Sunday, November 21, 2010

Homeownership Achieved

It’s almost done. I’m almost a homeowner. Everything is signed, and everything is paid. Just waiting two more days for keys to be put in my hand and then we’re set.

Many of my friends are astonished I ever bought a house. For many years I was virulently opposed to the very concept of buying a house. This is because my first job in the software industry was working on mortgage software. Specifically mortgage compliance software, which means software to help banks generate the mountains of documentation that the government requires them to in order to protect consumers. And what I learned is that the government doesn’t actually have any rules that say that the bank isn’t allowed to screw you. They only have rules that say that if the bank screws you, you have to agree to it. Which you might think you wouldn’t do, but then when the bank presents you with 100 pages of documents, you just sign them. You, house owner: you didn’t actually read those 100 pages of legalese, did you? No, of course not. So you actually have no idea how many many ways you agreed that the bank could screw you.

So, basically, working on mortgage software is kind of like working at Burger King: pretty soon you swear you’ll never eat fast-food again.

Of course, eventually, you do.

The problem is that the advantages of renting haven’t been working out for me lately. What, you say to yourself? there are no advantagtes to renting! You say that to yourself because you have been programmed to believe that. In our country (I’m speaking of the USA), home ownership is touted as the ultimate goal: the thing everyone must achieve. If you do not achieve it, in fact, then you are “homeless,” right? And what a great sadness that is. Never mind that this relentless single-minded drive to make everyone a homeowner nearly resulted in the collapse of the entire global financial market. Nope, the main point is that, when you rent, you’re just “throwing your money away” every month.

This is, quite frankly, hogwash. When you rent, you’re paying someone for a service. That service is to maintain a house, in good repair, that you can live in. You don’t have to pay the bank’s outrageous interest on it. You don’t have to pay the property taxes on it. You don’t have to pay the insurance on it. And you don’t have to pay any repair bills on it. Something goes wrong, you just pick up the phone and your landlord takes care of it. Done. Anyone who tells you that you will save money by buying a house is outright lying to your face. I heard all that crap about cars too: You’re always driving these old piece of shit cars, and they’re always breaking down ... why, it would actually cost you less just to buy a new car! Then the warranty covers whatever goes wrong! Bullshit. I have absolutely not saved money by buying a new car, nor does the warranty cover “everything.”

But there were other reasons that I broke down and finally bought a new car at 38, and there are other reasons that I’m finally buying a house at 44. First off, I’ve had two extremely crappy landlords in a row: my Maryland landlord never fixed anything and then stiffed us on our security deposit, and my California landlord never fixed anything and ended up losing his house. So that whole concept of just picking up the phone and having this or that fixed? Yeah, not really happening. (Now, if I could have had landlords like my last Virginia landlord, that would have been a different story.) And it turns out that, the older you get, the more you really want to be able to just do whatever the hell you feel like to the house you’re living in. Oh, you will pay for that privilege, never doubt it. But sometimes it’s worth it.

So I must stress to my friends that the reasons I said I’d never buy a house still stand. They just got overwhelmed by other reasons.

But, these last few weeks, I can’t help but be forcibly reminded of the whole reason I swore off homebuying in the first place. This experience of closing the loan and dealing with all the people required for that process has been the most horrific of my life. Which I suppose says something about how overall nice my life has been, so I should really try to look at it that way, but, just for today, I’m not. I must charge you once again to avail yourself of this opportunity to look up at the masthead and seriously reconsider this expenditure of your time. Because, basically, you’re not getting anything more out of this rant. It’s mainly here so that I can purge all this venom from my system.

