CLEARWATER — Jerry and Vicki Raines might still be in their home if not for a misplaced cashier's check.
The Raineses sent it to cover two mortgage payments. The mortgage servicer claimed it was never received. Eight months later, after multiple phone calls, letters, and conflicting instructions, the servicer found the check. By then, however, the Raineses were too far behind to ever catch up.
Miscommunication pushed one more family living on the margins over the edge.
Life was never easy for the Raineses, but when they bought the home in 2003, after renting it for five years, there was enough money to go around. In 2005, the couple wanted to do some work on the house, which an appraiser said had doubled in value to $140,000. They decided to refinance.
"It seemed like a good idea," said Jerry Raines, who borrowed $83,000 at 9.3 percent.
Within two years, the Raineses were having trouble making regular payments and fighting the first of three foreclosure attempts by the servicer, American Home Mortgage Servicing Inc. Finally, in February 2009 the Raineses worked out a loan modification. But two payments — a total of $1,531 — were due immediately.
The Raineses sent a cashier's check via UPS, next-day delivery. Records show the check was received and cashed well before the servicer's deadline. So the Raineses were surprised when they got a notice in April 2009 saying their account was in default.
Jerry Raines called the servicer and reached an agent in Pune, India.
"I asked them where my money was, and he said he didn't know," Raines said. "All I got from them was that I owe, I owe, I owe."
A spokeswoman for the servicer recently said the company erred by applying the funds to the wrong account. While the mistake was being tracked down, however, Raines, angry and distrustful, refused to make additional payments. Meanwhile, his income as a tire mechanic was dwindling. By the time the issue was resolved, the couple had spent the mortgage money elsewhere. Their house went back into foreclosure.
American Home Mortgage spokeswoman Philippa Brown said the company tried to contact the Raineses 95 times from January 2010 to September 2010, even though the Raineses had stopped paying. She said the company made "every good faith effort" to help out the Raineses once the mistake with the misplaced checks was discovered.
"There's nothing we can do unless they engage in the process," she said.
A financial statement the Raineses submitted in March 2010 shows their income had fallen so much that a modification would not have helped. His 38-year-old wife, meanwhile, suffered a stroke in May while the foreclosure was being battled.
By Halloween of last year, the Raineses accepted $1,000 from the servicer to leave the property in good condition. Their new home: a motel room about a mile away with a kitchenette, fold-out sofa, double bed and bath.
With his sons, ages 12 and 16, sprawled on the bed playing a video game, Raines, 48, said the family is pretending they're on vacation. His voice choked when he talked about the foreclosure's impact on his boys.
"My youngest didn't want to take anything when he left and my other boy was pretty much the same," said Raines, who owes $114,704 on a home that is on the market for $34,900. "They were devastated."