12 Dec 2007 4 pm eastern

Homeownership is a privilege, not a right

I need five certified checks for tomorrow’s closing. To get them, I’ve come to the Chase Bank nearest me with my checkbook, a pen, and a list of payees and dollar amounts I culled from a half-dozen of our lawyer’s e-mails.

(Names changed to protect the innocent: Dewey and Howe are the seller’s lawyers. Prescott is our lawyer. Lincoln is our mortgage broker.)

Dewey and Howe were supposed to send final figures well in advance of closing. Instead they’ve chosen not to correspond with us. As one of New York’s five oldest law firms, they only busy themselves when Tildens and Vanderbilts are involved.

Waiting in a long line gets me six pieces of paper to fill out. There’s an inch of free desk space by the front door, which is propped open to better circulate the December winds. The seventh time the December winds blow my paperwork across the lobby, I kick the doorstop across Park Avenue and pull the front door closed, not caring who sees me do it.

Now that the paperwork isn’t flying, I can find out what the bank needs from me before it will issue the certified checks.

One thing it needs is the addresses of the payees. Who knew? Not me, not our lawyer.

I call Prescott; he looks up the addresses on the internet while I scribble. (He can’t tell me the addresses by looking at paperwork, because Dewey and Howe haven’t sent any.)

I’m sweating and my writing hand is beginning to cramp.

Prescott, whose AOL e-mail account was having problems earlier in the day, is now receiving a flurry of messages from Lincoln the mortgage broker. In-between looking up payee addresses, Prescott tells me what’s in Lincoln’s e-mails.

What’s in Lincoln’s e-mails is an additional $5500 in fees that will be owed to various parties on top of the original cash motherload we paid at the beginning of this mess and the second two-ton payload we’re converting into certified checks at this moment. In the absurd economy of middle-class Manhattan home-buying, nearly overlooking an extra $5500 is like forgetting to mention the dollar charge for gift-wrap.

The throbbing Christmas music that has accompanied all action thus far seems inappropriately sedate as I cross the lobby perspiring like a bridegroom, bearing my newly filled-out forms.

Now I’m looking at two cashiers and praying I did the addition right. (Long story. Short version: you have to subtotal all the amounts yourself before this bank will issue you more than one certified check at once.)

Now I’m looking at three cashiers working on my certified check order. The one twenty years younger than me is the senior cashier in charge.

The third cashier working on my order says I have nice handwriting.

Now it’s just me and the littlest cashier.

Now I have my five certified checks.

Now I have to proofread them against the payee list I compiled earlier. Thousand thousand thousand thousand thousand and 44 cents.

Amused by my aura of suppressed hysteria, the littlest cashier says have a nice day.

Thank you, I say, meaning it.

[tags]sentfrommyiphone, homebuying, homeownership, NYC, apartment, home, bank, banking[/tags]

Filed under: experience, family, glamorous, homeownership, poverty

32 Responses to “Homeownership is a privilege, not a right”

  1. Wilfred Nas said on

    Jeffrey, good luck. It seems that buying a house in the states is much more trouble that in the netherlands. At least it makes good reading…

    I hope that all will fall in to place and wish you the best of luck and much happiness in your new home.

  2. John Lascurettes said on

    Ugh. Ick. Ew. I don’t know why it’s different for you, but all four times I’ve purchased a home on the west coast, the Escrow agency did all the bulldogging to get the right information to or from all parties involved.

    Chin up. Hopefully the rest of the year gets smoother from here.

  3. Dave Bastian said on

    At least none of the listed firms is Dewey, Cheatham & Howe.

  4. Chris J. Davis said on

    And this is reason #235 that I am glad that I don’t live in Manhattan. You have much more fortitude than I do Jeffrey. Congrats on getting one step closer!

  5. jason said on

    I remember being nervous when I went to the bank to get the certified check to put down on our house. I was so nervous, in fact, that my signature didn’t quite match the signature card the bank had and they almost didn’t believe I was who I said I was.

    Glad to hear you made it through the closing gauntlet.

    Congratulations on the new place.

    (BTW, I got to this post via following you on Twitter)

  6. Kyle Steed said on

    I hope everything smooths out for you. My wife and I are in the final weeks of buying a condo and just had our inspection done. I can’t believe you pay so much though, but I guess it is New York. I, personally, couldn’t imagine ever paying that much for what I’m sensing is not a lot of space.

    So best of luck to you and your wife and have a Merry Christmas.

  7. Ricky Irvine said on

    I really enjoy the way you compose and share these little bits of life.

  8. Gail Dedrick said on

    I’m surprised that one of the “New York’s five oldest law firms” would bother with the real estate transaction of a 2 br co-op. Unless it was part of a large estate or one of their own partners is selling it.

  9. Jeremy said on

    Thanks for that play by play – we just moved into our new place and reading that we’re not the only ones having to jump through moving hoops is somewhat reassuring. I hope it goes smoothly for you from here on in.

  10. Tim said on

    Not to scare you too much, but…

    We showed up to closing on our first house with the agreed upon certified check. We didn’t have much money, but what little we had was there. As we walked in to the closing session the broker was on the phone with the lending institution. Seems that the lender suddenly didn’t like the small amount we were putting down and wanted to change the agreement.

    While the broker was on the phone scribbling new possible amounts — which we didn’t have, let alone in a certified check — I was talking into her other ear. I told her if one number or letter on the document changed I was walking out the door. We had an agreement, I had the agreed upon money in hand and that was all anyone was getting, take it or leave it.

