This whole buying a house thing has truly been a production. And like every good (and bad) production, there’s a collection of characters who cause all the drama:
The sellers agent: slick salesman with a heart of gold (and LED side business)
The first time I walked up to the house, there is a man in a black pea coat handing a drill to another man in one of those shiny baseball jackets. It turns out they are drilling a new lock to the front door of the house. No, I don’t know what happened to the old lock.
The man in the pea coat holds out his hand and introduces himself as the agent. The other man nods in my direction as the agent identifies him as the current owner.
Holding up his pea coat to his face, the agent gestures me to follow him inside and tells the owner he can handle showing me around.
“It kind of smells” is the first thing he says as I walk through the threshold. He doesn’t say much as we walk through the house besides be careful, no we can’t get that door open, you can just look at the backyard from up here, and why don’t we talk more once we’re outside.
As soon as we get outside and I fire off my list of questions though, the salesman in him reappears. Almost every answer is I’ll take care of it, 50k in renovations tops, the short sale bank gets back to us fast, stick with me and I’ll get you this house (thereisthesmallissuesofaseventhousanddollarwaterbillbutyoucanfinancethat). He also gives me the line about how he’s gotten a million offers on this house, but, he says, from mostly investors who lowball the price because they want to flip it.
“I intend to live in it after I renovate it,” I say.
His eyes light up. “That’s the best case scenario. They don’t care about all cash buyers like other banks. They say get someone who will get a mortgage, we don’t care. Let’s put in an offer to the bank.” He tells me the amount he thinks they will take and tells me to reduce it by 10k. “Let’s see what we can get.”
I sign the offer letter and we shake hands again. Let’s see what we can get.
The Owner: the guy playing the tree because they ran out of speaking parts
In a short sale, the actual owner of the house has almost little do with the negotiating. He is technically the person who is legally signing contracts, amendments, closing documents, etc. We’ll meet him at the closing table. But really, his role in this whole thing is limited to being inconveniently on vacation when we need a very important document signed and sent to the bank on 10 days or less.
The Seller’s Bank: the man behind the curtain
Now here’s where the smoke and mirrors really start. There are requirements this bank has and then there are arbitrary preferences they make up along the way that aren’t really requirements so much as they-may-as-well-be-requirements-for-us-to-look-at-your-file-but-technically-we-can’t-force-you-to-have-these. Like having a contract drawn up before we even submit an offer letter. Which meant we had to scramble to find an attorney ASAP to contact the seller’s attorney to have him draw up the contract so we could review the contract and send it with the offer letter I signed two weeks ago.
Or the time the agent talked to one person who said the total settlement charges could be 10% of the offer price and then received another rejection notice stating they couldn’t be more than 8% of the total settlement charges, and then got someone on the phone who said they couldn’t be more than 10% of the settlement charges. Who’s on first?
Or the time we were under the impression that they wouldn’t pay the outstanding water bill, but somehow it fit into the settlement charges so they agreed to pay them.
The buyer’s attorney: the fast-talking, no bullshit, career superwoman (and mom) who you definitely want on your side of the table
The first time we meet her, she tells us to take a seat and then literally does not stop talking until we leave, making it clear that she 1. knows her shit, 2. you don’t disagree with her, 3. she’s always right, and 4. she’s never wrong.
While she’s explaining the process (and asking us if we understand without waiting for us to answer), she takes a very quick call from a client, demonstrating 1-4 above telling the client she is with another client right now, but she couldn’t believe the other guy thought he could get away with what he tried to do and wasn’t she right to predict that he would try it anyway, but she can’t really talk right now because she’s with other clients, but didn’t she tell you he would try to get away with it and then he did?
She also is someone who never forgets a conversation, especially when it proves 1-4, and loves citing exactly what she was doing when the conversation took place as proof that she remembered. She never uses emotion to get what she wants, only the facts. Adamantly the facts.
