Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Adventures in Real Estate Episode V: The Buyer Strikes Back

I said I wasn't going to tell the saga of our new apartment here until we closed, but it's been coming out in dribs and drabs anyway as I get more exhausted and stressed. There are elements of the story that involve money and shady dealings that I'm still going to keep to myself, but since it's been another dramatic morning (and I have several new readers who aren't up to speed) I figure I can properly tell at least part of it now.

We'd always intended to move in mid-September, since my lease is up at the end of the month. We were hoping to have a place by September 1, so we'd have a couple of weeks to paint and stuff before moving in, then a couple of weeks to deal with our old places after moving (restoring our rented walls to white and what-not). We knew that the process of buying takes much longer than renting, and we'd heard enough horror stories about drama with co-op boards and delayed closings to know that we needed to start looking early. We figured it would be better to spend some extra money if we found a place and finished everything too soon than to wait too long and get screwed in the fall.

So we started looking in earnest in April, and in May we saw the place we're now buying. It was empty even then, and needed only minimal work done. Our realtor explained that it had been an investment property and the seller had never lived here, and her tenants had moved out sooner than she expected. For financial reasons that were never really explained, the seller "couldn't" close on the apartment until November, since that's when she had been planning to sell. But since the place was empty now we'd be able to move in "whenever we wanted," prior to the closing. This was actually perfect for us, since we were still four months away from when we wanted to move anyway. We said September would be fine, giving her plenty of time to do the renovations, and us to get our finances and schedules in order, and we made an offer that day. We were the first people to even see it. Oh, and bonus: We don't need board approval for the sale.

Cut to late July (there was more drama in between, but we'll just stick to the relevant parts of today's story). We get a call from the broker informing us that while we don't need the board approval to buy it, if we live in it before closing we're technically subletting, and we do need board approval for that. "But it's just a formality," we're told. There's no logical reason why they'd deny us since we were going to be able to move in anyway. "They just want an excuse to get into your business," our broker told us. Oh, and some money, since there's a fee to apply to sublet, but whatever.

Problem: The package the management company gave us contained materials for both subletting and purchasing. Even though we don't need the board for the purchase, it's unclear enough what's going on that we decided to just give them everything they've asked for, even if they didn't ask for it intentionally. Problem: This included our contract with the seller, fully executed. Despite numerous attempts to finish this, we didn't have it yet. Problem: The application also had to include our mortgage commitment letter. Which we also didn't have, because the application for that also included the contract.

Which brings us to late August, when we finally submitted the application.

And the rest you know. The board, or management, or someone, said no. We still can't quite fathom why, except that these people crazy about sticking to the letter of the law, which says no moving in before closing. Under normal circumstances, that makes perfect sense (in case the deal falls through), and since I once had a union rep at Actors' Equity tell me that she'd rather see my show close and 10 people lose jobs than make a concession to our producers that would "jeopardize the integrity of the contract," I actually have some experience in these situations and took it in stride.

But there's still the matter of our contract with the seller, which gives us access to the apartment (which, as the place is still hers until we close, is entirely hers to give), and there's still the matter of my old lease, which is done in just over a week. We'd considered staying in my place month-to-month, but as it is Boy and I are paying for three apartments (we pay the seller the maintenance fees on the new place in exchange for our access), and only living in one of them (I can't remember the last time Boy spent the night at "his" place). So the most logical thing was to move my stuff into the new place, per our contract, and camp out for a few weeks at Boy's until we close. This is all happening tomorrow.

We ordered our appliances yesterday and set up delivery for Thursday. This morning, while waiting in the new place for the cable guy, I got a call from the realtor: "Don't get the appliances yet, it'll look bad. If you don't have appliances you can't cook or anything, so you're obviously not living there." I reminded her that we couldn't get the mortgage without the appliances (apparently, when you're dealing with apartments, a kitchen is not a kitchen unless it's fully functional, so the bank's appraiser has to come back with everything installed), and we can't close without the mortgage, so we have to get them before November. Fine, she said, just don't do it the next day, do it next week. Okay. I asked her again about the mailbox key, since I don't have one and I don't want to have to change my address twice in six weeks, so I need to start getting mail here. I mentioned that I was here and had run into the super and asked him about it, but that any help on the seller's end would be helpful. Oh yeah: Complicating matters is the fact that the seller and her lawyer (who is also – have I mention this? -- the building's lawyer) are apparently fighting for this sublet still, since the management people are being doofuses. In truth, I don't really know what the seller is doing, or if it's the board or management who hates us, but until it's all done we've been asked not to speak to the management office, lest we rock the boat or tip the scales or make waves or whatever.

I hung up the phone and started to call Home Depot, and the realtor called again. "Did you say you're waiting for the cable guy?? What are you thinking?"

"I'm thinking my lease is up in a week and I have to transfer my account somewhere." I didn't explain to her my unhealthy TV obsession, but instead used the fact that it's my Internet access as an excuse.

"How much stuff are you moving in tomorrow?" she suddenly thought to ask. "Is it going to look like you're moving in everything you own?"

"I am moving in everything I own! I'll say it again: My lease is up in a week!"

"I told [Seller] you were just moving in a couple of pieces of furniture."

"Well, since I never told you anything even remotely like that, that's your problem not mine."

She sighed. "I've never had a sale with this many complications before." This is where she usually gets me. Our realtor is a really nice lady, and she's bizarrely emotionally invested. In spite of everything, I would recommend her to anyone looking for an apartment in the area. I know that most of this isn't her fault and she didn't see it coming. But today, I've kinda had it.

"Look," I said, "You knew this was an issue. My lease is done at the end of September. When we agreed to close in November, it was entirely contingent on having access before then for exactly this reason. The board and management have seen our contract, and they know that we've made this deal. We're paying for it. I won't be sleeping there, I won't be cooking there, but I have to keep my stuff there."

Very quietly: "Okay."

"I'm not mad at you...no, you know what, I am a little bit mad at you. Because you told us in May that this would all be okay. You said we couldn't close in November, but that we'd be able to move in whenever we wanted. We started this process early for a reason."

"I remember."

"I know it's not your fault, that this stuff took you as much by surprise as it did us, but if you didn't know what you were talking about you shouldn't have acted like you did. If we had known it was November or nothing we never would have made the offer in the first place. We're here now, we're invested, we can't get out of our contract even if we wanted to, so I'm doing what I need to do and that's that. Call the seller and find out what the hell is going on."

If there's a moral here, it's don't fuck with me while I don't have cable.

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