NEW PORT RICHEY— Sharon and James Bullington will get to keep their home.
The couple accepted a mortgage modification this week after Bank of America admitted it mistakenly foreclosed on the couple after they paid a mortgage payment early. The case gained national attention after the St. Petersburg Times detailed the saga on Aug. 20. The bank apologized two days later.
The terms of the modification brought relief to Sharon Bullington, 70, who cares for her terminally ill husband, James, 78. The bank agreed to restructure the loan over 40 years. The monthly payment will be $916, down from about $1,400.
The payment is affordable, and that's all they wanted from the bank in the first place, she said.
"A big load's been lifted," said Bullington, who ran up about $1,800 in attorney's fees fighting the bank. "I was hoping to get our attorney fees back, but I am thankful for what we got."
State Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, who has been following the case, said Bank of America was wrong to not reimburse the legal fees. He is requesting the bank pay the money.
"It was not their mistake," he said about the Bullingtons. "The bank should have to pay the fees."
Christina Beyer Toth, a bank spokeswoman, said reimbursement for legal fees needs to go through bank attorneys. Toth again apologized on behalf of the bank.
"We made an error posting one of their payments even though the customer contacted us to make it," she said. "Upon further review, we agreed with the customer that it was made and moved forward with the modification approval. We are sorry for the confusion with their payment situation."
Shawn Yesner, the Bullingtons' attorney, was disappointed the bank didn't waive late fees and interest since the bank made the mistake. Instead, the bank added the charges to the end of the loan. The bank, however, did not require an upfront payment to start the modification, he said.
"I think it could have been better," Yesner said. "At the end of the day, it's a resolution that (Sharon) can accept. She is ready to move on."
The couple came to Florida 15 years ago from Flint, Mich., and moved into the 1,591-square-foot home, which is now valued at $133,464, though they owe about $177,000.
When James Bullington became ill, the couple encountered financial difficulties because of medical bills. The couple asked Bank of America to modify the loan. There was a catch. The couple would have to officially default on their $1,400-a-month payment. The couple did that and entered into the modification plan, which reduced their payment to $916.
The couple paid a January mortgage payment one week early in December. The following month, the bank rejected their February payment because it was made electronically without a signature. The bank then kicked them out of a loan modification plan and filed to foreclose on the home.
Two days after the Times published the story, Bank of America admitted it made a mistake and said it was putting the couple back into the modification program. Three days passed before the couple heard anything from the bank. By that time, Fasano started questioning bank officials about the lack of response.
The bank then issued another apology, guaranteeing the couple would have details this week on the modification.
The couple received mail from supporters as far away as Colorado and Connecticut. One letter writer even sent $10. Sharon Bullington planned to buy her husband a root beer float.
"It makes you feel like there are people out there who care," she said. "I am so grateful."