House Hunting Episode 4

Episode 4: It was supposed to get less weird when we found a house!  OR If you can’t be a good example, be a horrible warning.

We found a house!

Hallelujah!

Life can start happening again!

Oh, wait, this reality is just as bizarre as house hunting.  At least it’s less time consuming… that’s something right?  Right?

There’s this phrase that I love ‘If you can’t be a good example, at least be a horrible warning’.  Let this be a lesson to those who come after us.  The laws governing house sales and finance changed in 2008 and some of the after effects are looking-glass weird if no one explains them.  Ok, even if someone explains them, they’re still mock-turtle weird, just easier to accept as reality.  Here’s my disclaimer: This is the information as I understand it.  I’m not a mortgage broker or a realtor.  I’m just a person buying a house.  If you experience any of this, for the sake of your diminishing sanity: Ask all the questions!  No, don’t ask me, ask your realtor, broker and bank.

So, before you even started looking for a house, you got pre-approved for financing.  You did that, right?  You spent hours digging up last years W2s, figuring out how to print your bank statements (Who does hard copies anymore!), and pulling pay stubs before you went to the broker’s office.  Then you spent an hour or more answering questions, signing documents and generally verifying that you’re worthy to be their client.

A little while goes by and the broker tells you that you’ve been approved for a loan of ludicrous size and they send you a copy of your current credit score as a courtesy.  Actually, they’re legally obligated to let you have a copy – which is neat.  I still don’t have an explanation for the size of the ludicrous loans people are ok’d for: Sure, we could cover the size loan we were approved for, but we’d never eat anything but Ramen again.  What’s the fun of owning a house if your cabinets only have cardboard noodles and MSG in them?

Next, you spend a painful, emotionally distressing period of time house hunting.  It’s amazing how stressful just the thought of not having a home is.  I’ve been fortunate enough to never experience homelessness and just knowing that our house had sold and we didn’t yet have a place to move gave me a tick of stress that ratcheted up just a little every day.  The day I get the keys to our new house I need to make a donation to a homeless shelter – because damn, that was stressful and it was nothing in comparison.

Now, you’ve bid on the house, had the offer accepted (Hooray!) and everything that’s left is supposed to just be paperwork and details.  This process uses so much time and money from so many people it’s  like a flaming tar pit that you just sacrifice dollar bills and pocket watches to. There has got to be a more efficient way to do this now that we have computers. And calculators. And freaking email!  It feels like it’s all still getting done by abacus and pony messenger.

Now you get to talk to the Title company – they’re this neutral third party that makes sure the house you’re buying is something you can legally buy.  The Data Analyst in my brain screams that all of this information should be in a single database somewhere in the country since house sales are PUBLIC RECORD.  Title insurance should have become unnecessary 10 years ago – between the IRS, NSA and Homeland Security I find it hard to believe that ownership of any property is still in question unless there’s an active lawsuit.  Sigh…yes, I’m sure there’s real legal needs for it, but from an average house buyers perspective, it all looks incredibly stupid and wasteful.  The Title company also often takes care of Escrow accounts to cover property taxes.

Which brings us to Oregon property taxes.  Fun fact: Oregon property taxes are paid in November of this year for July of this year through July of next year.  So if you’ve ever wondered why escrow amounts always look strange: its because they are.  The good news is if you sold your house, the bank has to give you back the money left in your escrow account almost immediately.   They can’t legally keep it for a year…Which a bank did to us pre-2008 when that a**hattery was still legal.

Then there’s the mortgage broker.  The weird financial matchmaker for love-less loans and their hair raising paraphernalia.  This side of things, I think they were probably a good idea for us.  If for no other reason than I had a person with an accessible office that I could send all my questions to and get answers..  The mortgage broker handled getting all the documentation from us that the lender required.  So when they asked us for something I thought was weird, I could email or call and say something like ‘WTF do they need to know that for – it’s creepy!’

