraiser's office assesses the property using comparables, preferably from several months before last year's date. They will also use the first few months of the year if there are not many comparables. Also note that you are given information prior to the taxes being due about the assessed value. However, you only have 25 days to file notice of your intent to appeal after the receipt of the TRIM (Truth in Millage). If you do not file within the 25 day process, only under extenuating circumstances will you be allowed to appeal. There are several other important things to know. If you feel you are only appealing the value of your property - not the amount of taxes that you pay. If the value of your property is correct, there is nothing to be appealed! The most important thing that is missed or misunderstood is that distressed property sales are not considered. This means that if the properties that you wish to compare your property to have been short-sold, are REO’s (Real Estate Owned or owned by the bank), are foreclosures, are sheriff sales, are tax deed sales, have been quit claimed, deeds in lieu, or are relocation properties - these are not considered comparables. This applies even if you purchased it from the bank. This is the biggest point that people miss. The Florida Department of revenue put out an informational bulletin, PTO 08 -- 22 that says, “Section 193.011(1) specifically refers to a transaction at arm's length.” It states that fair market value, or just value is - “amount one willing but not obliged to buy would pay to one willing but not obliged to sell. “ It's so far this seems fair. We must read on – “an arm’s length transaction is one between unrelated parties where the parties are not affected by undue stimuli from family, business, financial, or personal factors.” I personally cannot think of a single transaction that is on affected from stimuli relating to family business financial or personal factors. However, this means no distressed properties will be considered as comparables. Suppose as an investor you purchased three properties on the same street all at foreclosure sales. Your average purchase price is $70,000 for a three bedroom two bathroom home in reasonable condition. You invest $10,000 to bring these homes up to standard. All these homes were purchased in mid-January, and all of these homes are approximately 1500 ft.² . However, 30 days before an out-of-town person looking to relocate purchased a home next to yours with the same specifications for full market price of $130,000. The way this works is that none of your homes will be considered to be comparables. What will be considered to be a comparable was the home purchase for full market value. This is not my rule, however, it is the way it works. If you do not understand what I've just stated I would ask that you read this section again. For simplicity, I am going to bullet point properties, which would be considered to be not comparable:

• any property purchased at auction
• any property purchase with a quit claim deed
• any property that was short sold
• any property that was in REO or bank owned property
• any property that had major damage was sold by an insurance company
• any property that was purchased during a foreclosure or at a foreclosure sale
• any property that was purchased from a relation of yours
• any property that was owned by HUD or FDIC
• any property that is under contract but has not been sold
• almost any property that was sold in April, May, June, July, August, September. (Remember that the assessment is determined at the first day of the year.)
• Most properties that were sold outside of MLS services – (Without a Real Estate Agent)

Step Two- Beginning your homework.

Between November and March, it is very important to take pictures of your property on a camera that includes the date. This will allow you to document your evidence for the coming year's tax appeal. Photos do not count that are near the end of the year, if you are appealing that year! That means by the time you receive your TRIM notice in September- It is too late to document the condition of the house! When you take photos, make sure you are taking photos of things that are important to the value of the house. Taking pictures of three garbage bags outside the house does not affect the value of the house. Even if the house is dirty, it will not affect the value of the house. Here is a list of things that you should take pictures of:

• outdated kitchen cabinets
• broken ceramic floors, tiles, marble, showers, bathtubs, toilets
• outdated electrical services
• cracks in walls, ceilings, foundations, driveways, sidewalks, or any structural issue
• leaks in plumbing, ceilings, drains, sinks, showers, toilets
• pools that are leaking, not maintained, broken, - not just green from algae
• roofs that are missing shingles, gutters, broken skylights, broken chimneys
• bricks or blocks that are missing mortar, missing, or broken
• HVAC units that are missing, outdated, too small, or broken
• lawns that are nonexistent, overgrown, are flooded, or have major issues - not just high grass
• trees that need to be removed, or detract from the appearance of the house
• any issue that you would consider to be a material defect to the house

This documentation will be your best friend at the VAB meeting. No matter who does your appeal, this is information that must be provided to them and cannot be taken after you have received the trim notice. If the person doing the appeal does not have this evidence it will hurt your appeal process.

Step Three- Understanding the Mass Appeal Process

There are eight factors that affect the assessed value of the house. If you try to argue outside these eight factors, your argument will not be considered as valid. The following are factors that are considered to be proper:

1. The present cash value of the property – (on January 1 –not now!)
2. The highest and best use of the property.
3. The location of the property.
4. The size of the property.
5. The cost of the property and present replacement value of any improvements.
6. The condition of the property.
7. The income from the property.
8. The proceeds of the property if they would sell after deducting all expenses.

