Saturday, November 7, 2009

The Joys of Real Estate

It was about four years into our marriage that Ashley and I decided that it was time to purchase a house. Our apartment was wonderful, but we wanted a place of our own. A place that we could use to entertain guests, host family dinners, and place mildly offensive signs in the yard without asking anyone’s permission. After some research, we decided that the most prudent move would be to seek pre-approval from a mortgage company so that we had a better idea of our price range.

On a recommendation from a friend, we sought the counsel of a nationally recognized lender who just happened to staff a local office. When the day of our appointment finally arrived, Ashley and I sat in the waiting room clutching the documentation that would soon be utilized to determine our financial worthiness. After about 15 minutes we were summoned to the lender’s chamber and asked to produce the requested paperwork (bank statements, paycheck stubs, autographed Frank Stallone albums) so that an accurate fiscal picture could be painted. Several minutes and 10 invasive questions later, we were given a pre-approval letter.

Now that we had our price range, we could finally use the Sunday real estate adds for something other than fueling our charcoal starter. For three consecutive weeks we ritualistically studied the cleverly captioned photos and nauseatingly memorable tag lines (break that lease and get you a piece!) until we began to perceive the existence of a cryptic realtor code:

· “Investor’s Dream!” = Crack house

· “Walkout Basement” = Would you like to be the victim of a home invasion?

· “Rolling Hills!” = Highly susceptible to erosion

· “Unique, one of a kind home!” = Original contractor is still involved in litigation

· “Old World Elegance!” = Violates multiple building codes

· “All New Flooring!” = Someone was murdered here

· “Rural Tranquility!” = Cable television and high speed internet are unavailable

· “Quiet Street” = Located in a failed subdivision

· “Separate Workshop” = Clandestine meth-lab

· “Newly Remodeled Kitchen” = Devastating grease fire

· “Motivated Seller!” = Current owner is the focus of an ongoing police investigation

· “Classic Beauty” = Seller was unable to remove the gold-leaf wallpaper in guest bathroom

· “Historic Neighborhood!” = You are within walking distance of a Gyro King

Once we consumed our Sabbath lunch and compiled listings we were interested in, we would jump in the car and proceed to hit the open houses. After speaking to several real estate agents (one of whom gleefully informed us that she could get us a deal on a particular home because the couple building it had recently met with unexpected financial ruin) we found an agent that seemed uniquely attuned to our tastes. He was laid back and unfazed by the fact we were unable to purchase a dwelling priced above $139,000. Over the next month he shuttled us in and out of several houses, but none of them was tempting enough for us to give up our apartment. Then one day, that all changed….

We saw a listing for a foreclosed two-story house located in modestly high-brow area of town and it was in our price range. It had vaulted ceilings, a quaint picket fence, and had been on the market for almost a year so it had the unmistakable scent of desperation. Aided by our new real estate guru, we performed several walkthroughs on the property and even had our parents take a look. It seemed that everything was falling into place and on the weekend of our third walkthrough we decided to put in an offer.

Ashley and I had decided to meet at the realtor’s office that Thursday afternoon in order to complete the necessary paperwork, but by Wednesday afternoon she had grown apprehensive and wanted us to go first thing in the morning. I condescendingly explained to her that any anxiety was the result of inexperience and that a seasoned property consumer, such as myself, could see that it was ridiculous to alter our plans since the home had been on the market for twelve months. Finally seeing the error of her ways, we agreed to meet at the real estate office after work the next day as we had originally planned.

The following afternoon, Ashley and I entered our agent’s office and seated ourselves opposite him at the conference table. While handing out the paperwork, he informed us that an unprecedented turn of events had occurred: an out-of-state couple had submitted an offer two hours earlier on the same house without even seeing it. Beads of sweat began to form on my brow as I caught Ashley’s head slowly rotating my direction, and just to ensure I would spend the next week on the couch, the realtor added “If only you guys had come in a few hours earlier…”

I quickly realized that if we did not get this house, I would be taking an involuntary vow of celibacy for the next several months. Despite the grim outlook, we filled out the paperwork, submitted it to the lien holder for review, and waited. A week passed, and we received word that our out-of-state rivals had submitted the winning bid and would be the proud new owners of our dream home. Crestfallen and domestically ostracized, I set about looking for another house on the Internet.

A few months later, we found a beautiful older home that offered almost 3,000 square feet and a price tag of $130,000. Several close friends of ours lived in the neighborhood, and we felt comfortable enough in dealing with the owners to forgo using an agent so it looked as though we had it in the bag. We wasted no time submitting an offer on the property, and just to guarantee we would emerge victorious, we offered to pay the asking price. It would only be a matter of days until The Taylor Family had 3,000 square feet of historic charm to explore.

Several days passed and I finally received a call from the owner. He apologized for the delay and explained that they were unable to accept our offer because another couple had delivered an identical proposal just two hours before we got there and it was only fair to give them right of first refusal. He wished me luck on our continued search and left me with, “If only you guys had come in a few hours earlier…”

We both became so disgusted with the process we almost completely stopped looking for a place of our own, although we would occasionally hit an open house in the $500,000+ range as they always had the best refreshments, and decided that it just wasn’t our time to own a piece of the American dream.

A few months later we were driving home from lunch when we spotted an open house sign. We had a few hours to kill and there was always a chance of refreshments so we decided to stop in. Coincidentally, the house was owned by a coworker, beautifully decorated, and most importantly: in our price range. We made them an offer and soon enough we found ourselves at the attorney’s office signing the closing documents.

If you have never been through this process, it is impossible to accurately describe the volume of paperwork involved or the number of outrageous fees (loan origination fee, flood-plain determination charges). Fortunately, our closing attorney had a voice so soothing that I could have easily been persuaded to sign my own death warrant. In fact, I may try to close on a tool shed next week just so I can hear him summarize the property transfer process again….

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