Day 78 & 79: Homeownership

December 30, 2014:  Buying the House

We spent Christmas in Destin. We knew we were supposed to close on the house before the new year, we just didn’t know quite when and what the entire process would look like. In retrospect, we really didn’t have a great realtor. The entire process was poorly coordinated and rushed, in order to finish before the new year. Our realtor, who should’ve been on “our side” was incredibly flippant with us as clients, cursorily explaining things to us, not making crystal clear the timing and deadlines for making requests from the seller. It was probably because we’re young, first time homeowners, who she wasn’t going to make a lot of money off of, so she just didn’t really care about doing a good job. Maybe we should’ve done our homework better–we thought we were doing our due diligence, and we discussed things with my parents as we went along, but New Orleans is a special place in terms of issues that come up in houses so we realized after it was all done that we definitely should’ve talked to people who’d gone through the process in this city since our realtor ended up glossing over a lot of information in order to get a quick, end-of-year sale. She wasn’t even at our closing, she was on vacation, and she didn’t make sure someone else handled our closing with care.

Anyway, we finally got the call the day after Christmas–we were going to close early the next week–and we needed to have our money ready (a money order or a wire transfer only) for that day. This is when the issues and mistakes started to reveal themselves. First, no one could tell us the exact amount that needed to be on this money order/wire transfer until some unknown time the morning we were supposed to close. The problem with that is my bank is in Florida (no branches in LA yet) and either getting a cashier’s check money order doing a wire transfer would require my physical presence at the bank, which would be impossible to do AND make the 4.5 hour drive back to New Orleans in time for the closing. So we had to go through a huge circus act in order to figure out a solution: we rushed to the bank that night, right before it closed, my parents rushed to meet us there, and we added one of them to my account so they could make the transaction for me. It was a good thing we did, because we didn’t get the phone call with the closing amount until almost 11 this morning–our closing was for 2 PM.

Our next issue was not having a copy of a single page of the final agreement in our hands before closing, and when I asked, everyone I spoke to responded to me like my request was unreasonable. I sure wasn’t about to walk into closing on a huge investment like that without some time to read through the materials. They ended up only giving me a summary —like 2 pages–better than nothing I suppose

When we got back in town we went to the house to do the routine, make-sure-it’s-still-standing, check before we went to the closing. Since again, my realtor was on vacation, the other realtor (for the seller, i.e. the bank), met us there. After a slight misunderstanding that resulted in a somewhat harsh exchange, she lightened up and actually started giving us an abundance of information that our own realtor had neglected to give us. It was really at that moment that both Efrem and I had the “aha” moment that our realtor was awful.

When we finally got TO the closing, it became very clear why we really should’ve had a copy of the paperwork before hand. Error after error after error. First of all, the lawyer was trying to rush through the paperwork like he was selling me door-to-door life insurance. I quickly shut that down. He tried to rebut my request to slow down by saying that it was all “standard language,” but last I checked neither Efrem nor I were lawyers and there is nothing, absolutely nothing, standard about legal jargon. Between wrong information about me, Efrem’s name repeatedly misspelled, dropped information about which side was covering specific payments, and me trying to actually understand each detail of the longest contract of my life, the entire closing took about 2 hours. Everyone was incredibly impatient, except the bank representatives, who ironically were the only ones at the table trying to advocate for us, also asking the lawyers to slow down and give clear explanations. They also filled in a lot of information we didn’t know we didn’t know about transferring utilities, the homestead exemption, etc.

Anyway, by the end of it all, despite the fact that we could see the champagne sitting in the other room waiting to be poured to celebrate our closing, it was never actually offered to us. Not only did it take TWO lawyers to finish our paperwork (I guess the first lawyer hadn’t anticipated we’d want to understand the paperwork and scheduled a dentist appointment soon after our closing was supposed to start, so he left and his boss actually took over), but as soon as everyone got their payouts they literally jumped out of their seats and left. No picture, no toast.

What should’ve been celebratory just left a bad taste in both our mouths. Neither of us really knew how to feel, but it certainly didn’t feel like the accomplishment it was. There was no weight off our shoulders or relief that we would get to move in. Both of us actually just sat in the car after it was over and just looked at each other like, ‘what just happened?’

Then we called our absentee realtor to ask her about some of the errors (that were her fault) as well as the complementary concierge service that their agency offers that she never told us about (her boss, the owner of that real estate agency, who came on her behalf, half way through closing, informed us of this service after he asked us how it was working for us and we told him we had no idea what he was talking about). The crazy part of the conversation with her was she acted as though she was the one who had called to remind us about these facts and not the other way around; she literally said “I’m so glad I remembered to tell you about…” Efrem and I sat in the car looking incredulous, and actually, after we ended the call, he furiously called her out of her name, which was so shocking to me that I actually bursted out laughing. It was the first time all day that either of us had really smiled.

We decided to try and will ourselves to be excited by trying to find a place for a celebratory dinner. We thought we’d get oysters, BUT, little did we know, there was an LSU game going on and trying to find a place to eat close to our apartment was nearly impossible. So to recap, we had a disappointing closing, dreary weather, and bad timing for trying to get past the two prior issues to eat out in celebration. Feeling a bit defeated, we went back to our apartment. We did go for dinner well after the game ended–no oysters, but it was still good. The entire thing was anti-climactic, but hey, we’re homeowners. Maybe the reality of it all will sink in later.

December 31, 2014: First New Year’s Eve

It’s COLD. I’ve never actually spent New year’s eve in New Orleans, and of course the one year I do, it’s pretty damn cold outside. I kind of wanted us to go to the French Quarter, but once we realized that not only would it be packed with regular tourists, but the Sugar Bowl crazies as well, we decided to pass. So instead we opted to meet up with some friends and watch the fireworks in Crescent Park in the Bywater. It was overall a pretty low-key evening, and we didn’t stay out much past midnight since we were still pretty tired from the unexpectedly draining process of home buying. But who can deny the fun in standing in the park, drinking passed champagne straight from the bottle, and dancing on top of a bench to stay warm while watching fireworks. It was a good night with good people.