You must determine why you're arguing the value of your property. Also remember that you are arguing the value of your property on January 1st - not during the hearings a year later. If you purchased the house in January, and the assessment is less than the purchase price - You should not appeal. Any argument that you can make using the above eight items will be considered to be valid and taken into consideration. Any written document is much more valuable than any argument that you will make such as my neighbor said that... almost every residential property is evaluated by a comparable process, not by income. Almost all commercial properties are evaluated by the income, not the comparable. However, you may make your argument, using either determination.

Step Four -- Avoiding Major Mistakes

1. Not having photos and documentation from the beginning of the year.
2. Missing the 25 day appeal deadline that is normally in August or September and losing your right to appeal.
3. Using comparables from a distressed property that are not considered.
4. Not providing evidence at least seven days prior to the VAB hearing date, which the magistrate may not consider.
5. Basing your argument on the amount of tax paid not the value of the property.
6. Basing your argument on the property next door, which is not a comparable.
7. Basing your argument on the fact that almost all property values have fallen without proper comparables.
8. Basing your argument on the fact that you can afford your taxes.
9. Basing your argument on the number of homes that are listed but have not sold.
10. Basing your argument on a criteria that is not one of the eight listed above.
11. Believing that just showing up is a reason for your taxes to be reduced.

Step Five -- The VAB Process

1. At the end of August begin to look in your mail for your TRIM , which will show the new value of your assessment. If you agree with this you will not need to do anything. If you do not agree you should immediately fill out the bottom of the form, make a copy for your records , including the stamped envelope, and immediately send it in.
2. Make two copies of all photos that you have taken at the end of last year or the beginning of this year. If you have not taking these photos you're already behind the eight ball.
3. Obtain comparable properties that are the same size, age, location, approximate square foot, and similar to your property. You will need to make two copies of these as well. Although you may be able to do this on your own is much easier to have a real estate professional assist you. Do not use websites that you cannot filter your results and include distressed properties such as those listed in step one. This is one of the most important steps in your appeal.
4. Once your VAB hearing date is set, call the appraiser's office in determine the name of the appraiser and contact info so that you may speak to them prior to the hearing. This is a much easier way to compare information and possibly avoid the hearing and an unknown result.
5. Call the appraiser and discuss your comparables, and why you feel the property value is incorrect. Be polite, keep to the facts, and remember that they know the rules much better than you do. Use your negotiating skills, keeping to the facts and the property appraiser may agree with you on your value. If so congratulations you're done.
6. If you do not come to a conclusion or cannot agree, send a formal letter in writing asking for the evidence that the appraiser plans on using at the VAB hearing. Be prepared to submit your evidence as well, at least seven days prior to the hearing. Failure to do so may result in your evidence not being considered.
7. Up here at the VAB hearing early so that you may speak to the appraiser and try to resolve this prior to the hearing. Be sure to dress appropriately and rehearse the arguments that you wish to make. Avoid moaning and groaning eye rolling and anything else that may show that you're disgusted with what the appraiser is stating. Be polite and do not interrupt remember this is a hearing.
8. Present your best possible arguments keep to the facts, and you should obtain your results within several weeks. If you do not like the results you may always appeal your decision. through our court system.

Step Six -- Additional Tips

1. The VAB relies heavily upon effective square feet and heated square feet. If you do not understand these terms, look them up on the appraiser's website as these will be used to determine value.
2. Never use general arguments such as the market has been terrible, other properties are like this, it is unfair, I don't have enough money, I already pay too much taxes, I'll sell it to you for that price, I lost my job, etc. Instead use specific arguments using the eight criteria.
3. If you do not feel comfortable with the process seek someone who has experience that will do it for you for a fee.
4. If you do not have evidence from the beginning of the year it will be very difficult for anybody to win.
5. VAB hearings are open to the public - so sit in on a few prior to your hearing. You can find out when the hearings are happening by calling the assessment office.
6. Understand that appraiser's are well educated and understand the market place including the fact that the market has been slow. They are under certain restrictions and must follow their own rules. Although you may not agree, they are the expert and their database is the best.

