Jody Padilla dresses carefully for work every day in a sharp suit, crisp shirt and carefully chosen tie. But he fervently hopes no one will see him. That explains his footwear. "I always wear rubber-soled shoes," he confided.
Five days a week, nearly eight hours a day, Jody Padilla posts foreclosure notices on people's front doors.
"I can see where people get irate," he said. "That's why we try to be as discreet as possible. I try not to make any noise at all walking up to a house."
As he sets out on his rounds this particular Monday morning, Padilla's destination is the San Fernando Valley. His usual route is Palmdale/Lancaster, but a colleague has called in sick and the posting deadline is looming on several homes in wealthy Valley neighborhoods. He'll also be making several other stops, hand delivering letters and other documents for his employer, Trustees Assistance Corp., which is one of a handful of businesses in the Los Angeles area that do the "leg work" of the foreclosure process for lenders.
At 11 a.m. Padilla arrives at this first posting in Sherman Oaks--well over an hour's drive from his starting point. He cruises slowly up a pleasant, tree-lined street until he finds the house he's looking for, an attractive gray stucco, nicely landscaped, with a well-kept front yard. As he stops his car just ahead of the driveway (out of visual range of the front windows) a large tabby cat jumps off the front porch and trots up the driveway, disappearing behind the house.
Padilla neatly separates the owner's copy of the "Notice of Trustee's Sale," and puts cellophane tape at the top and bottom, folding the document over loosely to protect the tape. Then, with the engine running, he slips out of the car, grabbing his Polaroid camera as he goes. He walks quickly to the front door, tapes the notice to the jamb, then steps back a few feet, framing the door with the foreclosure notice clearly visible, and snaps a picture to prove the posting has been done. He's back inside the car in less than 60 seconds.
This was a routine posting for Padilla, causing neither anxiety for his own safety nor any tugs at his heartstrings. But after just a year and a half in the business, the 25-year-old former construction worker has had his share of painful moments:
"At times I do feel like a bad guy. Like the time I posted the notice with the whole family sitting there in the living room--the adults knew what was going on. But when I went to take the picture, the little kids ran out and wanted to be in the picture."
Then there was the time up near Dodger Stadium, in a neighborhood where Padilla didn't feel comfortable.
"There were a bunch of gang-looking kids, sitting around on the front steps drinking beer," he said. "I was kind of worried but I just walked past them up to the house. It turns out one guy's mom was lying on the couch, she told me she'd been sick, told me all about the rough times they were having. All I could say was that I have to do this, it's my job. But the look on her face was pretty sad. It gets to you sometimes."
The job rarely gets to Steve Fine, owner of Cal Best Service Co. At age 51, he's the veteran of thousands of postings.
"Generally, I don't really know what's going on with the people; sometimes it's job loss, with that I can sympathize. But sometimes it's divorce, or putting the paycheck up the nose," he said. "I've posted at places where guys have BMWs and Porsches in the driveway; I can't feel too bad for those." His own car is a red Isuzu Impulse that bears a license plate which reads: "KICMOUT".
Besides his license plate, Fine's motto, "Neither rain nor sleet nor barking dogs turn the poster from his appointed rounds," demonstrates both his sense of humor and his approach to the task.
"The idea is to get up (to the door), get the notice up and get out of there." Dogs, he says, don't seem to bother him because "I have a natural affinity for animals." And he's also had pretty good luck avoiding encounters with his subjects. "You have to move quickly and quietly--but you can't look like you're sneaking," he said. "If you look like what you're doing is OK, nobody will bother you."
Occasionally Fine, who lives in Big Bear and mainly does postings in Riverside and San Bernardino counties, conducts seminars for colleagues in the real estate business. His first piece of advice? "Wear tennis shoes!" he laughs, "and carry a staple gun with a silencer!" Then he laughs again and admits there's really no such thing. Like Padilla, he generally uses cellophane tape.
But unlike Padilla, Fine never wears a suit. "You shouldn't dress up, because you look like part of the financial establishment. In case there's a confrontation, I'm just the guy posting the notice."