The first time I saw the list of documents from the broker, I freaked out a little bit because it’s creepy from a privacy standpoint.  They want to know way more than I’m comfortable telling.  Before I handed it over I made them tell me why they needed it.  It went something like this:

  • Most recent 30 days pay-stubs for each of you – Sure, they need to verify that we’re still making the money we were when they approved us for the loan
  • W2 forms for the past 2 years:  Ok, sure, they’re making sure we’ve continually made the money they expect for the past 2 years.
  • Federal tax returns for the past 2 years.  Not the summary sheet, the ENTIRE tax packet for the last 2 years.  Including contributions to charity, union membership, medical expenses and anything else you had to claim.   This was getting personal and a little creepy to me.  I don’t like sharing that information with anyone – it reeks of giving someone enough information to deny you a loan because they don’t approve of your political party or union or church.
  • Most recent 2 months statements from all checking and savings accounts.   This is what sent me over the edge – I definitely don’t think it’s any financial officers business where I ate dinner, what stores I spent money in or how often I go to the arcade.  We live in an age of debit cards so the details of all those purchases show up on our bank statements now.

I got the list first and called my partner in crime about it.  His immediate response was ‘No, that’s crazy.  That can’t be what they’re asking for’.  Except it is.  That 2008 law made changes that allow lenders to look for undisclosed expenses and unreported debt/income ratios.  They’re not supposed to care that I donate to Planned Parenthood or buy fudge sundaes way more days than is healthy.

That Federal tax return is so they can see undisclosed rental properties, self-employment, and spousal support that was recorded out of state.   The bank statements are so they can see if you borrowed against a credit card to make your down payment, got  a down payment from the seller without telling the bank, or if you got the down payment from friends or family that you’ll have to pay back.  So, there’s a pretty good reason for the bank asking for the documents, but I’m still a little squidgy about it.

Once you turn all the documents over, you wait. For WEEKS while paper acolytes pin each document to the sacred vault wall and perform intricate supplications to the gods of Wall Street and Hysteria for a sign that you’ve been approved to receive the holy grail of house buying: The Closing Documents.  I’m sure there’s more to it than that, but every time I called to ask what day we’d be ready to close all I heard was chanting and muffled drumming.  Once I thought I heard a human sacrifice screaming in the background but it was probably just someone getting a paper cut.  Yeah, I’m sure it was just a really bad paper cut.

Magically, one day you get a call and they tell you that you have to be at an office you’ve never seen before to sign papers and you have to get to the bank today (Right Now!)  to get a cashier’s check for the closing costs before they close.  The call to your boss that you’re going to be out of the office for 2-4 hours the next day has to happen too.  Cue the irritated sigh from my boss right here.  Actually I’m pretty grateful on that front: having a boss whose only irritated at the inconvenience is awesome.

The next day you sign a thousand times on a stack of forms the size of a bible.  This time the updates in the laws were fantastic.  All the forms had to be in a text size we could read.  On our first house, there were literally dozens of pages printed in 6 point font – not even kidding about that.  We spent hours in the too-hot, too-bright office of a set of angry angry brokers and lenders reading the tiny script on every page before we signed it.  Heh.  Good times.  But this time was way better.  We could read everything and there was a third the paperwork as last time.  After that, you wait 24 hours or so and get an email from the broker, the lender, the title company AND your real estate agent telling you that the sale has been recorded and you are officially the new owners.

Because the Portland market is still nuts, now all you have to do is wait to get the keys.  Because almost everyone is doing a rent-back on the house they’re selling.

So here we sit.  Waiting for the keys….. And Waiting….. Buying furniture that doesn’t fit in our current house and tripping over it until every toe and hip is bruised….And waiting some more…Then buying nerf rifles and using the furniture as cover for an indoor battle because being an adult is occasionally the best thing ever…  Then waiting some more……

Please, can I have the keys to my house now?

Do you know what happened to the girl who got everything she ever dreamed of?  She lived happily ever after.

House Hunting Episode 2

Episode 2: Portland’s Housing discard bin

Our realtor is a very kind, very patient woman.  She’s been doing this a while, so she didn’t even hesitate: she told us there was lots of time, she’ll help us find the perfect house and she’s never had a client be homeless because there wasn’t enough time to find the house they wanted.  Mostly I believe her, but our first day out was surreal and disheartening.

