Thursday, January 17, 2013

Waking Up From the American Dream

Regardless of what current news event has the right and left sides of this country in a mortal death lock of cable news, talking heads going at it, the true root of American culture is in the promise of owning a piece of property.  The idea that anyone can reach into the dirt below their feet and claim this small chunk of earth for themselves.  It wasn't that long ago, nor that far away, that such an idea was ludicrous.  To think that anyone not of noble blood could own the land. ... preposterous.  But then came this small colony on the other side of the vast sea.  There the men and women rose up and bucked the tyrannical system of old.  They lay claim to a vast new wilderness void of people. ... well. ... not really.  In order to grow this small country they were giving this land away to anyone willing to claim it. ... well. ... again, not really.  Regardless, this dream was born that one could depart the underprivileged world of the royals and step off the dock onto your very own piece of heaven.  It was a dream that many realized over the centuries. ... why else would you deliberately move to Wyoming?  Seriously. .. it gets like -45 degrees there in the winter and upwards of 100 in the summer.  It's like hell and then it freezes over. ... ugh.  But every so often this American Dream turns to reality and, like they did in '08, the markets crash; we all sober up; we learn lessons for a few years; we move on.  We certainly learned our lesson with our condo; losing nearly 75% of the value that first year.  And we're doing our best to move on.  We rented the property out for a wash, moved in with my in-laws for 18 months to save for down payment and jumped back into the market with the wisdom of regret and the patience to find our little piece of heaven.  We had no idea the hell we'd have to go get it once we found it.

Our story starts the first week of November.  It actually starts around February when we began looking for preapproval and affordable limits for our new house.  But after establishing the range and looking thoroughly with in it for nearly nine months the miraculous happened. ... we found the perfect house.  To lay a little back story, a few months earlier I was promoted at work.  My pay increased nearly 30%, but it came in the form of a guaranteed bonus.  Don't ask me why it went down that way, but that's how my company chose to handle it.  Anyway, we figured we would keep looking in the same range we had been preapproved for and this extra money would be just that, extra.  See, I told you we had learned our lessons.  So time passes and one day Gina goes out with our realtor to look at a house.  That one was a no go but on the way back the realtor suggest another property.  Gina called me immediately after they left and told me this was the one; we had to get this house.  This far in the process she'd not reacted to a single property like she had this one, so I knew it had to be done.  Of course we had put in other offers in the past and always been outbidded.  We decided to go high, but not outside of budget, and pray.  And it worked.  They chose us, and for a while, it got better.  It turned out to be a short sale, so we were told it would take some months to clear the bank.  However, a few weeks later the bank came back and asked if we'd mind closing by the end of the year; literally 15 business days at that point.  Of course!  What's more, the bank decided to move forward at the original asking price, not our raised offer price.  Fantastic!  Everything was going perfectly.  That's when I learned of a person who's job it is to ruin dreams: the underwiter.

As I left my office Christmas party on Friday, December 21st my phone rang - it was our broker.  He told me that we had a real problem.  The underwriter with the lender had decided that my bonus shouldn't be counted as income.  Despite a letter written by my CEO that assured the guaranteed nature of the bonus, they would remove this amount from my annual worth.  What more, that condo that we had modified the loan on a few years before?  That rate of 2% that we had locked for 10 years would not be counted either.  Rather they would count our debt using the 5% rate it will finalize at after the initial decade.  Suddenly the FHA loan we had been assured of, the 3.5% down we had been planning, that would not be enough.  We needed to pull an additional 20k to make the 10% down. So Christmas was spent juggling numbers and trying to figure out how to make it work with out upsetting what was clearly a power tripping underwriter any more.  We determined that a gift from a 3rd party would suffice as long as letters were signed and proof was shown of the money's orgin.  So we proceeded again with the purchase.  We paid for the inspector.  We paid for the appraiser.  We paid for the baker and the candle stick maker. And then one day we were told that the sellers needed a document signed.  A document which promised we would forfeit the $10k we'd already put down as good faith deposit.  This made me uneasy; it made our Realtors even more uneasy.  We pressed the lender to get the approval so we would know we weren't risking this money only to have them pull another "problem" from their hat.  But that's just what they did.  The following days brought a maelstrom of requests, demands, hoops to be jumped through in order to satisfy the sadistic need for proof of god knows what.  A letter from Citibank confirming the other wise plain English of our condo mortgage. An explanation of birthday money deposited in the girls savings account - and then a detailed explanation of our relationship with the girls (I think Gina was ready to show them stretch mark scars to prove she had carried them herself).  A monthly statement for a bank CD that had long been closed, despite the instance of the bank that CD's don't have monthly statements because they can't be touched for their duration.  It was hoop after hoop, jump after jump, impossible request filled immediately after impossible request.  There were e-mails and phone calls and holding music and automated operators.  Even on our vacation to Tucson I was up at dawn with the iPad trying desperately to sign some letter of explanation or request some non-existent document form a third party corporation who could care less about this pipsqueak in California.  And, like the demonic hydra, every time we satisfied one request two more would raise from the depths of hell.