We left her office thinking she was a badass, and we were not proven wrong.
The seller’s attorney: the jaded, lazy would-be villain who just can’t be bothered
“I know this attorney very well,” my attorney tells us when she sees his name. “We’re good friends. He’s very lazy though. Sometimes I’ve ended up doing his work for him just to move things along.” She laughs and we nervously laugh with her.
And then #3 and #4 above come true. This is a man who goes through the motions, at least for this particular case, and acts like he’s been through this one too many times to get his hopes up that this time around is going to be the last time. You later find out from your attorney that you are the fourth person who’s tried to buy the house in the last year and a half and he just can’t waste more time on this.
He is never available to speak on the phone, he always seems to be out of the office until 4 pm every day (but never gets in before 11 am), and his assistant never knows what’s going on in the office, despite the fact that she is the one who manages his schedule and paperwork. It takes him at least a week of constant prodding to get anything done, and to really get something done, you have to phone-yell or e-yell at him.
He is technically the villain in the sense that he proved to be the obstacle and main conflict in the whole story, but villain would also be giving him too much credit as it implies that he had any intention or motive.
The buyer’s loan officer: the number cruncher who keeps it moving
This is the key supporting character in the whole thing. He stays out of the drama as much as possible and is mostly unassuming. You ask him a question he answers. He tells you the rules and then tells you how it actually plays out in real life. You call him when you need someone to remind you that everything takes time and it’s all going to get done and no, we can’t make any promises, but we will do our best to get it done.
He is very nonchalant about the fact that he is about to give you hundreds of thousands of dollars that will take you 30 years to pay back and he is going to scrub every part of your financial life to make sure you sure will pay it back.
The contractor: the guy who is down for whatever
This guy gets it. You’re a young couple who is is buying their first house and has decided to also undertake the project of gutting and renovating said house. He knows you’re going to want it how you want it but also need to keep it within a very strict budget.
He’s real. He walks through the house thoroughly and takes good notes, helps envision what the backyard should look like (“maybe you want to put a bench or swinging chair in this corner”), and shows that he’s human too and wants to help you build something you’re going to be excited to live in, not just some cookie-cutter job that the investors who come to him ask for.
The seller’s agent’s assistant: the quiet heroine who holds the whole show together
You ask her how long she’s been working for the agent (because you’re thinking she must have been working for him for years to know everything she knows) and she says 8 months.
Without thinking, you exclaim, how did he ever do all this without you! and she laughs and humbly says, yeah, he says the same thing every day.
You call her at least once a day, sometimes a few times a day when you’re feeling really manic, and she gets to work, calling who she needs to call, faxing who she needs to fax, and emailing who she needs to email. You air your frustrations out on her and she says, I know, I agree, and I wish I could do it myself. When the agent answers the phone, you ask to speak to her instead because while he’s the guy whose name goes on the commission check, even he’s acknowledged that she’s the brains behind the operation.
You attribute any relative sanity you’ve maintained throughout this whole process because you know she’s on your side (really) and does whatever she can to keep it moving.
This one’s definitely getting flowers.
The chorus line: the appraisers, surveyors, HUD consultant, expediter, underwriter, etc.
It’s unbelievable to you how many people get involved and need to get paid even before the house is yours. I’m sure I’m missing someone, but they’ll definitely be waiting in the wings for their cut.
The buyers: she – crazy, he – okay with the crazy
And then there’s the two of you. Idealistic, new, naive, working hard to be taken seriously and being reminded every day that you’re the young couple who’s trying to do grown up things.
It’s an every day thing for four months that it feels like it’s never gonna happen and that it better fucking happen.
The day the call comes that the short sale is approved, she misses it because she’s having lunch with a friend and complaining to her about how this short sale is never going to end (and explaining to her that a short sale is when the seller owes more money on the mortgage than the house will sell for and the bank is willing to forgive the difference).
She calls him and says, baby we got it.
Baby, we got it.