Right now, in Portland, the housing market is so tight that if something has been on the market more than 2 weeks, there’s probably something wrong with it.  But it might be something wrong that we could fix or just something weird that we’d actually enjoy.  Like built in floor to ceiling bookshelves painted fuschia and teal.  That would put a lot of people off, but a day with sandpaper and paint and we’ve got a dream study.  Or a yard thats just a muddy mess with junk scattered all over.  A weekend of work and a couple trips to nurseries and we’ve a yard that looks good and has the bones for us to work with over the next couple of years.  We were looking for a diamond in the rough.  What we found was a bin or cracked agates and a couple of pieces of fools gold.

Nothing we saw on our deathmarch discard bin tour day was fixable.  Really really not fixable with our time and budget.  But I can say this: Portland is keeping itself weird inside peoples houses all over the city.

The Cute Green House

Its a light green on the outside with two porthole shaped windows in the living room.  The yard was even nice.  We opened the door and the strange started happening.  3 feet directly in front of the door was the stairway to the basement.  I could just imagine walking into the house, having a cat or dog trip me and tumbling to my death.  A death which would have been witnessed on one side by fish (probably) and on the other by a bear.  Mounted to the banister of the stairway was a 50 gallon aquarium so overgrown with algae I wasn’t positive there were living fish inside.  Opposite the tank was an 8 foot bearskin complete with glass eyes and teeth  gaping a horrifying welcome towards the front door.  As an added touch, the bear skin was mounted on a frilly cut red and black flannel backing.  It was like the hunters crafty wife had tried to soften the look and just made it look like the bear could still bleed.

Off to the right of the entry was the perfect kitchen.  Seriously, I covet that bakers, entertainers perfect kitchen and dining room with a view.  To the left of the landing was a little living room with a glass block wall divider and a pellet stove in cream enamel.  We slid through the fish and bear gauntlet to the basement where all 3 bedrooms were.  The deep pile emerald green carpeting was a little smelly and when I mentioned it to our realtor she told me that there was a $1,700 allowance in the house listing to replace the carpet after the current owners left.  Bit of a red flag there: If you’re advertising that the carpets must be replaced, $1,700 is not going to cover the damage under the carpets and probably in the walls.  Cat pee being what it is…  But on we went, because we had to see it all.

The master bedroom had the bed area and a little hallway with closets that led to the master bathroom.  It was a pink bathroom complete with light pink toilet, but whatever, we can fix that.  Then I realized there was no bathroom door and the closets on both sides of the hallway made adding a door not-simple.  Someone deliberately designed their master bedroom so that when you open the door you’re looking down the closet hallway at whoever is enthroned at the moment.  When I pointed it out and laughed, our realtor said its a pretty typical design.  Who does that?!  No matter how good the kitchen was, it wasn’t worth the house it was attached to.  Off we went to the next house.

The House Filled With Guilt

We drove down a ‘private’ drive past 4 houses one of which had a condemned notice on it.  The house we were there to see was one house past the condemned one.  The renters and their small children were still inside which adds the perfect touch of ‘Yes, we’re the assholes considering making you homeless, please leave your home while we evaluate it for our needs’.   There were adorable pictures of their children all along one hallway.  The yard was lovely, and the house was ok, but, honestly, it would have had to be a mansion sold for peanuts to make it appealing after that.

The Drunken Escort House

This house had a gorgeous front and back yard: perfectly manicured, not too big, not too small.  It even had this lovely archway in the back with bird feeders on it.  I’m not a big fan of bird feeders and I thought it was lovely.  The problems were inside and started with the guy who needed to escort us into each room of the house.  His lady friend swayed along behind with her 1pm glass of wine and ice cubes that she rattled and swished with every step.  The other guy just stood on the porch and chain smoked.  Highlights of the tour included: their geriatric cat and his 6 unchanged cat boxes, basement windows that were boarded over “because the windows broke too often” and asking me what nationality I am when I got a step too far behind my husband and our realtor.  I told them I’m an American and walked away in a ‘did that just happen?’ haze.  I could hear them whispering and giggling which just made the encounter stranger.  I thought about it afterwards and the best guess I’ve got is they don’t trust ‘them damn Irish’.  The basement portion of the tour was a tidy version of a hoarder’s paradise.  Pseudo rooms packed with canned goods and furniture.  At one point I thought we’d gotten to the end of the basement and the old guy moved a piece of wood paneling to showed a hidden wood panel room with the windows boarded over.  Cause, y’know the windows get broken too often.  That was when I started wondering if the windows weren’t being broken from the outside and made a barely polite march back to sunlight and our car.  We waited just outside the door long enough to make sure our realtor made it out too.

