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The homeowner had refinanced before, so she knew she would run into a certain amount of incompetence with any mortgage lender, especially during busy periods like the present one.

But what happened was much worse than she had anticipated.Her case was somewhat unusual from the start. She wanted to refinance the mortgage on a second home in which she had only 20 percent equity. Most lenders wanted 30 percent equity in the house before they would agree to a new loan.

The homeowner finally found a lender whose rules were more flexible. Twenty percent equity was no problem, the lender said.

Because the homeowner had been turned down so many times, she was wary when the loan officer agreed to the deal. She asked repeatedly if the officer was sure that only 20 percent equity was required.

"Absolutely," the loan officer replied.

In addition, the loan officer told the homeowner she could pay her own taxes and insurance. The company did not require an escrow account.

So the process was set in motion. It took months because of the heavy volume of refinancings. But everything seemed to be on track.

The homeowner began to have doubts when she discovered the first glitch. The loan officer had told her she could lock in a mortgage rate, and if rates dropped before she closed she would get the lower rate. In return, she had to pay some of the closing costs up front.

What the loan officer failed to mention was thatthere was a one-eighth point penalty involved with the "lock and drop." However far rates had dropped by the time of the closing, an eighth of a point was added on. That was the price paid for being allowed to take advantage of lower rates.

The homeowner accepted the situation. She thought the busy loan officer had simply forgotten to tell her about the penalty, and she had been given absolutely nothing in writing.

There were other small things, too. The lender mailed her employment verification forms late in the process, then wondered why they had not come back. This crisis was resolved when the homeowner mailed her W-2, wage and earning statements to the lender. They got lost in the mail - or in the lender's mailroom. The homeowner will never know.

Two days before the closing, the loan officer telephoned, nervous. She had belatedly discovered, she said, that there were three "conditions" the homeowner had to meet to get an 80 percent mortgage on a vacation home: stable or rising prices in the area, homes selling within six months, demand and supply in equilibrium.

The homeowner's vacation house was in an area where supply outstripped demand and homes took much longer on average than six months to sell. So she didn't meet two of the three conditions.

At that point, having invested more than two months and several hundred dollars in the refinancing, the homeowner was left with a choice. She could call the whole thing off or she could pony up $5,000 to bring her equity in the vacation house up to 30 percent.

Was she the victim of a bait-and-switch? Or was the loan officer simply incompetent? When she inquired later, the company told her it was incompetence. She paid.

The final insult was the closing. The homeowner had set it up carefully because she would have to travel to the vacation home during the work week to sign the papers. She was there on the appointed day, but the closing papers were not. Either the wrong zip code had been put on the package or Federal Express had misread it. In any event, the closing papers went to the wrong state. The closing had to be put off to another day.

There's more. At the closing, the homeowner discovered that the loan officer had set up an escrow account to collect taxes and insurance, despite a promise that there would be no such account.

The homeowner angrily telephoned the loan officer to say there would be no closing unless the requirement for an escrow account was waived. It was waived. The loan was closed.

The homeowner was dealing with a well-known national lender. But she realized that the people employed by this lender are much like those she had run into before in this sloppily run industry.

If you are among the millions of people currently refinancing, remember that the loan officer you deal with doesn't have much authority; get everything in writing from the department that does.

Most of all, be prepared for trouble; you undoubtedly will run into some before you get your new mortgage.