The selling agent was pestering us (via our agent) incessantly about the guarantee.  We began to feel like maybe this was some ploy, some scam worked over and over to bilk wide eyed dreamers from their hard earned savings. Finally, it seemed, the requests were satisfied.  Finally we were ready to sign our docs.  When they called and told us we were so excited, so ready to put this behind us and move into our new home.  Just tell us where you want us to wire the money; we have the cash right here ready to go.  Cash?  You have cash?  Yes.  We don't accept cash.  At that moment my heart dropped to my knees.  You don't take cash?  Isn't cash king?  Isn't that what all those zeros and ones and commas are supposed to represent?  What do you mean you don't take cash?  Well. ... it's meant to thwart drug dealers from purchasing property. ............... ARE YOU F'ING KIDDING MEEEE?!!!!  I was half expecting them to finally request the urine sample I knew they had been wanting.  What the hell can we do?  Well the money needs to have resided in a bank account for over 30 days (I'm assuming to avoid claims of laundering).  You guys realize we are supposed to sign papers on Monday?  This was a Friday, by the way.  After Gina, quite literally, ripped a new asshole through the phone they told us that they would find a way to make it work.  Don't worry, we'll make it work.  We spent the weekend buying furniture for our empty new home and knocking on every wooden table in the joint, hoping this would all not come crashing down upon us.  Monday morning we would drive down early, sign the docs and this would all be behind us.

Monday morning came, and so did the phone call.  The computer system is down for Fannie Mae, they weren't able to get the docs.  They'd call us.  By this point the seller is beyond frustrated with us.  We said we would close by the end of the year and we're now mid January with out even signed docs.  They've threatened to walk, bullied our reps, been real hostile in all sense of the word.  I'm panicking now.  I tell my employees I'm taking an early lunch, I'm going to the gym to burn off what ever I can of this migraine inducing anxiety.  As I suit up, my phone rings.  The docs are ready.  On the way down our broker calls us to explain the master plan.  We would use most of our savings as well as pull an additional $9k from my 401K and that would be enough to pay off the escrow.  Just barely.  It wasn't ideal, but it would end this nightmare.  We signed docs and on the way home we called my 401k to work out that portion of it.  Well, as helpful as they tried to be, they don't wire money.  I'd have to wait for a check to be FedEx'd in a few days after they sold off my assets.  We called our broker and that was that.  Everyone would just have to wait.  In the meantime the appraiser would need to return because, it turns out, the selling agent had shut off the water and power and he was unable to test those features.  The seller (bully) also made it clear that despite his obligation to keep these features on until escrow closed he didn't feel like paying them anymore, so we would have to turn them on under our names in order to finish this.  Here's something we learned, they won't turn those things on for a new buyer unless their carrying the closed escrow paper in hand. .... in person. ... 40 miles to the east of us.  So our broker calls the seller and tells him he must turn these utilities on for this deal to close. ... apparently the selling agent looses it at this point. A short time later we are served with a notice to perform letter - basically saying if we don't have this closed in 48 hours the whole deal is off.  Oh, I forgot to mention, we were already told that they wouldn't wait for my 401k money to come in, so they went and got grandma to loan us the money from her account (which will be paid back immediatly).  Never mind that it's too late to cancel the 401K transaction and I have to suffer the fees and position loses of outrageous fortune, now all the money is in escrow (some 40 grand) and this jerk is threatening to pull the whole plug?

But, you know what?  He turned on the power.  He turned on the water.  He even met the appraiser there to make sure it went ok.  And the appraiser said. .... it was good.  And the money transferred.  And the titled rolled.  And the Kopps?  Well. ... they're moving in on Saturday.  Finally.

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