Sara Moody spent six months in a paperwork nightmare.
In August, she called Bank of America for a mortgage modification after the recession nearly halved her income. Moody, who is 39 and sells advertising, took a second job but was still struggling with the $1,100 monthly payment on her Steele Creek area home. She bought the home new in 2006 for $175,000, putting down about $30,000.
The bank told her she could get a modification that would lower her payment to about $850. She faxed papers as requested, waited a few weeks, followed up and was told nothing had been received. She resubmitted, again and again.
"This process is a joke...," Moody told the Observer last week. "This program was intended to help people, and it isn't."
Never miss a local story.
The bank approved her for a trial modification on Friday.
She was one of 29 homeowners, most with Bank of America loans, who contacted the Observer after reading a Save Your Home story this month about Ohio borrowers who sued the Charlotte bank. Those borrowers say the bank hasn't delivered on promised mortgage modifications.
Their stories reflect the unrelenting grip of a weak economy that has erased millions of jobs, depressed housing values and stranded homeowners with few workable options. Many have seen their income evaporate. Some have been ill. All are scared of losing their homes.
The Charlotte-area borrowers who contacted the Observer complained of modification rejections, as well as poor service, lost paperwork, modifications in limbo and conflicting responses.
Their frustrations echo growing criticism nationwide that the $75 billion plan intended to save millions of people from foreclosure is falling short. Lenders and servicers, who have scrambled to make improvements, are under pressure from regulators and lawmakers to do better.
Save Your Home researched three of the complaints and shared homeowners' concerns last week with Bank of America, the nation's largest mortgage servicer. On Friday, the bank said two of three had been approved, and a representative had been assigned to the third.
Bank of America spokesman Rick Simon said its "FAX systems were overburdened last summer under initial pressure from the high volume" of modification requests.
Simon said the bank didn't know if that was an issue specifically for Moody, who began her modification quest in August. But if it was, Simon said in an e-mail, "we apologize for the inconvenience."
He added that Moody wouldn't have qualified for a modification in August because guidelines weren't yet in place for the type of loan she has.
But now, Simon said, "The review of Ms. Moody's file has been completed ... and the mortgage has been pre-qualified" for a trial modification. The trial period is part of the Home Affordable Modification Program, the centerpiece of the federal foreclosure prevention effort. Customers have to make timely payments during the trial to receive a long-term modification.
Moody's documents should be sent in about two weeks, Simon said.
"That's fantastic," Moody said Friday afternoon. "I want to keep my house. I want to do the right thing. I just needed some help."
Last week, the Department of Treasury released HAMP results showing more people were helped through January, a sign of progress. But the program is nowhere near providing relief for the 3 million to 4 million homeowners President Obama said it would help when he announced it a year ago.
Bank of America, which handles one in five mortgages nationwide, has greatly increased the number of its borrowers receiving long-term payment relief. But its overall modification results still lag other large competitors.
The bank says it is taking "extraordinary measures," including sending workers to borrowers' homes, to help customers fulfill requirements for long-term modifications.
"Bank of America is a strong proponent of the home retention goals ... and we have placed HAMP at the center of our broad-based mortgage modification efforts," Jack Schakett, the bank's credit loss mitigation strategies executive, said in a statement announcing its HAMP results.
TWO MORE STORIES OF FRUSTRATION AND WORRY
Chris and Ronda Pelone bought their south Charlotte home in 2000 for about $263,000, putting down about $60,000. They refinanced with Bank of America in 2004, taking a smaller, 15-year mortgage with monthly payments of about $2,000 and an interest rate below 6 percent.
He is 51, has 29 years in technology sales and was laid off in November. She is 50 and a pre-school teacher. He says he contacted the bank in November, was told they qualify for a modification and that they should receive the application within 45 days. More than two months later, they have not.
They are current on payments, but he's unsure how long they can hold out with jobs so scarce.
"I have been a BOA customer since I moved to Charlotte in 1981," he said. "I am beginning to question: Should I remain with a bank that does not respond any better to someone that has been a loyal customer for so long?"
On Friday, Bank of America spokesman Rick Simon told the Observer that because the Pelones are current on their payments, their modification request is subject to manual review.
Approval is based on a determination "that something has changed to place the homeowner in imminent danger of going into default - usually some life-changing event such as an extended period of lost income, medical bills, death in the family or divorce," he said in an e-mail. Such reviews are taking up to two months.
"An associate has been assigned to the Pelones' case and will contact them with a status report," Simon said.
Bill and Peggy Sagy bought their Huntersville home for $253,000 in 2006, putting down about $25,000. They refinanced for a lower interest rate of 5.5 percent in 2008 with Countrywide, now part of Bank of America.
She's 57 and he's 58, a management consultant who was laid off last June without severance. He said they missed their July and August payments, asked about a modification and were told they didn't qualify. The next month, he received a foreclosure notice.
But then the bank said they qualified for a trial modification, reducing their monthly payment to just under $700 from $1,370, starting Nov. 1. Paperwork for the so-called "permanent" modification was due Dec. 25, according to notes on his online account. He hasn't received the documents and keeps calling. They've made four trial payments, including the one due Feb. 1.
The trial modification phase is intended to be three months. If a borrower makes payments on time, he or she is supposed to receive a longer term modification. But there have been reports of borrowers being denied a final modification despite making payments, or even losing their homes to foreclosure during the process.
The Sagys - like many homeowners nationwide - have seen their home value fall and probably couldn't sell for what they owe, let alone recoup any of their investment.
"They keep saying to be patient, but they won't tell me for sure if I have been approved for a permanent modification or not," he said. "It's a mess, and it's no wonder that people are simply walking away from their homes. The banks leave them no choice, especially when there is little equity."
On Friday, bank spokesman Simon said in an e-mail to the Observer: "The Sagys' loan has passed underwriting and been approved for a permanent modification."
"Oh, cool," Sagy said. "I needed some good news."