The Dead Animal House

From the outside it looked a little worn and was right next to a school but it might have been awesome on the inside.  The living room right next to the front door had couches so broken down they looked like they had a ‘free’ sign taped to them on the sidewalk for weeks before they were claimed and brought here.  And they were right next to a beautiful baby grand piano.  The carpet going up the stairs to the bedrooms was worn and so dirty I don’t know it had ever been vacuumed.  The bedrooms all had at least one bed, at least 2 musical instruments and rumpled everything.  By the time I came back downstairs and saw the picture I already knew: single dad and 4 teenage boys.  There probably wasn’t anything we couldn’t fix, it all looked like it just needed a lot of elbow grease, so we kept looking.  The family room had 6 or 8 dead animals mounted on the walls which wasn’t weird all by itself.  What was weird was that everything that had eyes was mounted to stare directly at the chair in front of the computer desk.  Deer, pheasant, small mammal so dusty I couldn’t identify it…all staring.  How could anyone work with all those dead eyes staring  right at you?!  I walked through the accusing eyes and opened the door to the garage where I saw the only clean, new rug in the house.  It sat proudly in the center of an empty garage with a gleaming, perfectly polished black Harley Davidson parked right in the middle.  I took a last turn around the kitchen and opened the pantry door to see how much actual storage space there was and found that last straw.  In the pantry was a monitor with a live feed from cameras mounted on each external wall of the house.  So you can make dinner while watching all approaches to your house.  I don’t have to live in a neighborhood that requires me to spend more money on a security system than on all the combined furniture in my house.  I’m really grateful I have that choice.

Double 41s And A Squatter

Our realtor was away so she got us a sitter to see a few more houses.  We headed up to the house we wanted to view and waited in the driveway for her to join us.  Eventually she sent a text asking if we were lost.   After a ‘who’s on first’ text conversation that almost gave me a nosebleed, we discovered that there were TWO houses with the address 41 on streets with the same name but one of them was ‘Place’ and one was ‘Street’.  After I mapped the address she was at, we walked the half block to where she was waiting for us.  The house was not the one we were excited about, but cost a lot less money so we thought we’d look around anyway.  There were hardwood floors and a 6ft free standing painting of a boat in the living room.  There was a 15 ft concrete wedge that separated the back yard from the neighbors yard and the concrete folded into what looked like a bomb shelter attached to the basement.  I went down to investigate with our backup realtor and walked into a wall of cigarette smoke so thick I thought I was going to get addicted to nicotine on the spot.  In the dimly lit basement was a wall of windows, a backpack and a tidy bedroll ready to be used.  Each of the rooms off the basement were closed and as our backup realtor opened the first one I thought to myself: “This is how horror movies start”, directly followed by “don’t be a weenie”.  I let her open each door and feel around for the light switch in each of the 5 rooms while I stayed where I could see the exits.  We didn’t find the squatter and we didn’t try to buy the house.  There wasn’t an actual bomb shelter, so I was too disappointed to buy it anyway.

The Farm House

It was a super long shot but we had to see it to be sure.  We knew it would need a lot of work because of the price but it might have been an epic opportunity.  It was a turn of the century farm house with all the cool built ins anyone could want, tons of space inside and half an acre outside.  It also had not one but two outbuildings that needed to be pulled down.  The property ran parallel to an active railroad line 10 feet beyond the fence.  And to make the decision even easier: everything inside would have to be fixed.  Never mind comfortable, it was so neglected it wasn’t livable.  The stairs to the bedrooms were so broken I’m surprised they let people walk on them without signing a liability waiver.  If we had buckets of money it would have been worth it.  That house is going to be gorgeous if it gets restored.  Without those buckets of money though, it would be a horrible reenactment of The Money Pit.

So the hunt continues.

Stay Tuned for Episode 3: Wherein our intrepid house hunters discover that ‘low inventory’ is the new code word for playing Calvin ball with housing in Portland Oregon.

