Tall, Dark, and Mysterious


Murphy’s Law: Homeowners’ Edition

File under: Righteous Indignation, Talking To Strangers, Oh, Give Me A Home. Posted by Moebius Stripper at 7:39 pm.

I’m alive. I’m just running around acquiring a property, that’s all.

The deal closes tomorrow morning. Based on the assurances of my agent and other relevant parties - it WILL close tomorrow. I know things are really rushed right now, and it’s taken a bit longer to get all the papers in order, but it WILL close, I assure you - this means that there are only twelve hours left for everything to go horribly awry, thank God. Meaning, in twelve hours, I will no longer have to deal with the extensive cast of characters with whom I have interacted, to varying degrees, for the past six weeks:

My agent. She found me the property! She negotiated with the realtor until eleven o’clock at night to save me $5K! She comes to my office to bring me papers to sign! She works stupid hours so I don’t have to! She hooked me up with a mortgage broker, a lawyer, and a guy who does flooring! She comforts the newly heartbroken (see below)! I love my agent, and would bear her children if such a thing were biologically possible.

The home inspector. I never met this guy face to face. My agent hooked me up with him, let him into the house, and delivered his extensive report to me. All I had to do was pay him a lot of money. This made my dealings with the home inspector far less time-consuming and stressful than my dealings with various other people, for instance,

Every bank manager in the Lower Mainland. Some free advice from your friendly neighbourhood curmudgeon: by all means, diversify your assets, but for the love of God, diversify them within the same goddamned bank. Trust me on this one.

The mortgage broker. I’ve never met this guy either, but I’ve talked to him a lot - around fifteen times in the last three business days. He’s the one who sends the relevant papers to the lawyer, except that they didn’t get in on time, which is why I’ve talked to him around fifteen times in the last three business days. Most of my calls went something like this:

Me: The lawyer just called! She doesn’t have the papers yet! Closing is on Wednesday April 26 and it’s almost then and this is going to fall through she needs the papers now!!!

The broker: Hmm…the papers should have gotten there already. I’ll go check with the people who are supposed to send her the papers. I don’t know what the delay is. But I assure you that everything will be completely taken care of by Wednesday April 26.

I later found out what the delay was: my agent explained that it had to do with

The appraiser. “The only thing you have left to do is pay the appraiser,” my broker told me last week.

“Do I have to go to the other side of the city to sign stuff?” I asked, worried about taking yet more time away from work. “Do I have to go meet him?”

“No,” the broker assured me. “You can pay by credit card. I can have him call you now.”

Five minutes later, I got a call from the appraiser, which went something like this:

The appraiser: Hi, this is the appraiser.

Me: Oh, yeah, the broker told me you’d call.

The appraiser: I need your credit card number.

Me: Here you go.

It occurred to me later that I had no idea who the appraiser was, or what I’d just paid for. I could very well have just given my credit card number to some disenfranchised Nigerian prince, or peddler of penis-enlargement elixir. Spammers, take note: if you want to get rich dishonestly, you could do worse than to tap into the market of frazzled homeowners-to-be.

And what had I just paid for? Not much! Two days after the relevant papers were supposed to have arrived at the the lawyer’s, but one day before they actually did, I received a cryptic email from my agent:

Dear Moebius Stripper,

I hear you’re back in town. There have been some complications, but don’t worry. The deal will close on Wednesday, April 26. Call me.

I called her.

“What the hell is going on?” I demanded.

“Oh, there was a problem with the appraiser,” she informed me.

“A problem? What sort of a problem?”

“Well, he was supposed to show up the other day, but he forgot.”


“Yeah. And then we tried to reschedule, but it was kind of difficult, because -”

It was kind of difficult, I’m told, because the seller - showing wanton disregard for my feelings in this matter - chose the very day the appraiser was supposed to show up to be unceremoniously dumped by her greasy-ass biker boyfriend (whom I met) and go into hysterics. The appraiser didn’t show up, and that was the last straw. Fuck rescheduling, she shouted to my agent. She didn’t want to reschedule! She couldn’t take this! She couldn’t take the stress of rescheduling, let alone moving! She wasn’t sure she even wanted to sell!

