DENVER Barely eight months removed from living in his car, and his right eye just healing from cataract surgery, retired veteran Barry Gragert wasnt at all upbeat about his prospects.
The things Ive endured lately, youll never know, said the 63-year-old Denver resident, shaking his head. Things just happen sometimes.
What Gragert didnt know was that a defining traumatic event for him the loss of his Aurora home to foreclosure not long after the death of his wife two years ago actually had a bittersweet outcome.
Arapahoe County officials had quietly been holding more than $50,000 for him funds left over from the foreclosure sale of the house where he had lived and raised a family for 19 years.
Trouble is, no one had told him about it.
It broke my heart to leave that house. I had to live in my car at Cherry Creek State Park for months after that, said Gragert, who lives in a tiny apartment paid for with his Social Security income.
He lost his job after an injury, then tapped bank accounts to care for his dying wife. Foreclosure, he said, was inevitable.
Who would ever know they got money coming after foreclosure? I thought that was that and walked away, broke and broken, he said.
State law requires counties to hand over any proceeds from foreclosure sales after all the debts on a property have been paid. Usually theres little or nothing left.
But when money is owed, counties put almost no effort into locating former homeowners. Theyre required only to send a notice to the homeowners last-known address at the time the foreclosure began usually the very house the homeowner was forced to leave and to publish an ad in a local newspaper, often one the homeowner has never heard of.
In a search of just three Front Range counties Denver, Arapahoe and Adams The Denver Post found that dozens of former homeowners were owed more than $653,300 since 2008.
Kenneth Aragon, who lost his Aurora home to foreclosure in 2009 and is owed money, was dumbstruck when told by the Post he had money coming.
They sent it to my old address? said Aragon, who lives in Aurora. How dumb is that?
Living in an apartment and newly divorced, Aragon didnt know about the law that required the county to pay him and his ex-wife the $27,456 left over from the foreclosure sale.
I thought it was a done deal when we lost the house, the 53-year-old welder said. We raised two sons there. It was our first house, and we had it 14 years.
Arapahoe County Public Trustee Ana Maria Peters-Ruddick did what she was supposed to do: hand over the money to Treasurer Sue Sandstroms office, which was required to publish a notice for five weeks in a local newspaper announcing the Aragons had unclaimed money.
The ad appeared in the Villager in Greenwood Village.
I never even heard of that paper, Aragon said. I dont even know anyone in Greenwood Village who might have read it and could call me to say they saw the ad.
Those owed money are not likely to ever find out, trustees say.
Its rare the owner will contact us unless theyre aware theres an (overage), Peters-Ruddick said. They deserve the money back, but we dont have the resources needed to find them. We do what we can.
In July 2008, the law changed, allowing counties to keep funds unclaimed after five years from the date of foreclosure. Previously, the money was held in perpetuity.
The three counties say their search efforts are minimal because of limited resources and small staffs.
We tend to use the Internet, maybe WhitePages.com or track a telephone number or address to find something that matches, said Sindee Wagner, Denvers chief deputy public trustee.
It works sometimes. About a year ago, the Denver public trustees office tracked a man entitled to nearly $10,000. They found his brother, who let them know the man had died and pointed them to a son, who got the funds.
But thats rare.
For this story, the Post easily located six families each due at least $18,000 held by counties for about two years in about two days.
It was such a sad day when they sold our house, said Vicky Bryan, whose family lost their Denver home to foreclosure in 2009. A sibling who had taken ownership of the house after their parents died ran into financial troubles and lost the house.
Foreclosure records list only the names of Bryans deceased parents Jesse and Theresia Morrison, who died in 2006 and 2008, respectively. The money was set aside, and no one tried to locate Bryan or her three siblings.
I thought all the money was gone after the sale was done, said Jesse Morrison Jr., Bryans older brother who lives in Franktown. Im a junior. How do they not find me?