Gust G. Sarris, M.B.A., J.D.
Affinity Law Firm, P.L.
3947 Boulevard Center Drive
Suite 101
Jacksonville, FL 32207
(904) 398-9510 Office
(904) 398-9512 FAX

Affinity Law Firm Charity Event

The Children at Shriner's Hospital Benefit from Local
Law Firm's Charity Event
    The weather was great, the lights were bright, and the enthusiasm was remarkable for the First Annual Red Carpet Affair at the Morocco Shrine Auditorium on Friday night, January 22, 2010.
    Affinity Law Firm organized and rallied up the troops in effort to benefit the Children Shrine's Fund with all proceeds and donations from the event. The excitement of benefiting such a great cause could be seen from all who participated. The event featured local celebrities such as, Sam Kovaris, Ms. Teen Jacksonville Beach, Southpaw of Jacksonville Suns, and members of the Jacksonville Roar.
    The event was sponsored by Bacardi, Budweiser, Sharky's Wings & Grill and other local food vendors. Also featured were local vendors who provided wine tasting, offered jewelry and makeup, along with various other products benefiting the event. There was no shortage of food, drinks, music and just pure fun.
    A much anticipated silent auction and raffle featuring autographed memorabilia, local restaurant gift certificates and other must-have items was one of the many highlights of the night.

"I was very impressed with how the community supported our event. Having the celebrities, band, Baccardi, Budweiser all supporting out charity, it was greater than we expected, and everyone had fun. We look forward to next years even being even bigger."
                                - Gust G. Sarris

Judging from the response to the First Annual Red Carpet Affair, the even is surely going to be a great benefit to the Shriner's Children Hospital and the city of Jacksonville for many years to come.

A Red Carpet Affair - Affinity Law Firm

For Immediate Release
Affinity Law Firm, P.L. is announcing a Red Carpet Affair, Welcome to Hollywood, which will be held at the Morocco Shrine Auditorium, Friday, January 22nd 2010, at seven o'clock. This is a benefit for the Children's Hospital charities with all proceeds being donated.
Come party and dance the night away in this black tie optional event featuring many local celebrities, including the Jacksonville Roar, Sam Kovaris, Ms. Jacksonville, and Miss Teen Jacksonville Beach, among others. A silent auction and raffle will be held on autograph memorabilia, local restaurant gift certificates, and other must-have items. The event will also feature some local vendors offering related items such as, jewelry, food, and makeup, to the Red Carpet Affair.
This annual event is a must attend as only 200 tickets will be sold. A $20 donation is required for tickets which may be available at the door. This includes one free drink for over 21 guests, hors d'oeuvres and dancing the night away. However, it is highly suggested to reserve your tickets in advance as this is no doubt a sellout event. Tickets may be pre-ordered by calling 398-9510.

Red Carpet Affair Jacksonville - Affinity Law Firm


We all have been working hard to make this fund raiser successful. We have some major sponsors confirmed such as Bacardi, Budweiser, and commitments from local TV stations, the Shriner's Clowns as well as the Jacksonville Roar! Even though we are over 2 months away we have confirmation or "trying to attend" from about 75 people! This is intended to be an annual charitable event that is a must attend.

Affinity is donating 40 simple estate plans for anyone who makes a $250 donation to the Children's fund! This is a $750 value for a $250 donation. ALL PROCEED ARE BEING DONATED! Please call us for more details!

- Gust Sarris

Friday, January 22, 2010
7:00pm - 11:00pm
Morocco Shrine Temple
A Semi Formal Event
Place: Morocco Shrine Auditorium
Time & Date: January 22nd 2010 @ 7:00pm
Pre Ordered Tickets-$15 per person
Pre Order Sale Ends December 31st 2009
Tickets at the Door-$20 per person
All tickets include one free drink
Cash Bar and Appetizers will be provided

Come enjoy dancing, food and fun all for a good cause!

All Proceeds go to the Shiners’ Children Hospital

R.S.V.P- Sarah @ Affinity Law Firm

Textron Trust Accounts out of Balance - American Iron Horse

Former American Iron Horse dealers have been served with lawsuits for selling bikes out of trust by Textron. Many dealers were financially hurt when bikes were sold far below dealer cost into their market areas. These bikes were allegedly owned by Textron, but were sold direct to the public at fire sale prices. After this many dealers voluntarily gave back their bikes after not being paid for warranty work and not receiving rebates from AIH. As bikes were returned they were sold at even lower prices resulting in dealers who had to sell their bikes at $10,000 or more below their cost! Now, Textron has filed suits for deficiencies balances and for bikes sold out of trust.