My agent whose children I would bear if such a thing were biologically possible high-tailed it to my soon-to-be residence, let herself in, and spent the next hour comforting the seller. You do want to sell, my agent said as the seller sobbed. You do! You have a beautiful new property downtown! You can’t let this stop you from pursuing your dream! You have a bright future ahead of you! You’re smart and funny and have a great job! He wasn’t worth it anyway!

The seller sniffled a little, and seemed to be agreeing somewhat, but she wasn’t entirely convinced.

“And if you don’t sell,” my agent continued, “You’ll be sued for breach of contract by my client, and probably by the seller of your new property as well, and I can tell you from experience that you’ll be out a hell of a lot of money.”

The seller agreed to reschedule the appointment with the appraiser.

My agent is a total hard-ass, and I mean that as a compliment.

Nevertheless, the appointment was’t rescheduled quite in time to get the papers sent this morning to

The notary public. I met with her anyway, and the dozen-odd documents I needed to sign were still spilling out of the fax machine when I arrived. She was scrutinizing one of them closely when I settled into the seat across from her.

“Hmm,” she said. “When do you close?”

Tomorrow, I said. Wednesday, April 26.”

“This says the funds will be ready Friday, April 28.”


“That’s ok,” she said. “I can call them.”

Which would have been less of a problem if the folks preparing the documents weren’t three time zones away, and probably tucking their kids into bed instead of poring over boring legal documents in the office.

Except for one of them, who the notary managed to track down. He was very sorry! He’d get that fixed right now! He’d send over the new papers and talk to the bank first thing tomorrow morning! Everything would be taken care of, and I could sign the papers now!

I signed a bunch of papers. I signed everything except the cheque, which no one bothered to tell me had to be certified.

“Oh, you’ll have to go to the bank for that,” said the notary. “You can’t just write a personal cheque for [mid-five figures].”

“I need to go to a bank? What do they do, just put a seal on the cheque, right?”

“Yes, it should take less than ten minutes.”

“Don’t you have a seal, like right here?” I said. “Don’t all seals pretty much all look the same to anyone who isn’t looking terribly closely?”

She gave me a look that told me that lawyers think it’s really funny when you joke about having them help you commit fraud.

Fine, then; off to the bank tomorrow. To certify the bloody cheque. And then give it to the notary (in trust, always in trust), who will turn liquid assets into solid ones, by tomorrow morning, because that’s when the deal closes.

They promised me it would.


  1. Oh, oh, oh. The evil semi family members (well, some of the large cast of evil extended family) reneged on selling their house 2 years ago. Court case has now ended, and they lost: they need to sell their house at the *two year old* price, while they need to buy something at the current prices (I do not know if the buyers had a place to sell or were renting). Don’t renege when you sell your place!

    Getting a certified cheque cost me $5! I was so very pleased that it was not some number related to the (also five digit) cheque I had to have certified.

    - wolfa — 4/25/2006 @ 8:26 pm

  2. We just bought our first real estate last August, and if it weren’t for the fact that this house has only three bedrooms and we have four kids, I would be perfectly content to never buy a house again. A week before we were to close on the house (and after the deadline whereby we could back out for lack of financing), our loan officer informed us that since she had “forgotten” to pass on a crucial piece of information to Underwriting, we had no loan. This crucial piece of information, by the way, was the very first sentence in my very first e-mail to her, so it’s not like it was something we’d sprung on her at the last minute. For weeks I’d been calling her, saying “Do you have all the paperwork you need? Is everything on track?” and she’d assured me she had everything (this after asking us to re-fax over EVERY SINGLE DOCUMENT from two different states because Underwriting needed a copy and for some reason she couldn’t hand our file to the xerox machine and walk the copies down the hall). So a week before closing, when we’ve got moving trucks and jobs and school all lined up, she springs this on us. She was able to find financing at the last minute for us, but we ended up with a mortgage payment that’s more than what we’d pay for rent on a larger house than this, and we can’t re-fi for two years without incurring a penalty. And after we’d called her and called her to see if she needed any more documents, and we’d told her that it was a two hour drive to the closing, she called us an hour before closing (when she knew we’d be on the road and unable to turn back) and asked us to bring additional documents. Fifteen minutes before closing she informed us that we needed our check to be a certified check. Fortunately there was a branch of our bank a few blocks from her office.

