It's the American dream to own a home. To hear the tax collector say you no longer own it is a nightmare.
"Well I was kind of angry. Pretty angry, you know," Geoff Gerster said. "I couldn't believe it."
The reason Gerster could not believe it is because he paid cash for his home in 2010 and owns it outright. The same could not be said of the developers of his Verano neighborhood in Cathedral City. A court order from a bankruptcy proceeding transferred much of the incomplete development to JP Morgan Chase Bank. Gerster's title was mistakenly included in the transfer, along with about 10 of his neighbors.
"I was floored," Susan West said. "I was absolutely floored because I didn't get a memo, I didn't get a letter to tell me my home didn't belong to me anymore."
Gerster was the first to recognize the mistake when his property taxes never came. He went to the Riverside County Assessor/Clerk/Recorder's office in Indio to pay them. He was told that his property taxes were sent to JP Morgan Chase Bank in Phoenix.
Gerster called friends in the real estate business to get the Riverside County Clerk and Assessor's office to fix their mistake.
"I said, 'What about my other neighbors?' Make sure they're all fixed," Gerster said. "Including my neighbor at the end of the street. He's from Saskatchewan and he has no clue this happened."
Because Gerster was on top of things, he and his neighbors have their titles back, but with so many housing developments changing hands, he wonders how many other homeowners could one day be told their titles have been wrongly taken away.
"I'm just worried for the system," Gerster said. "I just hope it's being safeguarded. Because this is a really big thing, everybody's title to their homes."