It was the smartest question I ever asked.
Either that, or the dumbest.
I posed it to my realtor as we sat in my car on an early spring Sunday afternoon. Outside the passenger window, the gathering dusk turned the graceful old brick building whose qualities we’d been exhaustively dissecting dusty pink. Two hours earlier, I’d casually dropped into an Open House at a top-floor unit—mostly because the building was on the way to my favorite bagel shop.
Now I was ready to buy the place on the spot.
“Something’s bothering you,” my realtor said gently.
“What is it?”
Searching for the right words, I finally blurted out, “It’s just … Is it really this easy?”
She nodded. “When you find the right place, pretty much.”
My gut instinct had been validated. Still, I was about to find out how much “pretty much” could add up to.
I’d thought finding a home worthy of having me as its owner was the hardest thing I’d ever do (non-natural childbirth division). But if househunting had sometimes made me feel like a visitor in some strange land where broom closets counted as “cozy dens” and “as is” was secret code for “run!” it all was merely a prelude. Like anyone who’s ever actually signed (and signed and signed) on to home ownership, I was about to enter the Twilight Zone of red tape and real estate’s version of high-stakes poker. A place where nobody trusts you with your own money, let alone theirs, and you immediately begin speaking in tongues:
“Earnest money, title search, termite letter.” “Loan origination fee, homestead exemption, tax escrow.” Fixed-rate mortgage or adjustable? Short closing date or long? Where’s last year’s W2, every pay stub going back a decade and that picture Mom and Dad took of me as a dancing zucchini in third grade to prove I’m not in the country illegally, I love vegetables and I have parents who’ll pay my mortgage if I die or, worse, default?
I can joke about it because it’s been almost a year. And because only now can I start thinking about something other than standing constant vigil at the fax machine.
It’s a fiendishly brilliant scheme someone’s devised. Buying a home really boils down to a couple of essential questions: “Can you afford to pay us this amount each month? And if not, do you promise to do everything within the bounds of the law (or outside the bounds, we’re really not picky) to do it anyway?”
But from the moment that sweet little shack with the Martha Stewart-shaped Jacuzzi in the butler’s pantry catches your eye, you’re not even thinking about that. You’re so busy faxing off the latest signed version of (I swear, I am not making this up) the “Agreement to Amend the Amendment to the Agreement to Purchase,” there’s no time to contemplate the enormity of what you’re about to do.
My one bizarre twinge of “Buyers Remorse” was probably predictable, given my, uh, commitment issues. Fear—of financial ruin, of accidentally buying a place with dead bodies buried in the walls—had kept me renting for nearly twenty years. When my apartment building went condo, I finally started looking—then stopped after four miserable months.
A year later, I decided to try again. Enter the fateful Open House. When the pokerfaced seller’s agent said she expected multiple bids, I could’ve folded. Instead, I upped the ante, offering a few thousand over the asking price. Two hours and some 117 faxes back-and-forth later, I’d won.
Was the other side bluffing about the multiple offers, as some cynical friends suggested? Maybe. I know I was. I’d have been willing to pay even more for this underpriced gem, something I concealed like an ace up my sleeve until my offer was accepted and neither side could back out.
Or could I? It wasn’t any of the big stuff that nearly broke me: The mandatory inspection, which everyone had assured me would be a nightmare of previously undiscovered bad wiring and ready-to-blow plumbing? Piece of cake. The mortgage application process, where I constantly had to prove that the money I’d invested for years was really mine and not being laundered for the Sandanistas? De nada.
No, it was a casual call from my realtor after all that which sent me reeling. The seller had accidentally lowballed the monthly condo association fee by $30. That did it! I began recrunching numbers in my head and grimly imagining everything else I wasn’t being told about this “perfect” place where they’d probably come demanding an extra million in taxes each year. You know, for all those dead bodies buried in the walls.
Just as quickly, though, I came to my senses. I realized I was a smart, mature woman who’d simply overreacted to the most minor problem to express her lingering fears over this major step she was about to take. Translation: My realtor spent hours answering all my questions, even pulling old property tax records to calm my fears. Then I went home and called my Mommy, who told me everything would be OK.
Two weeks later, I officially owned my home. And since then, everything’s been perfect. Well, pretty much.
I’d love to tell you all about it. Just let me fax one more document…
Check out Part 1:
How One Woman Found "The One" — Condo, Not Lover
It was the smartest question I ever asked.