John Summerill and Catherine Felton had a great idea, or so it seemed at the time.

They wanted to buy a house, and the place they wanted to buy it was Port Republic, a historic Atlantic County community of 1,000 that once was home to Stephen Dunn, who won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 2001.

Summerill and Felton's prize was a Cape Cod-style house on a very nice street. The price for their piece of the American dream of home ownership, purchased from an estate, was $197,500.

One drawback: The house, more than 60 years old, needed a lot of work. As enumerated by Felton, that included "a new roof, new septic system, new windows, new electric service, termite-damage repair, and some other, less critical fixes."

The real estate agent suggested an FHA 203K Streamline Mortgage, which allows a buyer to purchase a house and obtain up to $35,000 more for renovations.

"It seemed like the answer to everything," Felton said.

As it turned out, it wasn't.

Settlement was Sept. 4, with Bank of America as the lender. Loan documents stated that work on the house had to begin within 30 days of closing.

"As the contractors were hungry for work, we got started improving the property right away," she said. "We had been told by our mortgage broker that we could expect the first draw against our $35,000 escrow 15 days after closing."

As time passed, however, "we heard nothing from Bank of America, other then where to send our first mortgage payment," she said.

For three months, the couple paid their mortgage, yet received no check for the work done so the contractors could be paid.

Patiently calling what she described as "the impossible main telephone number" at Bank of America, "I was able to track down the phone and fax numbers for the 203K department," Felton said, but no one answered the voice line and it didn't allow her to leave messages.

By that point, the contractors had done $25,000 worth of work, but the house still lacked a septic system and needed other major repairs.

To pay for the work, "we have had to empty our savings and run up our credit cards," she said. "We finally asked them to stop until we can find resolution with Bank of America."

The contractor's disappointment was "palpable," she said. "I guess he was counting on the work as much as we were on getting our house finished before winter."

They assumed the best and didn't renew their lease on the place they had been renting. So Felton and Summerill now live in the unfinished house.

"We live each day in fear that some other financial hardship might occur that would require the savings or credit card we no longer have available to us," she said.

Bank of America spokesman David Bradley said Summerill has been notified of the availability of funds, which the couple have now received. For privacy reasons, he could not tell me the amount of funds available.

Bradley did explain, however, that the loan originated with another lender and was not on Bank of America's books until the end of September.

"We do not know what the originator told the customer about the 203K process and timelines for available funds," he said. "That may have contributed to the situation."

He said the average number of days from closing until Bank of America receives a loan to begin servicing is between 25 and 30 days, and then it is about 10 business days to get the check out from there.

For information on 203K mortgages, go to

Contact real estate writer Alan J. Heavens at 215-854-2472 or