Epilogue

Our realtor is buying  a lion.  Several of the houses we looked at had mounted heads or antlers.  One of them had a pair of deer heads and a series of antlers.  I mentioned offhandedly that if I had them I’d need to hang Christmas lights from them.   She responded: “I’m buying a stuffed lion from a antique shop for my bar.  I’m going to call it Mittens and dress it up for holidays.  There’s an alcove above a couple of the booths that he’ll fit perfectly in”.

It sounded like a very strange decor choice right up until I thought about all the quirky things my favorite restaurants in Portland have:  Ghosts painted on the bathroom walls, trains around the top of the dining room, pie holes, voodoo donuts, it’s a long list really.  So: long afterlife to Mittens the bar lion.

House Hunting Episode 1

Episode 1: It’s not an adventure yet.

Adventures are what you call it when the experience is over and you’re resting comfortably at home with a cold drink by a roaring fire.  It’s not an adventure yet.  Between getting our house ready for sale, selling it and now hunting for a new house, I feel like I’ve dropped off the planet into a bizarre parallel world that eats all of my non-work time with lunacy and bafflement, occasionally laced with nausea inducing stress. Between email and texts I’m drowning in messages about house madness while I scurry around trying to understand WTF is happening in this new dimension.  I keep expecting the red queen to appear and screech ‘Off with her head”.  I’ve been watching our realtor, Toni, since we started this journey and I’m pretty sure she’s our White Rabbit. We follow her from house to house as she checks her pocket watch (cleverly disguised as a cell phone) occasionally looking startled and saying we’re late to view the next house.

Several months ago, we had Toni visit and give us a list of all the things we could do to make our house more likely to sell.  Over the next 3 months we worked through all of them.  Box up all our books and bookcases and move them to the garage.  Repaint 4 rooms.  Touch up all the trim.  Finish the flooring in 2 rooms.  You get the idea.  For 3 months its what we spent every spare minute on.  The …exciting… part of the journey didn’t start until our realtor called us a month earlier than we’d planned and and told us that our neighborhood had a bubble that was increasing house prices.  If we could have our house on the market in the next week, we could take advantage of it.  In a mad scramble, we (mostly Kris) got everything finished and beautified by Friday then packed up the dogs and evacuated the house for a weekend so realtors could show the house any time over the next three days.

Over the next week, 60+ people walked through our house and left a stack of realtor cards 2 inches high.  Monday through the following Sunday, with less than an hour notice, we had to have the house spotless, then evacuate until the realtors were done showing their clients around.  Some very kind friends of ours housed our dogs for the entire week because the dogs couldn’t be home while people looked at the house.  Our cats, however, could be home and were the star attraction according to feedback our realtor got.

Friday afternoon Toni asked if I’d be willing to spend an hour on Sunday with a potential buyer answering her questions.  Yeah, that’s as weird as it sounds.  The prospective buyer seemed really  interested and maybe she was just a bit eccentric but she really wanted to meet the sellers and talk about the house.  After some hesitation, I agreed.

Sunday afternoon, an elderly lady with a written checklist and a silent male companion appeared on my door step.  She sent him to look around the house while she sat at my kitchen table and worked through her list.  I’m not sure how or even if the man was related to her because the only words I heard him say were ‘Hi kitty’ as he reached out to pet our cat Blix and ‘Yep’.  The single ‘Yep’ was after he’d looked at the plumbing, furnace, electrical and garage and she asked if everything looked good.  Then he left.  She stayed for another 45 minutes asking questions.  It was less weird than I thought – she’s got a health condition and she wanted to know ALL the things you need to know about your house.  Exact dimensions of rooms (she brought a tape measure and the exact size of her bed), where all the plugins are, what are all the trees and plants in the yard.  It was all normal stuff and she was planning ahead.

Sunday night we had 3 offers on our house and it had been on the market 9 days. .

With an accepted offer, the clock started ticking in our heads for finding a new house.  We’ve done this before so this time should be easier.  Not easy, but easier.  Fewer shocks to the system anyway because we know what to expect.

Wow, we were wrong about that.  I think Portland stopped taking her meds because her housing market is schizophrenic.  Or maybe just psychotic.  Yes, I know what those words mean, and no, I’m not using them inappropriately.

Next episode: Our intrepid hunters visit the Portland housing discard bin searching for a diamond in the rough.  Wherein ‘Keep Portland Weird’ derives new depths of meaning.