    In the end, the lender agreed to go ahead with the original plan. We then had to sign a forest worth of documents.

    Just wait until you sell the abode — you get to do two closing sessions!

  11. jim said on

    I’ve owned two homes in my life. Buying the first one was easily the most stressful event I’ve experienced. When our kids become school aged, it was time buy a different home near decent public schools.

    The second home was every bit as stressful AND required contractors – do you need contractors? I hope not. It makes what you are going through seem like a warm up.

    Have a good day (I mean it).

  12. Dale Cruse said on

    I can’t even tell you how jealous I am.

  13. Daniel said on

    Yeap. Sounds about right.

  14. Ian Muir said on

    Ah, I do not envy you. My wife and I just purchased our first house a few months ago. I never thought that I would work so hard to put myself a quater million in debt.

    Good luck, and just remember that it’s worth it in the end.

  15. Christopher said on

    Good luck Jeffrey, it will all be over soon. I’ve recently gone through this myself. The frequent check signing and document faxing was…unpleasant.

  16. John Hattan said on

    Have fun with it. Just as a lark, my wife and I counted how many signatures and initials we had to make at our closing. IIRC, it was 36 signatures and 56 initials each.

    Post your count for your entry. We’ll see if New York closings have more initials than Texas ones.

  17. mike said on

    wow, i guess my escrow company handled all the nastiness for me.

  18. Ray McK said on

    You want to reconsider standing in line for the Madison Square Garden tickets. I’ll pay you ; )

  19. John Lampard said on

    “In the absurd economy of middle-class Manhattan home-buying, nearly overlooking an extra $5500 is like forgetting to mention the dollar charge for gift-wrap.”

    We’re told (locally of course) that Sydney is one of the most expensive places in the world to buy property, but I never had to jump through that many hoops to settle on our place. One lawyer handled the whole deal, and they issued all the cheques (six or seven from memory) as well. It’ll all be worth it on settlement day though :)

  20. Jeffrey Zeldman said on

    Hoop-jumping isn’t abnormal in the U.S., I’m told by friends who already own homes. One, who lives far from NYC, wrote to me about today’s closing:

    “Keep your wrist on ice, you’ll be signing like a retired third-baseman at a card show.”

  21. Gail Dedrick said on

    Jeffrey, correct me if I am wrong, but you are not just buying a house, you are buying into a cooperative, correct? Essentially joining a Limited Liability Company — which adds a whole other layer of stuff. Just buying a house can be a bit more straight forward.

    Still, it requires good luck and good cheer! Sending you both from the Upper West Side.

  22. Kevin Pelletier said on

    Good Luck Jeffrey. I wish you the very best! I’m almost done with your book and it has helped me a bunch!

  23. Dean Collins said on

    The part that bothered me the most was when they ripped out my soul, put it in an old mayonnaise jar, then handed it to the mortgage company.

  24. Daryn St. Pierre said on

    Hi Jeffrey. I hope everything from here on isn’t as stressful as this situation sounds. I have a cousin that works and lives in Manhattan and he’s one of the most restless people I know. He’s moved repeatedly. I can’t don’t want to imagine what he goes through. Luckily for him he bought a house outside of the city so hopefully he didn’t have to go through as much red tape as you encountered.

    All the best!

  25. Patrick said on

    Congrats, Jeffrey!

    The pain is worth it, although I wish it wasn’t so darn complicated.

  26. Bill Dolan said on

    Good luck with the new place! Good advice about keeping your signing wrist on ice. My signature had degraded to just a flat line through signing 27 papers including the last one with the burnt edges that smelled of brimstone.

  27. Carolyn Wood said on

    Your story sounds awfully similar to that fish puzzle they had at Coudal. I love those puzzles. I’ve figured out who the seller’s lawyers are, who your lawyer is, who the accountant is, who sent the addresses they were supposed to, and so on. Using a homemade chart, some PHP, simple logic, and the help of family members, my final answer is: Zeldman, in the little hat, with a headache, excess perspiration, bad dreams, and empty pockets.

    With sympathy,

  28. thacker said on

    Imagine being able to go to the bank’s Web site, drag and drop digital information from those e-Mails onto the Bank’s Web form, quickly research the Payees’ address from the Internet, drag and drop that data onto the Bank’s Web form, attach your digital signature to the form and transmit. Don’t forget to save an encrypted copy of the form to your hard disk. Naturally, the fees and transaction amounts from the saved form will automatically be entered into your accounting software. Walk into the branch, provide additional authentication/verification if needed and pick-up the Cashier/Certified checks.

    Now the questions that you may want to ask yourself, how is that going to happen and when. The market will wait that long for development of open standards or will private APIs and frameworks fill that void. Just food for thought for an evolution to Net 2.0.

  29. Foo Fighter said on

    That’s interesting. I’ve bought two homes and sold one. I certainly wasn’t stressed about it at all. I took care of my finances, did my homework, hired pros to guide me, and signed after reading the small print. If someone screwed up I knew it wasn’t me and I’d covered the bases so I wouldn’t get screwed myself. I guess we country bumpkin in the fly-over states are just naive that way.

  30. Angie said on

    Me and my husband own two homes, one we live in, the other is a rental property. Buying that first one was easily the most stressful times of our lives!! Good luck with everything.

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