Currently Affinity Law Firm is investigating these allegations and determining if their are causes of actions for former AIH dealers.

Many former Iron Horse Dealers have contacted us regarding what options they may have. If you are a dealer or know of one who has been financially damaged and wish to discuss this please contact us at 904.398-9510.

Textron Information Form

Please use this file if you were a American Iron Horse Dealer and are now in a lawsuit with Textron.


Textron American Iron Horse Lawsuit Action

Textron has filed suit against many motorcycle dealers throughout the nation for their accounts being out of trust. These lawsuits have many things in common as many dealers have the same allegations and defenses; that Textron controlled American Iron Horse, Textron sold bikes acting as a wholesale to the public dealer, and Textron participated in unfair trade. These common allegations have caused Affinity Law Firm to begin to quickly investigate these claims and determine if a Federal cause of action exists which would allow dealers to combine resources to battle this large financial company. If you are reading this blog and wish to help our investigation please feel free to e-mail me at Also attach any information that is important and I will review this personally. Thank you.

- Gust Sarris, M.B.A., J.D.
Litigation Services

Jacksonville Loan Modification and Bankruptcy Alternatives

As a Jacksonville attorney I often see clients who have come to us to late to help. It is both scary and frustrating for the person who now faces loss of their home or possessions. TIME is not on your side!!! You need to seek out help as soon as you know you are in trouble.

At Affinity we can modify your loan terms. This includes interest reduction, extend the repayment time, and even negotiate to get those missed payments put on the end of the loan. This can help to decrease or eliminate the late payments which affect your credit score.

We have assisted many client in renegotiating those high credit cards balances and interest rates. Help is available but all too often it is too late when we see a client.

I urge anyone who knows they are in trouble to come in and see us. Also avoid anyone with a paper sign on the road. Most of these companies are nothing but scams and use disposable phones as their business line. Good luck and I hope this blog post helps people to know that ignoring the problems is the worst possible thing you can do.

Gust Sarris
Affinity Law Firm, P.L.
(904) 398-9510

Jacksonville Foreclosure Defense

Need a foreclosure defense attorney?

The Affinity Law Firm has been helping clients through the financial crisis since the beginning of the Jacksonville foreclosure wave. With an unequaled background in real estate, the members of the Affinity Law Firm are prepared to fight for your rights, battling the bank and ultimately allowing you to stay in your home.

Jacksonville is now the foreclosure capital of Florida. In addition to offering Loan Modification packages to the citizens of Jacksonville, we can also help in the unfortunate event that the bank attempts to foreclose.

Loan Modifications (Mods)

What is a loan modification?

It is when the lender (Bank) and borrower (Homeowner) enter into a new agreement that replaces or modifies the original agreement. For example, the Bank may allow you to defer 3 months worth of payments without penalty or any negative information being placed on your credit report.

What is modified?

There are several components to a loan.

  • The Rate, or Interest which is usually a percent (APR)
  • The Term which is a number of months or years
  • The Principle which is the total owed
  • The Payment which is the amount you must pay each month
  • Penalties - Some loans have early repayment fees.
  • Costs - These are the "fees" that are charged to get or modify the loan
  • First payment due date

All of these may be modified, but it is uncommon for them all to be modified at once. Usually a Bank will allow a customer to modify what is reasonable based on their unique situation.

Some examples:

Example#1) If you currently pay $1,500 per month Principle and Interest (PI), and your income decreases by 30% due to a temporary condition such as illness. The bank may allow you to pay $1,000 for the next 12 months until you are able to recover.

Example #2) Lets say you are 70 days late due to a tropical storm causing damage to your property, and the insurance company is refusing to pay for the damage. You have the money to make the payment but are being charged late fees, and damaging your credit every month as you are now continuously 60 days late. The bank could take 3 payments off the mortgage as of the date of modification, and move those payments to the end of the loan. This means that you would pay those payments 20 or 30 years from now by extending the final payment date 3 months.

Who can do it?

You - IF IT IS YOUR LOAN - but it does take skill. If you found a "Loan Mod" business make sure they are legal. This is the biggest scam currently in Florida and numerous other states! As a rule, all attorneys can perform the loan modification. In many states, Mortgage Brokers can do them as well. In some states Real Estate Brokers are allowed. As a good rule - If the number you call is a cell phone, no website exists for the company or is a brand new website, the BBB has no information, you cannot Google anything about the company, or if you saw the ad on the side of the road on a 1x3 handmade sign, or if you are made promises that seem too good...MOVE ON! In many states, such as Florida, only $150 can be collected upfront by an agency, however, attorneys are exempt due to trust accounting regulations and other rules.