Now, I’ve already had a chance to complain about people who are too stupid to operate email, so I won’t repeat myself on that score. But just suffice it to remind my non-existent audience that, because I actually have to deal with these morons in person, I’m already a wee bit cranky. Next, let’s talk about how antsy people get when you actually try to read the crap they want you to sign. They can’t come out and say that you shouldn’t read it. But they’re certainly not above implying what a moron you are for reading it. “I’ve never had anyone pick up the documents to review before!” Yeah, I’m too stupid to understand what you meant there, Chuckles. Thanks. “Well, you understand that these are legal forms and we can’t really change them.” First of all, you goddamn well can change them if you want to. If you want my half a million (nearly a million, after interest and finance charges) dollars, you’ll fall all over yourself to change them. And, secondly, just because it won’t change is no reason that I shouldn’t understand just how badly I’m getting bent over here.

And, while we’re on the topic of dealing with people who could stand to be nicer, could someone explain to me the inverse ratio between value of purchase and quality of customer service? I go to the dollar store, clerks are nice as hell. At, say, the Wal-mart, employees may be mildly less helpful, but at least they still act like they’re doing their best. If I go to a high-end electronics store, it’s roughly 50-50 whether I get anyone to even pay attention to me. At a fancy furniture store, I have to practically beg for someone to wait on me. At a car dealership, they’re doing me a favor by deigning to serve me. And for a house? I am lower than the scum they have to scrape from their shoes. I exist for one thing: to sign the papers that make them money, and, if I’m not doing that, they need to figure out how to get rid of me as soon as possible.

Now, we do have a real estate agent. And he’s actually quite personable ... to a point. He already figured out that I was the pain in the ass party in the house-buying process, so he doesn’t really talk to me any more. He doesn’t respond to email of course, but he doesn’t call me on the phone either. He always calls the mother. Yesterday, I called him for something and got his voice mail; she called ten minutes later and he answered the phone. I suppose he just then walked in, eh?

And it’s radically downhill after we move on from the real estate agent. My loan officer is pretty nice, but she hates me. Well, I say “is pretty nice,” but it might be more accurate to say “was pretty nice until she got my signed papers back and now we don’t really talk.” My “escrow officer” was a complete nightmare. And the notary who had to put up with me asking questions about every document she shoved in front of me was barely capable of restraining herself from stabbing me in the eye with her pen.

Speaking of signing things, that part was completely ridiculous too. Being the freak that I am, I read all the documents. This isn’t as hard as it sounds, because mostly they all say the same thing. So reading the first ten pages or so is hard work, and, after that, you just start going, “blah de blah, yeah yeah, already read that, yadda yadda, same ol’ bullshit, moving on ...” Hell, I signed the exact same form four times at one point. Not similar forms, like when I signed the “Uniform Loan Application” (a.k.a. “1003”) three times—that was actually three slightly different forms that were just mainly the same. No, this was four different copies of the exact same form. Just in case they lost one? or three?

And most of the stuff that was ostensibly different was the government telling me how they were protecting me by making the bank disclose all their evil ways in language I couldn’t possibly interpret, or the banks doing the most elaborate CYA dance in the world by advising me that every disaster known to humankind might befall my house, and it certainly wouldn’t be their fault. Okay, advising me that my house might get hit by an earthquake: sure, I live in California now, that one makes sense. Advising me that my house might contain mold, or lead-based paint ... well, okay, that doesn’t seem that likely, but I guess. But after a while it just gets silly. At one point I actually had to sign something acknowledging that if my house happened to be located near a golf course, it might get damamged by golf balls. Really? I would have never imagined such a thing. Thank God you informed me! Never mind that the nearest golf course is 3 miles away. It could be a really bad slice.

So now it’s basically over, thank <insert deity of choice>. For some insane reason you don’t sign docs on closing day in California like a normal state. So closing isn’t for two more days, but the signing is done and I’ve paid everything they’ve asked of me. So I don’t think there’s anything that can go wrong at this point (certainly nothing was mentioned in all the documents I signed), but, hey, who knows? The main thing I’m thankful for (as we approach the holiday where I need to be thinking about such things) is that, after a few more days, I will never have to deal with these people again.


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