    There is a nice cozy spot in Hell for loan agents.

    - Wacky Hermit — 4/26/2006 @ 4:21 am

  3. Ack! You’re scaring me! Our real estate agent suggested that we stress to our mortgage broker that we need to have the funds available by our closing date, since apparently many of them have trouble grasping this concept. But they all tell me everything “should” be fine…

    - Nikita — 4/26/2006 @ 5:47 am

  4. Good luck with the closing, MS. By coincidence, we just closed on our new house yesterday. It sounds like you’ve got a little bit more beaurocracy to deal with up there than we folk south of the border. Down here, I get the feeling that lenders pretty much want to toss money at anyone who asks.

    Now all we have to do is sell our old place. If you know anyone looking for a home in Erie, PA, please send them our way.

    - Kurt — 4/26/2006 @ 6:11 am

  5. * bureaucracy *

    Ugh. I thought that didn’t look right the way I had it spelled, but to be honest it’s one of those words that doesn’t look right when it’s spelled correctly, either. This software should let us edit our silly mistakes out of our comments.

    - Kurt — 4/26/2006 @ 6:54 am

  6. Closing on a house is more stressful than childbirth.

    All the people that you deal with are very casual about the mistakes that come up. I guess they deal with it every day and it’s not a big deal to them. The people that I was closing with couldn’t figure out a way to figure out how much $$# I needed to bring until two hours before I was to sign the final papers. Hey, what’s $10,000 between friends? You know, we all have that laying around and can come up with it at a moment’s notice.

    - Myrtle — 4/26/2006 @ 7:23 am

  7. Ok, back from the bank. Couldn’t get a cheque certified, but managed to get a bank draft, which is apparently also acceptable. Hey, everybody, guess what: you can only get a cheque certified at your own branch! It’s so great to learn these things when you’re at another branch, trying to get a cheque certified!

    Wolfa - oh, and selling at the two-year-old price is even worse in this market. The notary showed me how much my property was worth in 2005 and 2004, and I actually asked if there was a typo. It has increased in value eighty percent in the last two years. I knew that the properties in that neighbourhood had increased in value, but goddamn.

    Wacky Hermit - argh, that’s terrible! I also had to remind half a dozen parties of the timeline, and at one point the broker called me back and told me that oh, he’d told the bank that I needed these documents by Wednesday, but he’d call them again to tell them that I really needed them by Wednesday. Huh? As for your situation - sounds to me like you have grounds to sue, but that might be because I have an agent who gleefully tells me, at every available opportunity, “and if that falls through, you can sue…and if it turns out you’ve been misled about this you can sue…”

    Nikita - word of advice, get the funds ready well before closing date. I made the mistake of thinking that as long as my cheque cleared on the closing date, everything would be fine; however, it turns out that I need proof that I have the money now so that the broker can get everything approved by the bank, who will then send the appropriate papers to the lawyer on closing day (and not a minute before, as I learned). For obvious reasons I was a little apprehensive about leaving [mid five-figures] in my chequing account for a week, but so it goes.

    But apparently everything is fine now!

    Silver lining: I am taking pleasure in the little things, like the fact that I had my mortgage papers signed before rates jumped twice in as many weeks, settling at five point bloody four percent.

    - Moebius Stripper — 4/26/2006 @ 8:15 am

  8. Yep, this confirms it: I’m never buying property.

    - Kirsten Chevalier — 4/26/2006 @ 8:48 am

  9. Well, duh, buying a house is more stressful than giving birth. For one, after birth, your body releases all these nice chemicals that make you forget about the pain and awwwww…. coochee coochee coooo.

