The loan became a burden after it reached the mortgage cap, or maximum loan amount, and it was time to pay the piper. Their mortgage payment jumped sharply.
The Destins understood they would be able to convert to a fixed-rate mortgage. But their home equity was wiped out in the housing market crash and the lender balked at refinancing, said Wilson Destin, 49, who works in security as a site supervisor.
"I paid a lawyer to help me," he said. "The lawyer was not able to do anything." The staff at Neighborhood Housing Services of South Florida helped them prepare and submit the paperwork for a loan modification, and the couple just completed a three-month trial period demonstrating they can meet the new payments.
The loan modification process took from August 2011 until October 2012, said Mordy Lafortune, director of homeownership preservation at Neighborhood Housing Services, who is confident the couple will obtain the permanent loan modification.
They may be eligible for additional help down the road.
"We feel better about where we are, compared to where we were up until this point," Wilson Destin said. "Much better."
After the financial crisis hit, there wasn't a whole lot of demand for hibachi chicken, sushi and Korean beef at Soo Woo Japanese & Korean Steakhouse in Doral.
Before owner Bok H. An knew it, sales at the Asian restaurant plummeted about 30 percent in 2009. The downturn couldn't have come at a worse time. An was finishing a long-planned expansion to double the restaurant's size. The bank cut off the credit line before renovations were complete.
"We were freaking out," said An, 40, who grew up in the restaurant industry. "It was either do or die. If we continued at that volume, our days were numbered. We weren't going to last."
Struggling to pay his bills, An laid off about 10 percent of his employees and negotiated a deal with the landlord to cut his rent. But the real focus was on finding ways to generate more traffic. An decided the only option was to focus on value with a $9.95 lunch buffet and a $19.95 all-you-can-eat dinner special.
Initially it worked. Business in 2010 jumped back to where it was pre-recession and the restaurant was once again profitable. But then came the problems. Customers complained about declines in quality and long wait times. Even An's loyal customers were refusing to return.
"Even though sales were good, I was getting too many complaints," An said.
That's when An knew he had to go back to his regular sit-down menu and find other ways to draw in traffic. In 2011, An focused heavily on marketing and promotions, including social media. He came up with a weekly calendar of events like Ladies' Night on Tuesdays, $1 Beer on Wednesdays and kid's eat free on Sundays.
That year was the turning point. By 2011, business at Soo Woo had climbed about 10 percent higher than it was pre-recession. Customers started feeling better about going out to eat again. An is on track for another 10 percent jump this year.
Feeling good about the economy, An launched an aggressive expansion plan. Since the summer, he has opened three new restaurants, in Kendall, Pembroke Pines and Hollywood. All were spaces where another restaurant went out of business during the recession.
Once again, the progression is bumpy. The Hollywood restaurant is already profitable, but the one in Kendall is only breaking even and An is losing money in Pembroke Pines. At the two struggling locations, An is bringing back the all-you-can-eat specials at $11.95 for lunch and $17.95 for dinner. This time An thinks it can work because his food costs are dramatically lower due to increased buying power.
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