How is it done?

The procedure is started by contacting the "loss mitigation" or "workout department" or "loan modification" department of your bank or loan servicer. They may have forms for you to complete or instruct you to begin the process online.

You will need many documents:
  • Hardship Letter stating why you need the modification
  • Pay stubs or documentation of income
  • A qualified opinion of price - Appraisal, BPO, CMA, Etc.
  • A request for what you want modified
  • Condition or pictures of the house (If it helps)
  • Documentation of changes in the neighborhood
  • Crime rates (If it helps)
  • Credit score knowledge - Do you still have good credit - if not why?
  • Copies of your last statements (1st mortgage, and the 2nd mortgage if applicable)
  • Proof that you are you - Drivers license etc.
  • Proper phone numbers to call and initiate the process
  • All other documents they may request.

Things to avoid:
  • Long excuses or unnecessary details of your colonoscopy or illness
  • Trying to be their friend - Just give the basics details of what you need
  • Sending in documents one a time - be organized!
  • Unrealistic offers - Don't waste their time
  • Blaming them or being angry that they cannot "give more"

We have performed many loan modifications and always tell our clients two things

1. Be Realistic
2. There are no guarantees that we can get exactly what you want - This is an agreement that they (Bank) must feel needs changed or they will not do it. Put yourself in their shoes for a second. If your credit card company called you and asked that you pay an additional 10% interest on your balance because they spent too much money or did not budget properly would you just say, "sure that sounds great!" Of course not! Don't expect this to be easy if you do it on your own.

Also note that this is not a science but an art. Some companies will work quickly, some will not even respond. Some banks prefer to deal with a professional as the documents are usually more organized.

How long does it take?

Most modifications can be professionally performed in 30-90 days. In the do-it-yourself the range is usually 90-180 days due to the delays of not having the right department, paperwork delays and unrealistic requests.

What if I need more help?

Although this article is about loan modifications, there are many other options that are available. If you are located in Florida our law firm can help with many other options. These other options include: short sales, refinance, bankruptcy, foreclosure litigation, and other kinds of debt restructuring. If you want to find an agency to assist you, they are easy to find. Just be sure they are licensed, regulated, and have been in business for more than a few months. The disadvantage with all "loan mod" businesses is that they cannot help with other legal alternatives such as bankruptcy. Although you may not want to consider bankruptcy an option, creditors are sometimes more willing to work with attorneys because they fear a bankruptcy will follow your hiring of an attorney. Whatever you do you must not procrastinate! Time wasted may cause you to lose your house.

How much does it cost?

If you do all the work on your own, it will probably cost nothing but your time. If you have attorneys do it - probably $2,000 to $2500. At Affinity Law Firm, we generally charge $1995 as a flat fee. So why pay someone for something you can do? Several advantages and unknown cost(s) must be considered. First, a professional will know what is realistic and what can be obtained for you modification. Often, we see people after the modification fails and they are now facing foreclosure. Time is not your friend! Also, when we represent someone, the bank knows you are serious and not just trying to save some cash. Lastly, your credit is damaged until the issue is resolved. One or two extra months may ruin years of excellent credit, and you may risk losing your house to foreclosure.


Gust G. Sarris, M.B.A., J.D.
Managing Partner
Affinity law Firm, P.L.
(904) 398-9510

SBA Loan Fees Reduced!!!!!

Small business owners will find it a great time to borrow. This information came from one of my commercial lenders and summarizes the changes very well. If anyone is interested I can help in this process!

1. SBA 504 program fee waiver. Example of money that can be saved for a customer buying commercial real estate at the 10% down payment and long term fixed (presently 5.60%) program is 1.5% of the SBA's second mortgage loan amount. For example, a $500,000 SBA second mortgage loan would save the customer about $7,500 in closing costs. Further reducing the amount of cash needed to make the purchase.
2. SBA 7A program guaranty increase and guaranty fee waiver. Business acquisitions, startups, working capital loans or commercial real estate loans less than $1,666,666 can be eligible for a 90% SBA guaranty, increasing the attractiveness of the deal to the bank. The sliding scale fees for the guaranty fee are also waived. In a $500,000 loan amount example the normal $11,250 fee would be waived further saving the customer money in closing costs.

- Gust Sarris, Partner
Affinity Law Firm, P.L.