    After closing on a home, you’ve got to move out of the old one, into the new one, and invariably a bunch of stuff has gone “missing” because the movers decided they really didn’t care if they left one box behind. Maybe someone thought — hey! Free Christmas decorations!

    Anyway, best of luck on that closing.

    - meep — 4/26/2006 @ 12:11 pm

  10. MS, funny, I could get a certified cheque at any branch of my bank (Royal Bank, which now has the convenience of having an ATM 30 seconds from my house, but is otherwise not so wonderful). And yes, the person who bought mine about 2 years ago almost doubled her money by the time she left. The numbers here are lower, but the jump in values is not much different. (Though this area had a particularly high jump in value, which is continuing as we speak.)

    I was wondering about the interest rate. Lucky you.

    - wolfa — 4/26/2006 @ 7:03 pm

  11. One has one’s own branch of a bank? I wonder which branch that would be for me - the one at Stanford where I opened the account, or one of the ones in Berkeley? I don’t even know which locations are branches, rather than just a few ATMs and a guy in the back room!

    - Kenny Easwaran — 4/26/2006 @ 11:25 pm

  12. My house closing was FINE from our end. It was the sellers who had the problem: their mortgage company REFUSED to fax the title company with the information about how much money the sellers still owed (the “pay off” amount).

    The mortgage company that I worked with was crazy-trusting of me.

    Them: “Can you fill out this one-page application form that doesn’t ask for any supporting documentation?”
    Me: “Sure.”
    Them: “Do you have money for a down payment? How much?”
    Me: “I’ll be making a 20% down payment. I have the money here in a cardboard box in my closet.”

    Of course I live somewhere with cheap housing; it’s not like they were lending me a lot of money. In fact, housing here is so cheap that I’m thinking of buying a second house to use as rental property. (Yes, as in the “rent run-down ‘histortic’ home to college students” model.)

    - Rudbeckia Hirta — 4/27/2006 @ 2:41 am

  13. Kenny, that’s a very Canadian thing. I know people who got jobs here (from school in the US), tried to open a bank account, and had trouble, because they didn’t have a home address, and what if the branch they chose (close to the university) wasn’t the one closest to their home?

    They’ve loosened up a bit since, I am told.

    - wolfa — 4/27/2006 @ 4:10 am

  14. Everything closed! Yay! I still don’t have the keys, so I’m not going to feel completely good about this until I’m standing in the living room of the place, but still.

    Anyway, I was talking to a coworker of mine, who told me something completely insane: when he bought his first place, his agent said, “…and when you have the money for the down payment in your account, don’t spend it.”

    Apparently people do this all the time: they liquidate their assets a few days/weeks before closing, then look at the balance in their chequing account, think “ooh! I’m rich!” and blow it all on comics and candy. Then the deal falls through, because their cheque for the down payment doesn’t clear. What the hell? They can’t remember for five consecutive minutes why they have tons of money in their chequing account?

    - Moebius Stripper — 4/27/2006 @ 7:16 am

  15. Congratulations! And you’re kidding about that story, right? People spend their down payment just before closing, on something other than the down payment?

    - wolfa — 4/27/2006 @ 7:47 am

  16. Heh, I had the bank calling me once a week since I had a bunch of money in a GIC roll over into my bank account and just left it there since we were buying a condo the next month. Every few days someone would call and offer to put it in a GIC or some other fancy investment and then get really disappointed when they looked at all the numbers and realized that I couldn’t make any money in that time-frame and so they wouldn’t be getting their nice fat commission.

    I can totally see people spending the money though. I know a lot of people who figure out what they can afford to do based on how much money is in the account Friday night.

