Monday, March 31, 2008

The House-Hunting Chronicles: In Escrow

it happened just like everyone said it would. i walked into a house, the right house, and felt it immediately. it didn’t overwhelm me or make my knees buckle. nor did it strike me in a love-at-first-sight kind of way. it gradually built as i walked through the house, surveying each room carefully and critically, and continued growing long after i left.

i had seen enough dumps by this point to know that this was it. oftentimes, my agent would pull into a driveway of a new house, only to have me take one look at the house’s exterior and utter, “nope, this isn’t it. let’s keep going.” i wouldn’t even get out of the car. and on the occasion that i did get out of car because the house’s exterior didn’t repulse me, i would race through the interior in three minutes, which was enough time to notice the holes in the walls, the tiles missing from the bathroom, the mystery stains on the carpet. there was even one house full of rabbits — loose rabbits that would circle my feet and then go shit in the corner. oh yes, house hunting was an adventure.

but this house was different. this house i wanted to enter and explore. this house impressed me with its layout, location and view. it was perched on a hillside in Highland Park, three bedrooms and one bathroom with a skylight. windows everywhere, the place was filled with light. at the side of the house was a sizable deck with an incredible view into the valley below. there was a two-car detached garage and partially finished basement. the ceilings were sloped and made the house look bigger than its 1,000 square feet.

i liked the house. i liked the house a lot. i liked it so much that i was able to overlook the fact that a subwoofer had been implanted into the living room ceiling (no joke). but the house was out of my budget. still, i thought about it for days after seeing it — dreamt about it even. i called my agent and said we should make an offer. this was january when no one else was making offers, so what would the harm be? the house was a foreclosed property and the bank was probably eager to get it off the books. so we made an offer, a low one, and negotiations began.

rather, the nightmare began. i’m sure this had more to do with the fact that i was dealing with a bank instead of a live human being with a heart and a face and eyes i could look into while sitting across the table and negotiating a deal that would suit us both. with the bank came a game of hardball negotiations and jugular attacks. the first offer i made was met with a weeklong silence when three days is the standard response time. and then came a 5pm fax on a friday listing out a bullshit price with insane terms and a response deadline of sunday afternoon.

at first i got all panicky and confused. i feared i was out of my league and would surely get bulldozed by these fuckers. luckily i had the best conciliary around, also known as my dad, who assured me that this was just a starting bid and the bank’s test of my character. he advised me to play it cool and not respond to the bank’s offer until tuesday. “buyers market,” he reminded me while telling me to quit hyperventilating into the phone. “write them an offer saying you will except all their terms for a price that’s lower than the price you originally offered. accepting their terms will show them that you’re ready to work with them. lowering the price will tell them that they have to work with you.”

i wish i could say this did the trick and we rode happily into the sunset together, but it wasn’t that easy. i countered on tuesday with my dad’s offer and got a response on wednesday with the same crap terms but slightly lower, yet still too high price. negotiations continued — for weeks. at one point they broke off completely and i feared i would lose the house altogether, but dad said not to sweat it so i tried not to sweat.

a week passed and i was sweating buckets. i worried about competing offers coming in and ruining my chances for the house. i called my mortgage broker about increasing my budget, but was told i was stretched too tightly already and couldn’t go a penny over. i waited some more. i chewed my cuticles. finally i had to put my cards down — i came back with my firm and final: my terms, my price, take it or leave it. (but please, please take it!)

they took it. exhale! rejoice and celebrate! the house is in the bag!

yeah, not so fast. inspections came and unearthed a multitude of problems: the electrical was shoddy, termites had eaten the deck, there was mold in the garage. on the bright side, the foundation was solid, the plumbing surprised us all by being copper and the roof was secure. then came the request for repairs paperwork, which was sent to the bank. no response. another week passed. more sweating.

meanwhile, my loans suddenly were in trouble. my mortgage broker began making me nervous by being sloppy with the documents he was sending for my signature. the closing costs estimates seemed to be inching upward with every new version. other documents were also flawed — with my name misspelled, the address of the house wrong and my income miscalculated. finally, i sat down one night with my red pen and highlighter and reviewed everything, marking up all the discrepancies while riddling my hands with paper cuts. then i sat down with the broker and proceeded to question every charge, every discrepancy until i reduced him to a bumbling mess of a man begging for mercy in a pile on the floor, while i pretended that he was the bank. well, not really but i did shave a fair amount of charges from my closing costs.

then came more bad news about my loans. since i was going into this transaction as a low-income, first-time homebuyer, my funding was coming from multiple sources, meaning i had three underwriters all disagreeing on how to calculate my earnings, which consist of an unpredictable blend of my base salary at work, two work bonuses and some freelance. i assured everyone that my base salary was the only one that mattered because that was predictable each month, with the rest being gravy. but because i had to deal with governmental agencies that did not want to provide me with one penny more than they had to, calculations did not go in my favor.

then the bank responded: zero for repairs. ZERO. the bank’s listing agent — a cunt-whore-scumbag-bitch-slut who was still advertising my house on craigslist while we were in escrow — said the bank was thinking of fixing the house themselves and selling it for more money than i was offering and that my inspection reports just told them what they needed to do. “bullshit,” dad said, “they’re in too deep. they just don’t want to give you money for repairs, that’s all.” so fine, i reduced the amount requested substantially and waited. again.

during this latest wait, i took the time to get my loans in order, which looked bleaker by the day. it seemed that every day saw a new fire that needed putting out. i had been getting increasingly pissed at my mortgage broker and his empty reassurances, and still sloppy mistakes on the paperwork. i got into the habit of berating him during our daily chats on the status of things. it got so bad that he voluntarily reduced his commission on the deal.

finally, he came back with a plan that had me paying off my car loan to reduce my monthly debts and increase the amount i could borrow. this killed me as it cut into the remodeling budget substantially. i was steamed: “what am i going to do when i take that subwoofer out of the ceiling, huh? just leave a big hole? i need to pay someone to patch that up, you know.”

there was more than a hole in the ceiling at stake. the house needed some termite spray, new paint, a new deck and an electrician to come find out why the HVAC was tripping the breakers. then the bank called after its weeklong stonewall and said they would put some bucks down for repairs — still way under what was needed, but i wasn’t too proud to beg at that point. i even went begging at the bank of mom and dad, who kindly granted me a small loan for repairs, with a reminder that they are getting ready for retirement, bitch, so you better pay us back in five years.

with the loans in place and inspections and appraisal done, i removed all contingencies and waited for the funding to come through. again, with this being government money, the waiting was long and escrow stretched past 40 days. i kept waiting for that call, the tap on the shoulder that would let me know that the deal had fallen through, because a happy ending to this story did not seem feasible to me.

i waited and acted jumpy all day, especially when my cell phone rang. i couldn’t sleep at night, too busy grinding my teeth and fearing for the worst. waiting and waiting until i finally got the call: funding came through, the sale was recorded, deed was mine, and escrow was closed. i now own a house. holy shit.

my little piece of earth

at least it’s a sony

check out my view, bitches!

hell yeah

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