    - Today Wendy — 4/27/2006 @ 9:36 am

  17. Hearty congratulations, MS. Your story is a familiar one. To top it all off, no homebuyer can possibly understand all those documents we’re required to sign. It’s like when some stranger calls up and asks for your credit card number. The homebuyer’s exposure to disaster is total. It’s amazing more of us don’t get royally screwed.

    But now you have a new home and some great stories with which to regale your friends. They’ll have trouble believing some of it, but I do!

    - Zeno — 4/27/2006 @ 10:25 am

  18. Well, ya’all have absolutely convinced me to get financing before I even look for a house. Good grief. Actually, I’ve been told that doing this can help with negotiations if other people are interested in the same house, because you can go “Hey! I may be offering 10k less than the other people, but I’ve already got my financing, neener neener neener!”

    - tsiroth — 4/28/2006 @ 8:12 am

  19. Yes, apparently people spend down payment money on things other than the down payment. I truly don’t get it.

    tsiroth - yes, get financing, and get preapproved for a mortgage. Once you have that, and the seller accepts your offer, they’re bound to sell.

    Aaaand, new player in this drama: the financial adviser, who will get me mortgage insurance! I meet with him next week, and I already dislike him. (”And when we meet, I can tell you all about myself too! I’m sure you’ll be impressed; the broker is!”) What the hell is mortgage insurance, and how does it differ from the mortgage contract I signed?

    ETA: there was a little Q&A today in one of the free daily papers, of all places, and I learned that that if you’re making a down payment the size of mine, you don’t need mortgage insurance. The plot thickens…

    - Moebius Stripper — 4/28/2006 @ 10:27 am

  20. I’ve always heard of mortgage insurance as something the bank makes you buy if you have less than 20% equity. As far as I know, it protects them not you. If you really want to be able to pay off your mortgage in the case of your death or disability, I think life or disability insurance is a better buy, but I’m not sure. I do know that once we owned a home (with more than 20% equity), we’d get offers from people wanting to sell us mortgage insurance every day in the mail. That may be a clue as to who benefits…

    - StephanieO — 4/28/2006 @ 4:08 pm

  21. Do not get mortgage “insurance” if you are not required to by the lender. Seriously.

    No no no. You don’t even need life insurance, so you don’t need to worry about your mortgage getting paid off if you die. Disability insurance is a good thing to get, though. But that’s not related to having a mortgage.

    - meep — 4/29/2006 @ 12:36 am

  22. You don’t need mortgage insurance — that’s an extra %age you pay in interest if you have a low down payment. If possible, I’d try to get disability insurance (you can’t work, they pay mortgage premiums) and not death (you’re not leaving anyone in the lurch if they need to sell your condo) — and in any case, death would be better covered by term life insurance.

    - wolfa — 4/29/2006 @ 3:15 am

  23. Yeah, that’s my understanding, too. The specific reason my husband and I are saving to make a 20% down payment is so we won’t need to pay “PMI” — private mortgage insurance. On a down payment less than 20% most banks require it. Like Stephanie said, it protects the bank.

    - tsiroth — 4/29/2006 @ 3:35 am

  24. Ok, so here’s a tally:

    People who think I shouldn’t get mortgage insurance: Me; the expert quoted in the free daily paper the other day; StephanieO; meep; wolfa; tsiroth.

    People who think I should get mortgage insurance: the mortgage insurer.

    I’ll have to think about this.

    - Moebius Stripper — 4/29/2006 @ 5:03 pm

  25. When I bought my house, there was a full-court press to try to get me to buy mortgage insurance. The agent played his ace card: “What will happen to your loved ones if something happens to you?” I played a trump: “I have no loved ones.” Delivered deadpan. The agent crumpled. It was like splashing water on the wicked witch. I find it difficult to believe that he had never heard that riposte before, but he reacted as if completely surprised. I didn’t buy mortgage insurance.

    - Zeno — 5/1/2006 @ 7:49 pm

  26. Oh, Zeno, that’s rich.

    Also rich: the link that Gmail provided when I emailed my agent about this.

    - Moebius Stripper — 5/2/2006 @ 10:29 am

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